Tagged: Guiding Questions

Real-Time, Reflective Vignette-ification

stumbling-and-falling

The Foundation. It moves really darn fast. Life, that is. Not just really fast, and not just darn fast, but really darn fast…and that’s fast. As I move along within it, doing my best to love, listen, learn, lead, and share the gratitude I have for each moment, I stumble and fall (a lot).

A growth mindset helps. It helps me realize that the stumbling and falling parts are really good for the learning and leadership parts, even critically essential if you don’t mind a bit of redundancy.

When I stumble I have to stabilize. I have to catch myself, counterbalance whatever set me off, shake off the equilibrium-shock, refocus, refresh, integrated new learning if it stuck, and take a “moving on with enhanced awareness and/or ability” breath (in those moments when catching myself during a stumble perpetuates enhanced awareness and/or ability). If I feel the benefits of such an experience immediately afterward, I might even smile.

When I fall I have to get back up. I have to make it through whatever pain is incurred during the fall, I have to dust myself off, I have to swallow my pride, and I have to keep on keeping on. If it hurt really badly, I have to take some time to heal. If it hurt really darn badly, I have to be alone for a minute (at least).

Either way, the stumbling and the falling feed the learning and the leadership.

The Strategy. Real-Time, reflective vignetteification makes it a bit easier, and arguably even more effective. Nothing in life is entirely easy (at least that’s been my experience), however, everyone knows that a bit easier is enhanced above a bit more difficult. One of the reasons life can be so difficult is that it’s often about interacting with people, and people feel. Learning and leadership are deeply embedded in the interacting with people parts of life.

Real-time, reflective vignette-ification calls for the compartmentalizing of emotions during any given situation that might otherwise be made more difficult or confusing by the same. Emotions, that is.

Here’s how it works: when you’re in a situation that calls for quick and critical thought and/or action in the face of high stakes challenges and/or heightened emotions, you force yourself to think about the situation as something you’re reading in a book. You know, a vignette.

Think of these situations as vignettes and think about how books with these types of vignettes are written. Sections that allow readers to reflect on the vignettes with thoughts and ideas about how they would react, respond, or proceed typically follow the vignettes. Real-time, reflective vignette-ification allows you to answer and act as if you were outside of the situation.

Be careful to stay connected, but do step outside of these situations with an eye on effective learning and leadership rather than emotion. You can return to the emotion later if you’d like. Some people process that way.

Now, it might be that the emotions of the person or people you’re learning and/or leading with are important to process, it often is. In those cases, make sure you don’t overlook those. I’m suggesting the removal of your emotions with real-time, reflective vignette-ification model, the ones that get in the way of your level-headedness.

Digging in a bit. Ever notice that when you reflect on the vignettes in those you books you have really good ideas, that those really good ideas come to you with a high degree of clarity, and that you feel great about the solutions you come up with.

Ever notice that sometimes, after similar real-time situations you think, or even say, “I wish I would have…” or “If I’d have been thinking more clearly I could have…” or even the classic, “hindsight is 20/20?” Real-time, reflective vignette-ification can help you avoid that.

It takes practice, it takes resolve, it takes wherewithal, it takes believing that most things that seem to be about you aren’t, that people are generally well meaning and kind even though we get upset and off balance at times, and that listening is often more meaningful than talking. It takes wanting to feel good, and it takes wanting the same for others.

It takes deep, goal oriented focus and the ability to visualize outcomes. It takes a desire and it takes a commitment. It takes time, it takes grit, and it takes holding back from complaining about the more self-pity-laden faux burdens we so love to complain about.

On the flip side, and to the benefit of all involved, it promotes not wanting to.

If you learn and/or lead, give it some thought, and then give it a shot. You might like it.

Live, love, listen, learn, lead…thanks.

Picking the Positive [a(IQ)]

pick-the-positive

The Foundation. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity. I’ve been focused on considering ways in which I can effectively practice, model, and teach a healthy appreciation and respect for the diversity that exists in every direction I look around this ever-changing and often-challenging world.

I’ve been wondering about ways in which I can best make and support positive connections with those whose paths I cross or parallel along my journey. I’ve been carefully working to understand how the myriad thoughts, ideas, and perspectives constantly surfacing through my interactions with others play into our individual and collective learning and growth, and how the same enhance our individual and collective lives.

That’s what it’s all about after all, isn’t it? Looking for ways to be happy while simultaneously contributing to the happiness of others? The pursuit of happiness is an unassailable right indelibly connected to the core of who we are. Should it not be woven into the fabric of our quests?

As a husband, a father, and an educator, I feel a strong responsibility to protect that right for myself and for those I serve. Fostering and sustaining positive partnerships that lead to joyful teaching and learning has always been at the core of my learning and leadership vision, the foundation of who I am, and what I seek to do in every moment, with each passing day.

My aim is true. My intentions are pure and concentrated. I continue to look for tools and strategies to aid the unfolding of those intentions. I’ve become a master at forgiving myself missteps along the way in favor growth. Much of my thinking energy has gone into ways I might emphasize the importance and impact of positive partnerships.

Recently, I read an article called, “Unconscious Bias: When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough” by an author named Sarah E. Fiarman. Mrs. Fiarman is an educational consultant and a former public school principal who has written multiple books on learning and leadership. She sub-titled this article, “Deep rooted biases hinder our best intentions. Learn how to recognize and address them.” The article is published in the November 2016 issue of Educational Leadership, entitled “Disrupting Inequity.”

At first blush, when I’m considering equity in schools, I go to race. Then, I tend to move to socio-economics, followed by gender, and so on. Could this be a form of unconscious bias in and of itself?

After leading with some thinking on the impact of bias and the need for increased awareness, Mrs. Fiarman addresses naming it. She points out, “Sometimes we increase awareness by naming bias in others and in ourselves,” and goes on to assert that naming is not always comfortable. It’s not easy to consider your own biases. Especially in light of the fact that in most cases where bias plays a role in decision-making and actions the bias doesn’t fit with intentions or worldview.

Bias is often unconscious, which is why it’s so important to dig into it with an open mind, an open heart, and a clear purpose. My purpose in reflecting with critical intention on this article and digging into the potential of my own unconscious bias is to enhance my learning and leadership practice. I’m looking to do the hard work of figuring out where I could be more attentive to the needs of those I serve. I’m seeking to understand how I can enhance my ability to seek to understand.

After moving through pieces of the puzzle in which Mrs. Fiarman points out how important it is to recognize and appreciate that unconscious bias can negatively impact our behaviors, that designing systems to counteract those impacts is critical, and that positive, trusting, and collaborative relationships have the power to provide some essential unconscious bias understanding through shared analysis and genuine, caring checks and balances regarding decision making, I came to the part where she wrote about empathy.

She began with, “Another proven way to counteract the power of unconscious bias is to replace negative associations with positive ones.” This drove straight into the heart of what I’d been thinking about. It caused me to lift my eyes from the page and process. It’s what I would like to be best at. With Dweck’s growth mindset as a foundation, maybe it can be.

If you believe that everything happens for a reason, and at just the right time for that reason to be most striking, than it’s worth noting that this article came to me at just the right time. If you don’t, it might be worth noting anyway. Either way, I dig it.

Mrs. Fiarman says, “Biases are built by repeated exposure to a particular message,” and that, “Deliberately consuming counter narratives can help break down that automatic reflex.” I dig it, indeed.

So, what if our biases extend to the negative itself. What if we are bent to leaning toward the negative in any, and even more troubling, every situation?

The world moves fast ad it’s riddled with challenges. Lest we forget that every challenge is also a chance we could likely become wrapped up in the ongoing tumble of dirty laundry that seems to surround us.

The Story. Yesterday my five-year-old punted a beanbag in the middle of the living room at his Nan and Pop’s house. Let me clarify that Nan and Pop’s living room is not an ideal place for punting anything. Whatever grace prevented that punt from resulting in something being knocked over, smashed, or otherwise destroyed is undoubtedly real and indisputably powerful.

After several seconds that seemed to go by in slow motion, and upon a safe landing for the would-be-destructor of a bean bag, my son and I looked at one another wide-eyed and filled with relief in the knowledge that neither of us was about to be in big trouble.

I spoke first, “That was a really bad idea.”

Then he spoke, “A really bad idea but a really good punt.”

We both laughed.

The Reflection. What if that’s the way?

What if my astute five-year-old was the teacher and I was the student?

What if I found a new mentor?

What if, no matter the situation, picking out the positive is where the treasure can be found?

Sure, there are several, easily conceivable worse scenarios than the potential for a broken vase at Nan and Pop’s house, but in that moment, we were both slightly (if not considerably) terrified. Still, this kid picked the positive. My mentor modeled what might be the way.

My hope is that he understood the theoretically flawed decision-making and the potential for disaster. I try to impart learning around every turn. I also understand that learning comes at its own pace and in its own time.

What if the real learning here is that life is better when we look on the bright side?

What if the nugget of truth in this situation is about a holistic look at our moments with an eye on what went well?

Should I be considering the living room beanbag-punt experiment as a viable lesson in positive responsiveness?

What do we do when questionable decision-making goes right? Should we be focused on the decision making in a vacuum, or should we be focused on the “right?’

What if we set our individual and collective paths on picking the positive?

Is it possible that picking the positive could lead to a paradigm of progress and self-celebration? Might that be good for all involved? Could picking the positive help to foster cultures of teamwork, trust, and growth is school communities? Families? Within ourselves?

Could picking the positive shift our thinking in right directions by repeatedly exposing us to hopeful and optimistic messaging?

I suppose anything is possible, isn’t it?

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

 

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

reflection-and-growth

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Know: Understanding via a Lack Thereof

Imagine

I heard the most fascinating story yesterday through an interview of a fifty four year old woman, Kim, who self-discovered her Asperger’s Syndrome and then got a brief glimpse into a world in which it didn’t stifle her ability to read social cues.

Researchers exploring a method called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) showed Kim a video. In the video a woman answered her door to find a man standing on the other side with a bag filled with DVD cases. The man handed the bag to the woman and said, “Here are the DVDs you lent to Roger,” followed by, “He asked me to return them to you.”

The man suggested that the woman take a look in the bag and examine the state of the DVDs. She did. She opened each one to find that nothing was inside. The bag was filled with empty DVD cases. After a few moments the man asked, “Is everything alright?”

The woman replied, “Oh yes, everything is just fine.”

The man then asked, “Would you be willing to let Roger borrow your DVDs again?”

The woman replied, “Absolutely…without hesitation.”

Kim reported that after watching this interaction she was very impressed and somewhat surprised by the woman’s reaction. She told the interviewer that she thought the woman in the video was uniquely forgiving and generous.

Then came the TMS. The researchers delivered a series of precisely targeted magnetic pulses into Kim’s brain with the aim of stimulating key areas in the hopes that it would enhance her ability to read social cues, a standard reported deficit in people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Kim recounted that it did. She told the interviewer that she was shocked upon watching the same video again after the TMS treatment.

The woman in the video did not seem forgiving or generous this time. In fact, she was clearly upset. Kim described high levels of sarcasm in the woman’s responses that she could not detect previously.

When the woman said, “Oh yes, everything is just fine,” she meant, “No, everything is not alright…can’t you see that Roger has taken all of my DVDs?”

When she said, “Absolutely…without hesitation,” she meant, “Not in a million years!”

Kim was stunned. In that moment she realized that she had been moving through the world with a blindness of sorts. She thought about her inability to maintain positive relationships and her confusion over the same. She expressed relief in finally understanding that her interactions with people have been marked by a distinct inability to recognize “appropriateness” in communication.

She talked specifically about kindness. She expressed a profound shift in thinking about it. She realized that when people are unkind to one another it’s not necessarily because they’re mean people. She thought about the possibility of a primary source of unkindness and that the unkindness itself could be a side effect.

She recalled being bullied as a child and instantly forgave the perpetrators, suggesting that they may have simply been trying to bond with one another, not fully (or even partially) understanding the impact their bonding had on her.

Through TMS Kim had but a momentary glimpse into a world in which she could recognize, understand, and interpret social cues. The effects were not lasting. Furthermore, the researchers cautioned that the treatment remains unreliable for this application. They strongly warned against its clinical use expressing that a tremendous amount of research and exploration lies between these experiments and a practical, safe application…if one should ever come to be at all.

Kim expressed that she’s not disappointed. She told the interviewer that the experience, while brief, was momentous and profound. She said that it left her with a critically important view of a world that has always been acutely confusing.

Kim is a successful physician with a thriving practice. She’s achieved much in her life so far and is only part way along her journey. However, she’s consistently been on the outside of what most of us seem to understand as acceptable social norms.

Well meaning and kind, Kim has struggled significantly to build and maintain relationships. By bravely risking what I can only imagine would be a terrifying paradigm shift, she now knows a bit more about why.

Kim’s experience has me wondering about how I see and function. Is my worldview the same as yours? Is each of ours different? As we try to communicate with one another, how often do we miss the mark? How about the people we serve? What within our daily messaging is well received by students, parents, colleagues, spouses, kids, friends? What is misperceived and subsequently potentially damaging?

I can only conclude that exploratory leaps of faith with open minds, while scary, are very likely boons of positive progress. What if I’m not hearing what I think I’m hearing when I hear it? What if I’m not saying what I think I’m saying when I say it? If perception is reality…what if we each perceive the world in a unique way? Even if slightly, imagine the ripple effect and the impact on relationships.

I believe that the great majority of people are driven by kind hearts and hope for positive pathways. I think that incorporating a mantra of acceptance not fully knowing stuff with the connected act of consistently seeking to enhance my knowledge might help deepen my understanding of the social world in which I live and my productivity within relationships as a result.

My aim is true but I’ve seen that even the softest wind can shift the pathway straightest arrow. I’m amazed by Kim and truly grateful for having had the opportunity to see through her lens, if only for a moment. Let’s listen really carefully to one another’s stories…it can only help advance our collective vision of a peaceful and productive planet. Let’s imagine that the world might be different than we currently perceive it to be, if only slightly, and if only because it truly might be.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Thanks!

What Do I Expect?

Organic Nature of Nature

In an effort to go greener I switched to an old-fashioned push mower last year. You know the kind with whirring drum blades. No gas, no plug, no charge. Turned out…no good. I couldn’t reconcile the unpredictability of the cut. Some pieces of grass or weed (another side-effect of mission greener) were longer than others. Some were simply pushed over instead of cut. It was wild looking. It felt untamed. I wanted uniform, manicured stripes. I got jagged, indelicate streaks.

I cursed that little push mower before relegating it to a cobweb-crammed corner of the garage. It was all but predestined to fade away. It could very well have ended up a curbside bargain but for a “one more chance” wind that blew through me at the beginning of Michigan’s mow season this year.

“One more chance” was just the beginning though. What followed was a holistic paradigm shift with regard to my expectations. I guess another cycle of learning and growth flipped a switch in me. So, in a moment of forgiveness, acceptance, and serenity I pushed that little mower over my lawn, cobwebs and all.

As I complete the first go around I looked out over what might have been familiar jagged, indelicate streaks to discover that they were not familiar. They seemed different now. There was no distain in my mind or my heart. No anxious wanting of uniform, manicured stripes. I appreciated what I saw. I liked it.

In a fluid scoping out effort my gaze cleared the streaks and landed on a perennial bed stretching its arms after a long winter nap. Plant tips in varying shades of green peeked out past the dirt browns and the faded greys of what was once a stark black blanked of dyed mulch. It was organic. It was connected. It made sense. It was more than ok, it was right.

Headed into my third summer as a school administrator, my eighth as a husband, and my seventh as a father I greatly appreciate the organic nature of the path; so much more jagged than it is manicured, and in my humble opinion, so much more exciting and meaningful than it would otherwise be.

What do I expect? Life is mysterious. Learning is messy. Love is wild. Last year I couldn’t deal with the natural look and feel of a powerless blade-cut lawn and this year I’m actively deriving power from the same.

I’m excited to continue reflecting on how this newfound appreciation for the organic nature of nature can contribute to my growth as a learner and a leader, and how it can enhance my support for those I serve in my professional and my personal life.

I’m enthusiastically diving into thinking around expectations and how I can manage them with an eye positive progress, even and especially through challenges.

On a whim I used the power mower last week. I thought I’d give it one pass in between the push mover grooming, just to even things out a bit. I got manicured stripes. For a moment I thought that’s what I wanted again. It wasn’t. Things aren’t even. Things are uneven. Things are irregular and rough, and even so, things are wonderful.

I can’t wait for my lawn to grow back. I expect it will soon.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

First of All (Why Not be Flabbergasted?)

First Of All

Firsts are really important things. They’re indelibly connected to learning and growth in unique ways. Children experience lots of firsts. It’s cool. Is would seem that the younger the child the more firsts he or she is likely to experience. I have four children, my oldest is six and my youngest is one, so I’ve seen this phenomenon in action a great deal over the past several years.

The little guy (my one-year-old who’s actually big) defines “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” (as they all did at his age). To that end he’s an especially enthusiastic audience for this exceedingly silly dad. I hardly need to make a goofy face or dance a bit of a jig to get huge smiles and belly laughs from the jolly fella. Admittedly, he’s not the first to laugh at my dancing prowess (or my lack thereof) and my face is organically goofy, so I have an advantage.

The point is that even silliness is relatively new to him, and in its newness he’s hyper-susceptible to its charms. To him, silliness is remarkable, and when he experiences silliness he thinks, “Wow…this is extraordinary…and so darn funny!” (or some one-year-old version of that thought).

Incidentally there’s nothing quite like hearing a one-year-old laugh his little bottom off (or his big bottom in this case). My wife insists that’s not a good enough reason to have a fifth child, but it sure is wonderful. His brothers and sister get excited about silliness when they’re in the right mood, but increasingly they’re ever-growing other interests distract and carry them to alternate, “Wow…this is amazing!” places. Still plenty of awe and wonder in this world for them, it’s simply shifting as it does for all of us.

But who says that firsts have to ever go away? Truly, there is far to much in this existence to ever experience everything. What if it’s simply a matter of perspective? Wouldn’t it be great if we could continue to experience firsts throughout our lives in the ways we did when we were young?

I once read a philosopher who asked, “If you didn’t know your age, how old would you be?” Good questions. I wouldn’t be one, almost three, or even six (and three quarters) but I certainly wouldn’t be forty-two. Furthermore, and strictly speaking, every moment is a first if you live with a growth mindset in a progress-oriented paradigm.

By nature, we’re learning organisms. It’s our core. What if we let that core surface and lived as if every moment was new…new in that the previous moment injected newness into each next moment in that each next moment is essentially the each previous moment plus the learning and growth experienced in it (each previous moment, that is). What if? What if, indeed?

When I think of my last moment on earth (and I hope it’s a long time from now), I find myself feeling certain that just before I pass into whatever I’ll be passing into, I’ll think (and possibly even say), “oh,” in the realization of something new that will make my next steps alright, and then I’ll drift into it with a one-year-old’s amazement and wonder.

Romantic? Sure. Fantastical? Some might argue. Possible? Why not? In fact, if firsts are so incredible why not intentionally, and even forcibly if necessary, experience each moment as the first that it truly is. Each moment is the first moment of its exact kind. Why not be thrilled at the gift it is? Why not be flabbergasted by its awesomeness? Why not do it and why not model that to the children we serve as parents and educators? There would be a lot of awesomeness and a whole bunch of flabbergastedness going on! Could be fun. Might be cool; possibly even a boon to learning, growth, and a joyful journey for all involved. Who knows, you might even like it. After all…there’s a first for everything.

Live, listen, learn, lead, and always bring your best.

Even When You Can’t Be Certain…Be Positive

Doing what makes you feel good
A story about a study. I recently read a study in which the researcher told some people that a new drug was found to have a 70% effectiveness rate. Those people expressed positive thoughts and feelings about the drug. The same researcher told some other people that the drug in question was found to have a 30% failure rate. Those people expressed negative thoughts and feelings about the drug.

After that the researcher reminded the first group that a 70% success rate is the same as a 30% failure rate. They shifted their expression of thoughts and feelings to the negative. She then reminded the second group that a 30% failure rate is the same as a 70% success rate. Their expression of thoughts and feelings remained negative. No shift.

The researcher repeated this experiment with multiple controls and repeatedly found similar results. It’s tough to shift from a negative to a positive outlook; a better bet is to start and stay positive.

Who cares? I guess it’s well and good to consider that starting positive increases the chance that you’ll stay that way, but so what? Is being positive helpful? What benefits does it provide? What about the perceptibly cathartic remunerations of the relentless venting that we all seem to enjoy so much? What about misery loving company? This is that part where scientific exploration gives way to personal opinion. You should stop reading if you have a weak stomach for soapbox oration.

My best work is scaffolded by optimism.

I’m decidedly stronger when I’m authentically joyful.

Decisions come to me with increased clarity during times of hope.

My integrated contentedness to world, work, and spirit is highlighted by happiness.

It feels good to feel good.

The reflections of a parent and an educator.  Sometimes when my kids get grumpy I defy them not to smile. “Don’t do it,” I say. “Stay grumpy,” I insist. I’m relentless until they fold. Like me, they want to feel good too. They want to enjoy instead of agonize. They want to appreciate instead of resent. They want to heal instead of hurt.

Again, it ain’t easy to shift away from a negative paradigm when you’re embedded in it, but if you feel like I do, if you prefer to live with hope and joyfulness, it doesn’t hurt to try. In fact, I would argue that it helps.

My experiences consistently tell me that it not only helps me but that it’s good for those I serve. Furthermore the more I’m able to recover and make that shift the more it’s not necessary. If I can make that shift and stay in it then the shift isn’t needed anymore. Recovery becomes regulation. The key is to press on and never stop growing. I can only imagine that I’ll be very old and very grey if I ever make it to a state of mind that negativity simply can’t crack, but at that moment I also imagine the old and greyness won’t bother me.

Our lives our challenging. The world is a complex and often confusing place. Our primary purpose is to make it better for the kids who are inheriting it from us. That’s why we do what we do. I believe that we owe it to them, and to one another to focus on hope and inspiration.

One of my mentors consistently reminds me that, “staying positive in challenging situations is not naive…it’s leadership.” What if we could always do just that? What if we could always do it at school, at home, when we’re with people, and even when we’re alone? What if? There are not many certainties in life. Every day comes along with countless challenges. Even so (and arguably, especially so), each moment is truly a gift. In what ways are you focused on making the most of it for you and for those you serve?

Live, listen, learn, lead…and always bring your best.

Berg’s Eye (re)View of December 2014: Life, Learning, and Leadership From a Year Ago

IMG_6388

Last year at this time I was thinking about ways to refine my leadership practice in all areas of my life. I still am. Reflection has been key to my learning and growth. As I reflect on the reflecting I did last year at this time I hope to continue making connections along with positive progress toward my goal of becoming a better husband, father, and educational leader with each passing day. I hope that this look back at last year’s thoughts gives you some ideas and inspiration as you get going in 2016. Click on any or all links below to join me on this learning and leadership trip down memory lane.

Reduce, Reach Out, & Respond: A Concise Communication Strategy for Organizational Leaders – Three things to think about for managing yourself within the time you have to work with.

Partnerships are the Path: Some Strategies for Building Effective Partnerships in School Communities – Making the most of the most important aspect of effective leadership…the relationships you build.

Some Ideas to Build Partnerships in my School Community – More thoughts about collaboration and how it can work for you and your school community.

Every Challenge is Also a Chance – Thinking about how learning thought challenges builds character and fosters positive progress.

That’s Easy! Now Can You Explain It Again? – We are each unique. Everyone is on an individualized learning path…a message for parents and educators.

I use this blog to reflect for a couple of reasons. I’m selfishly looking after my own learning and growth. Both the initial reflections and the archiving for ongoing reflection have been healthy for me. Also, I hope that my readers benefit. Subscribe below if you’d like to get regular updates in 2016, and please reach out to extend the dialogue on any posts or any other ideas that you’d like to connect on. As always, your input is welcome and appreciated. Happy New Year!

Live. Learn. Lead. Dream Big. Work Hard. Press On.

That’s Not Rain, It’s Rice.

Kids as Innovators

I was driving home from a great science museum with two of my four children this afternoon. We were in exploration mode. We saw dinosaur bones, we touched what Mastodon fur “probably felt like,” we watched live bats turn from tiny squirrel-looking things into enormous flying beasts with a simple spreading of their awesome wings, and we even spent some time with Big Bird and Elmo exploring the stars in a cozy little planetarium.

As I drove it began to rain. It was a freezing rain. I called my mother-in-law who was at home with the other two kids to let her know about the road conditions so that she could decide if she was going to make the trek back to her house or stick around at ours for bit. Evidently my six-year-old heard me talking about the rain because after I hung up the phone he commented, “That’s not rain dad.”

I asked, “Oh, what is it?” I got excited about the potential for a states-of-matter conversation with the little wise guy.

Instead, without a smirk or any other indication of sarcasm he confidently replied, “It’s rice.”

Was it the exploration mode? Was it the imagination? Was it the world-view of a six-year-old? Was it rice? Who knows?

What I do know is that each adult I know seems to have a bit of the kid who would suggest rice over frozen rain still kicking inside of him or her. It’s out inner-innovators. How in touch we are with that bit differs, but I don’t think it can ever completely go away.

What’s more, I would argue that that bit is mostly responsible to the “ovation” part of innovation. The part where we get super excited about an out-of-the-box idea; the part where a wave of chills runs up our spines at the thought of one of our crazy thoughts coming to life. Pablo Picasso said something about all children being artists and about the trick not being becoming one as an adult but remaining one. Could innovation, exploration, and the thrill of discovery work the same way? Aren’t all kids up for an adventure of the mind? Shouldn’t all adults be?

School communities are filled with outlandish ideas that are actually awesome. All organizations are. Effective organizational leadership encourages people to latch on the “what if’s.” It’s not always easy because it usually involves taking risks, and it more that occasionally involves moments that in which people hear cries like, “failure!”

In order to genuinely promote and nurture positive progress in teaching and learning school leadership must find ways to help those we serve get excited about hearing the “failure” cry. We must support our incredible colleagues, our enthusiastic parent partners, and our brilliant students as they learn to find comfort in the word “failure,” realizing that it means they’ve tried, understanding that it means they’ve stretched, valuing that it means they’ve believed in and trusted their inner-innovators.

We must be the nurturers of outrageous ideas because we know that they’re the ones with the greatest growth potential. We know that the only failures worth scoffing at are the failures to try and to press on through life’s challenges.

My son is kid. As a kid, he felt comfortable speaking his mind. Without hesitation he was ok with starting from rice. Eventually, on his own, he released the “r” part and told me that he could see that they were little ice balls melting on the windshield. By the time we got home he had come to the conclusion that the streets were slippery and that this was like snow but a bit different.

It’s usually not the initial light bulb that gets made; it’s some incarnation of the crazy idea. It’s a different form of the thought that pops into our heads when we’re inspired. The “can do,” aspect has to be there though. The “ovation” is critical. The part where everyone feels comfortable cheering about possibilities, even and especially the outlandish ones?

What if we stopped assigning homework? What if we only graded tasks that were meant to verify a student’s understanding of a thing and not those meant not to develop that understanding? What if we searched for ways to let kids play all day long while they learn? What if we found ways to let kids play all day long so they learn?

I don’t have the answers, but I do feel strongly that anyone seeking to enhance teaching and learning should be comfortable exploring any pathways that come to mind. Of course we should explore in safe ways. We can’t simply shift our practices on whims. However, if we view ourselves and those we serve as innovators, if we collectively appreciate the failed attempts that initiate and promote achievement, and if we lead in ways that support the child-like exploration of thoughts and ideas, then we just might be on course for some amazing discoveries that could otherwise be put down simultaneously with the loss of our inner-innovators.

As I sit and type this post it’s ricing cats and dogs outside. Makes me want to create and umbrella from egg roll wrappers. Maybe I will.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Press On.

Reflecting on #ocep15: Building Our Collective Capacity for Excellence in Education

Capacity BuildingWhen I attend a conference I’m looking to do three specific things: 1) connect with people, 2) learn stuff, and 3) get fired up. The Oakland County Effective Practices Conference gave me opportunities at each.

Over the course of two days I connected with many familiar colleagues from around the county and met many others who I hope to collaborate with further. I learned more about building capacity for effective teaching through shared leadership and professional learning, and I was introduced to a unique look at standards based grading that I’m excited to continue exploring.

Finally, I got fired up indeed! I left the conference energized and ready to apply/extend the learning and connections. It was a good way to start the summer. It helped me frame the wrapping up of another exciting school year as a kick off rather than a finish line. This reflection is meant to keep me headed in that direction. If you’re a reader I hope that some of the thoughts and ideas herein are meaningful and motivating as you move along whatever learning path you’re on this summer.

Building Capacity in Individuals and Groups. As a building principal I work hard to support the adults I serve in positive progress and meaningful development. It’s a part of my job. In considering ways to do that part of my job well I think about strategies I use to support my own positive progress and meaningful development.  How do I target and address my own potential? In what ways do I work to maximize my teaching, learning, and leadership chops? In extension, and with the same in mind for those I serve, what can I do to make sure that my school community is firing on all cylinders as we move continuously through persistent change (a standard in education)?

On the opening day of the conference I attended a workshop featuring Michael Fullan during which he highlighted a focus on internal measures, teamwork, and pedagogy as a viable triad for leading meaningful development through impending change. He reminded me that targeting external measures, individualism, and tools (rather than pedagogy) as comprehensive solutions moves us away from accountability, diminishes our individual and collective ownership over growth, and clouds the heart of the matter – positive progress in teaching and learning, and even more specifically, the ongoing wellbeing and achievement of kids!

What is it that we should be looking at as we seek to enhance our classrooms, our schools, and our districts? The complexities of school leadership can seem daunting at times. There’s lots of stuff to do outside of targeted professional learning. Fullen suggested that we focus, but how can we when there’s so much to do? Does focus have to come at the expense of task fulfillment? How do we narrow our attention to a singular or moderated frame of progress while maintaining crossed “t’s” and dotted “i’s?” In what ways can we identify connected and meaningful internal measures, bring individuals together for genuine collaboration, and zero in on teaching and learning while getting it all accomplished along the way? This is were the ideas of shared leadership and delegation come in.

Generating v Celebrating. I want to do a good job…a great one even. I want my students to have an engaging and joyful environment in which to learn and grow. I want the parents I serve to feel valued and feel able rest assured that their children are getting a world-class education. I want the teachers I work with to be comfortable with confidence; I want them to love their jobs, to thrive on learning and growth, and to understand that they’re trusted as professionals and experts. I suspect that all educational leaders want the same; to make sure that everything we do leads to great stuff for kids. We all want to do a good job. Though my consideration of shared leadership and collaborative progress I’m starting to understand a distinction between doing a good job and fostering a culture in which a good job can be done.

The fact is if I’m doing a good job we’re doing a good job. Better yet, if we’re doing a good job I’m doing a good job. The ideas don’t have to be mine. In fact, any idea that’s going to drive positive progress in any school community is going to eventually have to become shared. Without widespread and collective ownership over ideas they’re likely to end in ashes. Even when ideas are implemented with fidelity by individuals in pockets, what good are they for the benefit of the organization? I left Fullen’s workshop reminded that it’s more important to support and celebrate progress than to be the one generating it. Real and sustained progress is made with opened hearts and minds through a lens of collaboration by way of genuine partnerships.

Fostering Ownership/Sharing Leadership. Some things are easier said than done. How do we connect multiple ideas and visions to a common, focused, and connected purpose and direction? On the second day of the conference I heard a riveting keynote address from Tom Shimmer in which he spent some time addressing the idea that we each learn ways unique to our individual backgrounds, styles, and abilities as defined by a myriad of other factors. He offered his insights as they relate to the connection between standards based instruction and traditional vs. standards based grading. I found a meaningful connection to learning and leadership as it relates to the adult learners that I serve.

One of the great and ever-present leadership challenges in educational leadership is generating and maintaining buy-in for programs, initiatives, thoughts, and ideas. Teaching and learning is a highly researched and continuously developing field. We’re constantly exposed to updated information about what works and what doesn’t. Ironically, some of that information is cyclical. With regard to best practices we often see assertions coming down the pike that have come in and out of the educational lexicon repeatedly. How can I take into count the learning styles, readiness, and abilities one each teacher in my building as I work to help them decipher this cycle of information from learning through implementation and adaptation?

Adults are similar to children in the sense that we’re each moving along unique learning paths. I can’t imagine a space and time where a group of adult stakeholders in any organization are comprehensively in line or holistically “bought in” to common programs, initiatives, thoughts, and ideas. Is it possible that buy in exists along a spectrum defined by a spark of curiosity at one end to a deep understanding and appreciation at the other? Should I look at buy in as a series of milestones rather than a end point? Could I? Am I doing a disservice to positive progress by wanting to everyone to buy in at the same time? Would it not be more meaningful to look for progress by seeking to understand, respect, and support the varied paths that each individual is taking? Might I even discover new and potentially enhanced pathways for myself along the way?

The Bottom Line. Some of what I’m grappling with as I process this conference into connected and applicable learning is how to comprehensively remove the message of speed from my communication and efforts related to progress in my school community. Along with so many of my colleagues in organizational leadership I talk about going slow to go fast. I need to continue finding impactful ways to put my money where my mouth is.

I know that learning and growth takes many forms and that collective development must bear individual nuances in mind. I know that my leadership practices must honor that people are on different developmental paths? I know that as a manager, a coach, a mentor, a leader, a learner, and a partner I must strive to increase the level of optimism among my stakeholders.

I’m committed to continue giving all of it my best efforts, and as I learn how to do it better by engaging in ongoing learning experiences like this conference, I’m committed to meaningful reflection and connected adaptation. Where is your leadership and learning path leading you?

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.