Friday, January 31, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 31

is never on your side. Better to , than against it.

Today was a busy day.  Too much to do, and not enough time to do it.  Isn't that always the case?  We can't beat time, and it has no intention of slowing down.

So, we've got to do one better.  We have to embrace the fact that we will never get everything done, and instead, understand that it is what we get done, and how we do it, that matters most.

There are a couple of things we can do, however, to be as efficient and effective as possible.  First, we can map out our time and keep to a schedule.  Second, we can collaborate and delegate, to cater to the strengths of others and distribute the load.  Finally, we must make sure that what we do truly counts, as a smaller number of accomplishments that mean a lot will always outweigh a tremendous number of accomplishments that mean little.

Here's the scoop: We only have a finite time on this Earth, and "To Do" lists never get shorter.  Why not focus on what is really important, so when these accomplishments take place, we can really be sure that we've made a difference.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 30

Imagine what could be accomplished if no one ever gave up.

I don't tend to disagree with Yoda, but on this one I do.  There is a "try," and we all need to become very familiar with it.

Our ability to persevere is based on a number of different factors, all of which play a role in the type of leader and learner we are and will become.  Regardless, the importance of "stickwithitness" can't be under emphasized.  If we give up too early, we never accomplish the goals we've set.  Shouldn't we expect the world to challenge us?

Of course, we have to balance this with not becoming obstinate.  No matter how many times you bang your head against a brick wall, and no matter how hard you try (don't try too hard, please) that brick wall isn't going to move.

So, if we can't give up too easily, but can't try too hard, where does that leave us?  Realistically, that's the wrong question.

You see, realistic goals are what separates scenarios where giving up is the only option from those where hard work pays dividends.  With a realistic goal, people have to work very hard to meet it, but the goal can be met, so there is never any reason to give up.  A goal that is too easy doesn't build grit or perseverance, and one that is too hard encourages obstinate behavior or simply throwing one's hands up.  So, our ability to grit through a tough situation is all about the goal we're trying to reach.

What that means for learners and leaders is that the goals we set for ourselves and others play a role in how well we can build grit; generate realistic and well-defined goals, and at least some aspect of grit will build itself.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 29

Self- is great, as long as you stay humble. The world needs with happy endings.

I'm a believer of self-promotion (after all, someone has to share the great things that our schools and districts are doing).  I'm also a believer in the need for news to not always be bad (though some segments of our media might think otherwise).  With so many great things happening in the education world, it is a shame that what we hear about most are the bad situations and the situations that get people angry.

As leaders, we have to sell our stories to the surrounding world.  What great things are happening in our classrooms?  What accomplishment has our district made?  What curriculum project can now be shared with the world-at-large?

Many folks using social media do this quite well, regularly sharing pictures of students at work, blogging about happenings in their professional (and personal) lives, and engaging in work with virtual PLCs to share their learning.

This self-promotion is great, but we should go further.  Local and regional media outlets should be clued into the work that we're doing.  Making connections with education reporters can be a wonderful way to showcase successes.  In addition, hosting events with well-known speakers, engaging in partnerships with area businesses, and truly being "innovative" are all ways to give your students, and the learning they're engaging in, more positive press.

Of course, through it all, we have to remember to remain humble.  Our school system may be great, but we can always get better.  Our methods won't work for everyone, and by no means are the steps we've taken the only "answer" to what ails education.

The key is to bask in the spotlight when it hits us, yet be comfortable with the fact that eventually (and often very quickly) it will leave us for somewhere else.  This isn't too difficult a feat, as we know that eventually, if we keep doing good for our learners, it will be back.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 28

The purpose of engaging in is not to , but rather to make others .

Today two things happened that made me consider the true purpose of argument.

First, I got caught up in a Twitter vortex on the Common Core.  I responded to a tweet that, in essence, lumped all the Common Core issues together into a "Banish Common Core" type post.  I attempted to explain that the issues were separate entities and poor implementation might not necessarily mean poor standards.  Soon, I was blasted from many angles.  I relish a good discussion, so I enjoyed the verbal sparring, though I certainly wasn't expecting some of the responses I received.

Second, I watched the first half of the State of the Union, paying particular attention to how the different political parties responded to elements of the speech.  Truly fascinating stuff.

Both of these situations made me think about the purpose of argument, and how the goal for engaging in it should be about making people consider other viewpoints, rather than attempting to persuade others or somehow "win" something.

In truth, nobody truly "wins" in an argument.  It's all about separating fact from opinion and seeing different sides of the same coin.  Argumentation should be relished, and should be developed as a skill during our schooling.  If we can't argue an idea, than we likely aren't capable of finding and utilizing evidence to support our claims.

And in a world inundated with information (some factual and some not so), if we don't seek the evidence behind claims, then we're preventing ourselves from becoming the learners we're truly capable of being.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 27

Angry requires a strategy. Your response and how it is taken will be better off.

Ever gotten caught up in an angry email war?  It's nasty isn't it?  You get an email that you think is particularly negative and before you have the time to reflect, you've shot back a message that takes it to the next level.  Nobody wins in these exchanges, and while the hope might be that you feel better afterwards, you're often left wishing you had never engaged in the situation in the first place.

While angry communication (whether by email, phone, or face-to-face) can't be ignored, it can be dealt with appropriately.  I recommend a "Sleep on It" strategy.  By putting time between your receipt of the negativity and your response to it, you can approach the situation from a more reflective standpoint, and therefore present a tone in your communication that speaks of "excellence" rather than "explosion."

Note that this "Sleep on It" approach works for phone and face-to-face as well.  When a conversation gets heated, never feel as if you can't say, "You know what, I feel that this conversation is going somewhere where we don't want it to go, and rather than become negative or personal, let's talk again tomorrow and see where we get."

It's quite possible nothing will have changed in a day, but it is also quite possible that everything will have.

Cooler heads do always prevail, and cooler heads are rarely left wondering about the relationships they've helped destroy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 26

 may be , but acting without it is .  Remember,  must come before     

The old saying, "Talk is cheap," is meant to showcase the fact that talking about something will only get you so far, and without acting, all you really do is talk around an idea.  No more.  No less.

But, in my (very) humble opinion, the saying is a bit misguided.  Sure, talk is cheap, but it is also necessary.  We can't act on ideas without discussing them first, unless we want to make potentially massive errors that could have been prevented.

Too much talk without any action is bad, but we need to talk to collect data, and just as we wouldn't purchase a car without doing research (hopefully), we shouldn't make decisions without data to support our actions.

So, in that regard, the "cheapness" of talk is actually a great thing.  We can talk until we have enough information to make an appropriate decision; once we do, we should move into the action phase.  We should always keep in mind the mantra:

Data before Decisions.

If nothing else, this will keep us focused on the fact that the best decisions always have evidence to back them up.  And while the decisions we make might not always lead to the best end results, we can rest assured that if we used data to make them, we gave it our best shot.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 25

Truly great understand they should be seen, even more than heard.

Leaders tend to like to speak a lot.  Quite often, they speak more than they should.  Even the most introverted leader often considers it a responsibility to share opinions, and speak out for a cause.  Most leaders, at least in one form or another, feel that the role of "mouthpiece" is a necessary one.

And they would be right.

Yet, some leaders tend to gravitate towards information giving and start to forget about the importance of information receiving.  No conversation ever took place in which one person did all the talking, right?  So it stands to reason that leaders, if they believe in the importance of open and honest conversation, must take a step back and watch and listen.

The most effective leaders speak when they need to, but make their presence known in other ways.  The school leader who makes it a priority to walk the halls, pop into teachers' classrooms, and stand outside when buses arrive and depart often builds more capacity and community than the leader who sounds off at any given opportunity.

This means that we need to make sure our schedules allow time for us to share our thoughts, and even more time for us to watch and listen to what others are sharing.

Quote-A-Day: Day 24

The only difference between and is your perspective.

Failure can be devastating, if we let it.  But, there really isn't any reason to be stymied by failure.  In fact, failure and success aren't that different; they are just simply different steps along the pathway of life.

In truth, the only thing that separates a failure from a success is how you view the outcome.  So, we can either embrace a failure as a step towards future learning and later success.  Or, we can see failure as an insurmountable barrier that prevents us from going any further.  Same failure, different perspectives.

For me, I would rather think of failure as simply the next step in the voyage towards discovery.  When visualized from this standpoint, we should want to fail.  After all, if we aren't willing to take the steps towards success (regardless of what they bring), then how will we ever get to where we want to be?

What do you think?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 23

Truly lives are led through the building of ,not .

One of the first lessons I learned as a new educator came from a great mentor (and great friend).  His theme, that he continues to live by today, was and is, "It's all about the relationships."

And he's right.

While money can buy many things (including happiness), it can't come close to providing the richness that a personally and professionally fulfilling life provides.  And how do we make our lives so fulfilling? By building them in collaboration with others.

In fact, there's little that we can actually accomplish on our own, as so much of our being rests on connections to others.  So, it isn't any wonder that the most successful leaders are great communicators and excellent collaborators.

As you go throughout the rest of your day today, consider how many relationships you've relied on just to get from waking to sleeping.  It's fair to say that we could not, in fact, get by without a little help from our friends (apologies to the Beatles).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 22

To err is . To not is .

I know, I know.  This one is a little bizarre.  But, all leaders need to take themselves less seriously from time-to-time.

If there are two things that are certain in life, they are:
1.  If you're reading this, you are a human
2.  You make mistakes.

The fact of the matter is that no one is perfect (even your cyborg pal was programmed by a human), and life would be a lot less interesting if we were.

So, rather than worry about making mistakes, we should worry about how we respond to them.  Mistakes are learning opportunities in disguise, and we should use them as stepping stones to becoming even better at what we do.

We should never wish for a mistake-free life.  But, we should hope for a life filled with mistakes that lead to much learning.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 21

We can never blame others for having bad .Rather we must blame ourselves for not providing better .

There really is no such thing as a bad idea.  Or a good idea, for that matter.  In fact, no idea is inherently measurable in terms of "goodness."  By itself, ideas are just that.  What separates the "good" from the "bad" is the response ideas are given: feedback.

It is quite possible to take an idea that doesn't sound like it will fit an organization in its current form and turn it into something that greatly improves how a school or district operates.  At the same time, ideas that seem like perfect fits can turn out to be duds.

Feedback is the key separator for ideas that work and those that don't.  And we, as educators, creatives, leaders, and the like, are the ones who not only may provide the ideas, but the feedback that turns those ideas into living and breathing "things."

Therefore, it is imperative that we consider the feedback before we deliver it.  Are we delivering it in a way that is easy to understand?  Are we not only pointing out faults but sharing potential solutions (or better yet, providing the idea generator with a path to finding solutions for himself/herself)?  Are we separating out feedback from advice?  Are we focusing on the mission at hand, not the person?

These are some of the many questions we should be considering before opening our mouths, clicking "send," or putting pen to paper.  Therefore, it is important to remember that the fault (or success) never rests solely on the shoulders of the idea generator.  Rather, it is distributed among the backs of all those who heard the idea and shared their thoughts.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 20

Never run from a . Rather, run towards it. Every challenge met is a step towards .

It is human nature to be scared or frightened of challenge.  It's also human nature to want to embrace the familiar, and run from what would be a change.  However, the risk we avoid by side-stepping challenge is one less success we might experience, and one less opportunity to learn.

One of the difficult parts of approaching challenges head-on is that we never know what to expect.  Sometimes, regardless of the amount of data we collect or investigations we conduct, there is simply some uncertainty that can't be avoided.  Still, we owe it to ourselves to embrace the unknown, as only through experiencing it can be turn it into the known, and from there, build our capacity to know and share more.

I can't say I've never run from a challenge.  I've certainly run from a few.  But, as I've matured both personally and professionally, I've run from less and less.  Why?  Simply because I find it harder to deal with wondering what would have happened if I would have taken a challenge on, then dealing with the potential failure that a challenge brings.  That failure is no longer something to be feared.

For me, challenge has become a necessary part of the work I do.  When there is no more challenge or when I no longer welcome it, then that is something to be feared.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 19

Anything can be an resource. What matters is how it is used, and the story it is meant to tell.

In education, it isn't so much that we lack the resources to teach children well, but we lack the creativity, time, and assistance to figure out how to use the resources we have to best teach our children.

The "resource-chasing" that often serves as the bottom-line for our educational decision-making is flawed.  Certainly, schools in areas that are more resource-rich tend to post better achievement scores, but this is often due more to what students come to school with than what they encounter once there.

The fact of the matter is that extremely creative teachers can be extremely creative with resources no matter where they are.  The challenge?  We need to provide the time for these educators to design, test, and reflect, and we need to support them by reducing the impact of mandates and initiatives that take their focus off providing the best possible instruction for students.

Make no mistake.  This isn't an easy charge.  However, we can easily be misguided by blaming all the woes on money, which is often out of our control.  Rather, we need to look at the resources we already have within our buildings and community-at-large, and provide opportunities for those who can, to turn those resources into gold.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 18

I prefer wrong answers to right ones. With a wrong answer, you've got a guaranteed opportunity to learn more.    

To dispel a rumor, there is such a thing as a wrong answer.  But, wrong answers, in my opinion anyway, are many times more useful than right ones, and much more desirable to boot.

I don't mind being wrong.  In fact, I welcome it.  After all, when I learn that I'm wrong that means I have work to do to find that answer (or answers) that are right, and that means an ample opportunity to take my learning further.

While I'm also quite happy to be correct, the challenge there is that sometimes simple "correctness" puts an end to that specific quest for knowledge.  It's often more sad for me to close the book on an investigation than to have taken the wrong turn and be left trying to figure out how to get back.

Life is all about searching for answers, and as far as I'm concerned, oftentimes finding the wrong one is more of a victory than locating the one that is "correct."

Friday, January 17, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 17

Great know it isn't their responsibility to others, but rather, to them lead themselves.

During our Curriculum Council meeting this morning we spent time discussing and engaging in providing different levels of feedback.  Feedback is one of those words in education that means many different things to many different people, and all feedback is not created equal.

Therefore, as we watched examples of post-observation sessions, I started to think about the best type of feedback, the type that doesn't tell educators what to do, but instead, encourages them to lead themselves to where they need (and want) to be.

Excellent leaders understand that being a leader, in part, means not leading at all, and instead, helping others find direction, and getting them to the place where they feel comfortable leading themselves.  That's why in the most well-designed educational organizations, everyone acts as both a learner and a leader; simultaneously plotting the course for growth and piloting the ship to get there.

Of course, organizations that practice this type of "learnership" are few and far between.  But just because we have a large expanse to cross to get to where we need to go, doesn't mean we don't take that trip.  Imagine how we could change education if we could get there?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Quote-Day: Day 16

All is not created . If it isn't based, and you can't act on it, it isn't worth giving.

I had the opportunity to wrap-up this year's recertification for lead evaluators, a series of workshops that administrators here in New York State engage in yearly to refresh our understanding of the needs for effective performance review for educators.

During our session, one of the topics that was discussed focused on feedback, and how everyone gives feedback, but not everyone gives feedback that is useful.

I really agree with this statement.  As a teacher, I had an epiphany during my second year of teaching.  I had been providing feedback to students that was very basic, and not surprisingly, I wasn't seeing the changes I hoped I would see.

To address this, I made sure that every time I provided feedback, I supplied students with at least one relevant question tied back to their work.  Though this took longer to do, it saved time in the long run as students were more likely to change behavior (or at least see me to discuss my feedback further).

The key tenets of the feedback I began to supply?  The feedback had to be based on evidence from the student work, and, just as importantly, students had to be able to act on the feedback (in other words, it was reachable and appropriate for where students currently "were").

Today, working primarily with teachers and leaders, I make it a habit  of supplying feedback in exactly the same way.  Regardless of where we are in our lives, we are all learners seeking to further our understanding of the world around us.  If we are going to take the time to supply feedback, why not make sure it is meaningful?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 15

Bad news becomes worse news when it isn't addressed immediately. Sweeping under the rug helps no one.

Our desire to help others and reduce potential damage or pain often causes us to think twice about delivering bad news.  Yet, the longer we wait to deliver bad news, the potentially worse it can become, and the more likely it is for people to hear news from someone other than the source, and we often know how that can impact a situation.

So what does that mean?  In short, that we have to overcome our fear of making people uncomfortable in order to inform and support.  One way of looking at it is that the sooner we share bad news, the more time we have to support the people who need it.

Delivering any news that is less than stellar can be a challenge.  Yet, we can't look at these scenarios as if they are ones to be avoided.  Instead, we need to embrace these chances as times to build capacity, strengthen relationships and truly become people leaders.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 14

Don't forget to set aside an opportunity to  all parts of your mind + body.  is .    

Some days it feels like we're moving at the speed of light.  With no potential end in sight, life passes us by, and we do whatever we can to keep the train on the tracks (and not fall off in the process).  So, it isn't surprising that we need to force ourselves to make time to relax.

Downtime is a necessity.

All parts of our body and mind need exercise, including those parts that control our ability to tune out all input, and just be.

My wife and I took a short one night trip two evenings ago.  It was great to get away, and we enjoyed a night filled with good food, good drink, and ample relaxation.  Our kids were well taken care of, enjoying their time with my parents, and my wife and I made every effort to ignore the cell phones and let email sit for another day.

We both returned feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges that life throws our way.  The truth is, I'm sure we both would have been able to handle things without our one night jaunt.  But, the opportunity to simply "turn off" for one day, certainly made us that much more effective when we "turned back on."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 13

Never be afraid to take a few steps back. It's amazing what you can learn when observing from a new perspective.

It's pretty unbelievable what you can learn when you take a step back and look at a situation from a new angle.  We tend to get so caught up in putting out fires and handling problems, that we rarely, if ever, are able to stop, remove ourselves from the heat of the moment, and look at the scenario from a different angle.

But when we do have that opportunity, wow, it's amazing how much we can learn.  While it's difficult, I do my best to stave off any decision making until I've put myself in the shoes of a number of different stakeholders.

Recently, we've been struggling with finding ways to keep one of the programs that has been a cornerstone of our agency afloat.  The program has made the difference in the lives of many students, but finances over the last few years have plagued its ability to pay costs.  I've tried to view the situation from the perspective of teachers in the program, students, parents, and administrators in districts that are making the decision about whether to support the program in the future.  While viewing the situation from these perspectives doesn't necessarily make the problem any easier to solve, it does provide for a more effective context from which to troubleshoot, and regardless of the outcome, I can now visualize the many different pathways our agency, and the program, may take.

It's true that taking a few steps back can prevent us from moving forward.  But, what we lose in forward progress, we make up for in information gathering and relationship building.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 12

We don't know what we don't know. Better to assume lack of than intuit that other's are wrong.

If you're like me, you've definitely been in situations where you think you know all the answers, only to find out you're wrong.  I was once told that we never know what we don't know, and for that reason, no one can ever be a real "expert."

Of course, it is tough to admit when we don't know something, but the most effective leaders feel comfortable using their lack of knowledge as a driving force for learning more.  No matter where you go or what you do, there is always going to be somebody who knows more about something than you.

And that's the point.  If we knew everything, or knew precisely what we didn't yet know, life's challenges and adventures would be non-existent (or at least a lot less fun).  Better to be cognizant of the fact that there are always questions to be answered, and always those out there who can help us answer them.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 11

Remember those who + you along the way. from the helps prepare us for the future.

Sometimes I think that we get so caught up in the day, that we forget to think much about the one that came before.  Yet, our past does, quite regularly, inform our future, and realistically, we should never want to ignore our past, as it has helped shape who we are today.

When we do have the time to reflect on our lives, we often tend to push aside thoughts about the aspects of our being that did not go as well as we hoped, and we tend to ignore (or worse get angered by) the people in our lives who treated us as less than we would want to be treated.

Yet, even those who had a negative impact on our lives can to be remembered for the positive learning we took from them.  There are even times when we can learn more from those who were thorns in our side than from those who we consider close friends or family.

Regardless, all our experiences (both positive and negative) come together to help make us who we are today.  While it is true that our past does not define us, we should embrace the fact that our past helps us define for ourselves, who we will become in the future.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 10

may keep us sharp, but tempers the edge. Without it, we can cut others and ourselves.

Last evening I took the Jeopardy online test.  I enjoy doing this yearly for two reasons.  First, I love Jeopardy, and would love even more to be a contestant.  As far as "game shows" go, they don't get much better.  Second, I look forward to being humbled each time I take the test.  Yep, I actually look forward to getting my butt kicked.

There's something about being humbled and understanding the importance of humility.  Any leader worth his/her salt knows that to stay relevant, an ever increasing wealth of knowledge needs to be attained.  The problem with knowledge on its own, though, is that it can lead to arrogance, and a belief that the more knowledge one obtains, the "smarter" one becomes.  This is only half true.  Certainly knowledge is a requisite factor in leading and life.  But, to avoid the inflated ego that might accompany it, we need a good dose of humility to bring us back down to Earth.

A quick note:  Humility is different from humiliation.  Doing horribly on the Jeopardy online test was an important application of humility for me to experience  No matter how smart I might think I am, I have much and more to learn; it's good to be reminded of this.  But, I wasn't humiliated by the experience; I took the test knowing what to expect, and feeling happy about it afterwards.  Everyone should have the experience of a little humility.  But no one, should ever be humiliated.