Friday, February 28, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 59

You can't make everyone . But you can help everyone .

No matter what you do, you can't please everybody.  Sorry, but you can't.  Of course, that doesn't mean that we give up.

Rather, it just means we realize that chasing the dream of having everybody be happy about everything will always remain a pipe dream.  And maybe that's a good thing, because if everybody were happy all the time, then there would never be any challenge to learn from.

What we can do, however, is help everybody to learn.  Learning is a continuous process, and while sometimes it is clear what we want to learn, at other times we need to prod others (or be prodded ourselves) towards a certain step or in a certain direction.  At times, we don't know what we don't know.

Happily, we can never exhaust the supply of things to learn.  And, not surprisingly, the process of learning should be a happy process.  So, if we can't directly make everyone happy, we can at least help them learn, and watch as their learning brings greater happiness to their lives.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 58

the in your path. A bump in the road is simply a step towards greater heights.

Life is full of challenges.  While some are much more difficult than others, in some small way, they all prepare us to be better leaders, learners, and realistically, people.

How we approach these challenges is what truly matters.  We have the option to look upon them as incredibly negative occurrences.  Or, we can consider them to be stepping stones towards reaching milestones that previously seemed beyond our reach.

I see challenges falling into the latter category.  These obstacles might appear like impassable blocks in the road, but from another angle, they might be exactly what we need to traverse uncharted territory or to build new relationships.

Like the old "If a tree falls. . ." conundrum, we have to wonder what purpose a road block would serve if no one crossed over it.  By embracing challenges, and seeing the upside of a a situation that might at first seem like it would bring us down, we can understand why goals are always heralded with more fanfare when meeting them requires people to really push themselves.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 57

can happen anywhere at anytime. and must never be constrained.

Education can't be boxed or caged.  It has to be set free to truly have meaning.  We learn constantly, and as social creatures, we need to learn not only from our own experiences, but from those of others.

When many think of learning they think of a school.  Yet, if you consider all that you've learned in your life, probably only a small portion of that information took place in the classroom.

We need to spend more time showcasing our leaders and learners who are experiencing education in novel and different ways.

And guess what?  We need to change how learning takes place in schools too.

Imagine a world where learning happened because it wanted to.  Where leaders and learners could go down any path they chose, simply based on interest.  Unrealistic?  Yes.  Unlikely?  Sure.  Impossible?  Not at all.

While there is quite a lot that could be written about whether we should have to learn about things we aren't interested in (whole books, actually), we could model education in any way we chose, if that option was granted to us.

But it isn't.  And it likely won't be.  Still, we need to make sure that we do whatever is in our power to unlock the doors and windows, and open them as wide as possible to the myriad of ways that we can learn and lead.

While there might always be lines we cannot cross, that doesn't mean we shouldn't balance on them.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 56

is . Effective starts with belief in oneself and others.

Leaders have to be sure of themselves.  This doesn't mean that we have to presume to know everything, but it does mean that we have to have faith in our ability to handle any given situation.

That air of comfort and assurance is contagious, and confidence in oneself and others spurs confidence building throughout.  If there is one characteristic that needs to be in place to help build community and push collaboration, it is confidence, specifically confidence that the path being followed leads somewhere everyone wants to go.

We've all had situations arise where we lose confidence in ourselves.  Maybe it is due to the way we engaged in a conversation, or a reflection on a hiring that hasn't been what we planned, or simply wishing we had more resources for our students, staff, and parents.  But, being unsure of ourselves on the inside and exuding confidence on the outside are very different.

Leaders need to be comfortable showing an open poker hand.  But, that doesn't mean that all of our insecurities need to be put on the shoulders of others.  We can openly admit our shortcomings, but when it comes to initiatives and taking action, we still have to remain confident.  Leaders who aren't sure of themselves are sure to be leaders for only a short time.

Believe in yourself and believe in your team.  That confidence that what you are doing is necessary can be the first step to truly making positive change.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 55

who are prepared for the , are the ones who are to be the .

Nobody ever wants to assume the worst is going to happen, but when it comes to being prepared, it is in our best interest to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Morbid? Pessimistic? Uber-negative?


Yet, at the same time, we are only as good a set of leaders as we are during the situations that challenge us the most.  So, why not always prepare for the moments we hope will never happen?

How do we best prepare?  Here are three thoughts:

1.  Always ask, "What If. . . ": If we don't ask the question, we'll never know.  By asking about those situations we hope we never experience, we open our own eyes (and the eyes of others) to the fact that sometimes, anything can happen.  Sometimes starting the conversation is the most important thing.  Rather than worry about being a source of negativity, consider this question a source of inspiration; how would we deal with the worst possible outcome in this situation?

2.  Take Positive Risks: Risk-takers are often better able to positively engage with challenging situations.  Why?  Simply because they've put themselves into situations that tax them many times before.  By taking positive risks, and encouraging this practice in our communities, we can build our armor to sustain the blows that the unexpected can bring.

3.  Layer.  Organizations work best when there is redundancy.  That doesn't mean repetitiveness, however.  Redundancy allows for someone or something to take over when a problem arises or a process is compromised.  Stakeholders aren't occupying the same niche or doing the same jobs.  Instead, your team is prepped to assume responsibilities if the need arises; layering allows for a seamless change, if one has to happen.

Preparing for the worst isn't a negative process.  Instead, it is one that says, "I want what is best for my organization."

What could be more positive than that?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 54

never killed the cat, but it did make it a better and .

While I've been the recipient of the "Curiosity Killed the Cat. . ." quote numerous times (some folks may have thought it was my middle name as a kid), as I've gotten older, I've never really come to see the truth in it.

Yes, we all know that there are some things that we shouldn't do.  But, is curiosity to blame?  Certainly not.

In a world that seems to be pushing the creativity and curiosity out of schools (at least in this country, anyway), the old cat quote seems to push us further from where we want our learners (and our leaders) to be.

As far as I'm concerned, curiosity did nothing but open doors for that cat, and if that cat hadn't been as curious as it was, it never would have learned to change its behavior and/or expanded its cognitive functioning.

We should never, ever, encourage others to stop being curious.  For if we do, we might as well encourage them to stop learning, or far worse, stop breathing.  After all, one of our goals on this planet is to discover why we are who we are, and we can't do that without having a sense of wonder and reflection.

Life is so much better when we go to bed each night with questions in our heads.  Never stop letting curiosity lead you to pose those queries.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 53

A may be worth a thousand words, but action is worth much + more.

I really like the old "Picture is Worth. . ." saying. I think it speaks volumes. We are, scientifically speaking, a visual species, so it stands to reason that pictures can be just as informative as the spoken word. We've all had the experience of seeing an amazing piece of artwork, and without so much as a word being spoken, we can begin contemplating and reflecting upon the story that we believe it tells.

But visuals and words can only do so much. My experiences (and I imagine yours as well) lead me to believe that as powerful as pictures and words can be, the actions we take speak volumes more than any visual or aural experience.

Leadership is a process that is in a nutshell, all about "doing." As leaders, we're tasked with collecting data, making decisions, and then reflecting on outcomes. We can talk as much as we want, we can document happenings with pictures, but it is the actions we take that leave the greatest impact on those whom we serve.

A picture is a great document of a place in time. But, we know two things about pictures. First, many are often posed; attempting to depict life as it may be (but also as it really may not. . . if you need examples of this, check your Facebook feed from time-to-time; we're all guilty of this :) ). Second, pictures fade. While we might remember moments after looking at a picture, situations begin to get blurry over time.

Actions on the other hand don't fade, and are often remembered, even if the person or place isn't remembered quite as well. Since leaders should want to leave a legacy for their organization, better to adorn it with action than pepper it with pictures.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 52

Know your . It's tough to with when you don't know where people have been.

Saying leading is tough would be an understatement.  However, it is even tougher to lead when we aren't sure which way to go.  The best way to plot a course to an appropriate destination?

Make sure you know your audience.

One of the most time consuming aspects of leadership (and therefore one of the most often overlooked) is getting to truly know all your stakeholders.  Building relationships takes time, and if there is one thing that leaders don't have a lot of, it is minutes and hours to spare.  

However, learning the needs and wants of your staff is one of the most vital steps you can take as a leader.  It prepares you to focus on your community and problems and challenges, and just as importantly, it extends to your stakeholders that you are present for them.

Building these relationships is important for those new to positions, but it is just as important for veterans.  Just because we know our staff, students, and parents, doesn't mean we truly "know" them.  We must be visible, active within the community, and willing to help at any given moment.

Sailing a ship is a challenge, which is why it is great that leaders have other leaders and learners surrounding them.  The more opportunities for collaboration, the better!  But, even if the ship is well-maintained and outfitted, if there is no navigator, or the course isn't mapped out, the ship will eventually deteriorate, along with those on it.

Know your audience.  It's the only way to make sure the course you're plotting matches the place people want to be.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 51

is like eating a . You might not like all the layers, but together they're amazing.

I love what I do.  I also love to eat.  So, it makes sense that somewhere along the line I would make a leadership connection to food.  Both hold very prominent spots in my life, and it is amazing how similar the two are.

When it comes to food, there are some tastes that just don't work for us.  I like vegetables in general, but not Brussels sprouts.  I enjoy macaroni salad, but not potato salad.  I would rather have ice cream cake than regular cake any day of the week.

What's so interesting about food is that we might love "the big picture" but not necessarily love the individual parts.  Take taco dip, for instance.  I've never been a huge fan of sour cream, but I'll be the first to admit that you can't make a stellar taco dip without it.  It's that simple.

The idea that you can find some layers not to your liking but still love the end result very much applies to leadership, learning, and life in general.

I love my profession and truly enjoy going to work each morning.  There are some aspects of the work that I do that I don't enjoy as much as others, and that's okay (heck, it's human nature. . . we always qualify the things we experience).  But, when I take a look at the whole amalgamation that is leading and learning, I couldn't be happier.

What's the big idea here?

Simply that we should expect to find fault in our professions and ourselves.  What is more important is that when we look at how everything stacks up,  regardless of whether we enjoy each of the layers individually, we feel good about the meal that is life.

Eat up!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 50

Never forget is a industry. The direction we must be by those we serve.

It seems that sometimes we forget that as educators, we are "servers."  We are tasked with meeting the needs of our stakeholders, and as such, we must remember that the decisions we make can't be about us, but instead, must be about those who we work with (and more importantly, work for).

Students, other educators, the community, are all our charges.  We don't lead them so much as they, lead us.

Therefore, when faced with a decision, or when contemplating a new idea, we must make sure that voices are heard, and those voices can't be from central administration alone.

Education, no matter how hard anyone tries, can never operate like a business.  We don't create products; we do create the future.  Whether a lead learner is called a CEO, a superintendent, a director, a principal, or something else, the name, in fact, means nothing.  For every educator, regardless of title, is a server, plain and simple.

Let's not forget this.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 49

Never embrace as a . Ideas that can't be made better are worth less than nothing.

Ideas are never perfect, and neither are people.  So, it stands to reason that a perfect idea should be avoided like the plague, and I mean that in the most positive way possible.  Perfect ideas are always anything but, and they often lead to very imperfect outcomes.

It might sound silly, but it is the imperfect ideas, the ones that need to be molded and reworked, that tend to lead to the best results.


Simply because they require input from many different stakeholders, and their final iteration is usually a smorgasbord of ideas from everyone involved.  Like a democracy, they work (or are supposed to) simply because everyone has the opportunity for their voice to be heard.

When it comes to education we have to stop looking for panaceas.

News flash: There isn't one.

Instead, we need to embrace those ideas that are a little rusty and not quite as filled with "bling."  These are the ideas that need us, and goodness knows, our education system needs them.

Whatever your capacity of leadership, never be afraid to seek out the messy ideas. Once you reshape them and clean them up, it's amazing what they can do.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 48

It isn't so much who you are that is important, but rather, who you can become.

I'm a big believer in the fact that we create our own destinies.  And, bigger than that, we don't have to be the people we are currently; if we aren't happy with our current way of doing things we have the ability to change our own lives.

Granted, there is much and more at play when we improve our lives.  And, in reality, there are some things that are out of our reach currently (as it stands now, it is unlikely I'll be able to purchase my own lab for science research or start my own educational foundation).  But, that doesn't mean they will be out of our reach forever; we always need to strive for more.

While who we are today is the person that others know of, what is much more important is who we want to (and will) become.  The goal of life is to be able to reflect on your time on this planet and feel as if you ended up in a "better" spot than you started, and for those who share life with you to have benefited from your relationship.

As we continue to lead and learn, we need to pay attention to the present, but we also have to keep our eyes focused on the future.  Where do we see ourselves in five years?  Ten years?  Twenty?

How do we get to the point where we feel that we have accomplished many of our goals in life?  Or, do we ever really reach that point?

How do we keep becoming better?


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 47

Effective love being as much as they love being .

Making decisions is all about choices.  Sometimes the choices are "right."  Other times they're "wrong."  At still other points, they aren't either, instead being too "grey" to be truly right or wrong.

Since leaders are often tasked with making decisions, it stands to reason that sometimes leaders will be right and at others they won't.  But the truly effective leader doesn't care so much about whether a right or wrong decision is made.  This leader is more concerned with what we do afterwards.

Effective leaders understand that wrong choices can be just as helpful as right ones, and the leader who truly understands what leading is all about enjoys making mistakes as much as avoiding them.

A leader who approaches decisions with an understanding that no choice is inherently right or wrong, is better able to analyze the data a choice provides, and live and learn.  It is the leader who is more focused on being "correct" that isn't able to focus on the next steps needed after making a decision.

Does this mean we shouldn't feel some sense of frustration, sadness, or anger at being wrong?  No.  But since decisions are rarely about us, it isn't our inherent feelings that should matter.  Instead, it should be about the information gained to make things better for those we work with.  Therefore, a leader who "gets it" understands that a wrong decision can be just as helpful as a right one in continuing to move forward.

We must worry less about being "wrong" and more about leading "right."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 46

The true only when nobody else .

Leadership isn't a game.  We don't become leaders because we want to "beat" others or "win" any recognition.  Nor do we lead to avoid losing.

Rather, leadership is a process and a way of life.  In fact, being a leaders is kind of like playing the "anti-game."  The only way to truly "win" as a leader, is to do everything in your power to prevent others from "losing."

Sounds silly, right?  But effective leaders understand the truth of those words.  We lead because we want to make the lives of others better, and we've made progress only when people are better off after we've worked with them, than before.

The challenge, of course, is that even society paints life as a game of winners and losers.  If someone succeeds someone else must fail, right?


The fact of the matter is that leadership isn't about succeeding at the expense of others.  Rather it is about learning with others, and through that experience, welcoming both success and failure as necessary parts of the process.

Remember that winning and losing aren't opposite sides of the same coin.  Both sides of the coin can be about winning, and effective leaders do whatever they can to make others see that.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 45

Effective relish labor of the body+mind; we must be as comfortable with the physical as the mental.

The effective leader is happy to get both her hands dirty and her mind engaged.  Leadership is both a physical and mental activity, and if we are going to be effective leaders, we must understand that there are times when our work requires us to be minds-on, other times when it requires us to be hands-on, and then still others when both minds and hands must be engaged.

This doesn't mean that we have to be totally comfortable with both forms of labor.  Simply put, leadership requires us to use our hands and minds, regardless of where our comfort level stands.

So, for those of us who are more comfortable with the physical, we must surround ourselves with those who can help us get our creative and innovative processes going.

If we're much more mental, then we need others to help us draw out our physical sides, as sometimes we need to build tangible things, as opposed to building ideas and procedures.

In any event, all the shoveling I've done over the last few days has made me realize how important it is to be a multi-dimensional leader; someone who does as much as he thinks.  In reality, we can get just as much of a sense of accomplishment from using our hands as using our minds.  Both are necessary to leading today.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 44

Effective know to with an iron resolve; never with an iron fist.

(Note:  It's getting hard for me to keep track of the days. . . today was Day 44 but I tweeted Day 43. :) )

As a former science teacher, there is quite a bit I can say about the virtues of Pb.  Not peanut butter, but lead, the element that truly has a lot of power.

When it comes to leadership, we often have to lead with iron.  Sometimes iron stomachs, that's true, but always an iron resolve.  Making decisions is never easy, even when it seems like the decisions are "no-brainers."

Every decision has an impact, regardless of how small.

So, leaders have to make sure that they stay strong in any given situation.  People look to the leader for advice and action steps.  Therefore the most effective leader has a resolve that says, "Stay the course.  We'll make it."

Of course, not all iron is good.  An iron fist can also be used to make decisions, but instead of building community as a strong resolve can, an iron fist tears it down.  Leaders who rule rather than lead build kingdoms rather than communities.  In education, that structure simply doesn't work.

Take a moment to reflect on the iron in your leadership style.  Are you a leader who is better with iron or worse?  What aspects of the iron in your style need to be further melded?  With whom would you be willing to share some of your iron characteristics?

Lead on!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 43

work with the in mind, knowing that nothing more can be done to the past.

Wouldn't it be great if we could change the past?  Imagine the tings we would accomplish if we knew then what we know now?

Of course, maybe things wouldn't be that different.  And, isn't it better to have learned from our mistakes than to have learned nothing at all?

Regardless of your view, the simple fact is that the past is the past, and no matter what we do, we can't change it.  Rather, effective leaders live in the present, always thinking about today and tomorrow, and truly reflecting on the past when it can be used to better inform us of the future.

By leading for tomorrow, we can make sure that we address situations as they arise, and that we prepare our agencies for the challenges that are waiting around the next bend.  How do we do this?  Here are three simple steps you can take to start leading with the future in mind:

1.  Stay current.  Social media, periodical subscriptions, regular conversations with those in different geographic locations.  These are all ways to keep your knowledge up-to-the-minute, something that we need to do in order to truly lead today.

2.  Make decisions.  There are times when you need to make them, and other opportunities when decision-making can be delegated.  Regardless, the only way to move forward is to eventually make a decision.  Time waits for no one.

3.  Take risks.  The unknown is, well, unknown.  To lead for the future we have to be willing to jump into the breach, and just as importantly, be prepared to be wrong from time-to-time.  And that's okay, because being wrong means we'll learn.  And by extension, that means we'll be able to reflect.

It isn't always easy to think of the future, but it is necessary.  These days, time always feels as if it moves faster than it should.  We should start living and leading like this is really the case.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 42

If you're going to make a , make sure you make it count.

Change is hard, but it is even harder to make a change that isn't really much of a change at all.  Particularly when your stakeholders are left wondering which of their concerns, if any, were addressed in the change you made.

Effective change requires three things: First, an understanding and ability to explain clearly how the change will impact stakeholders.  Second, a scope of change that incorporates all or as many of your stakeholders as possible.  Finally, an endpoint that showcases a result that sets a new landscape than existed before the change.  Let's call this the USE Framework for Change.

To show the difficulties of ineffective change, I'm going to highlight a few items from the most recent NYSED Board of Regents meeting, all of which fall under the heading of Common Core implementation changes.  (Note: Our SED is touting this as a news-worthy item; in my eyes, this is part of the problem. . . touting minor changes as major ones simply builds greater frustration).

First, the Twittersphere is on fire with headings (taken directly from the SED page, unfortunately) touting implementation delays to the Common Core.  Yet, the only real delay New York will experience is a delay in meeting college and career ready graduation requirements; no delay in testing, standards use, curriculum design/implementation, etc.  This feels more like a can kick down the road than a true change (in my humble opinion, anyway).  How does this play out in the explaining, scope, and endpoint aspects of effective change?

Understanding: Due to the lack of clarity from SED on this point, I've been trying to assist educators since yesterday in understanding what the delay really is.  Interpretations have ranged from no delay of anything to the whole train coming off the tracks.  This lack of consensus is bad for any change.

Scope:  While this change will effect all educators, it doesn't really impact anything different at this point.  The status quo will continue, making this a moot point.

Endpoint: This change would go into effect immediately but wouldn't be felt by anyone.  Hopefully, more time teaching with the Common Core standards will make a difference, but who is to know?  Regardless, 2022 will be a shock for all, as a ten point or fifteen point shift in graduation requirements will be difficult no matter when it happens.

Here's one more example: SED is going to be disapproving APPR plans with traditional standardized testing built in for grades K-2.  However, NY does not utilize traditional standardized testing in grades K-2, and I would be surprised (though I have been wrong before) if any (or more than a few) actually assess more than the state requires.  Let's look at the USE Framework here.

Understanding: This makes sense, but appears silly.  If the state doesn't administer standardized tests K-2, why bother with this?  Shouldn't APPR plans including this have been disapproved in the past?  This one seems like a waste of digital ink.

Scope: Large enough.  Primary teachers, students, and parents are all impacted by this.  But again, unless a district currently does this, the scope is dramatically reduced.

Endpoint: For most, the end result is the same as the starting point: no standardized tests K-2.

By the way, there are a few great moves.  The state is continuing to look for ways to make AIS productive for districts and students, and flexibility to districts around local assessments is always a great thing.  In addition, educators rated ineffective by districts may have some defense for termination if their termination is tied to Common Core assessment results (FYI, less than three percent of educators in NY are rated ineffective).  But, for all the good, changes that are viewed as being too little, or too late, end up resulting in increased frustration, not less, which is exactly what I believe SED did with this memo.  A shame, really.

What do you think?  I can go on more about the changes in the memo, which can be found here.  Reach out to me and let's chat.