Monday, March 31, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 90

If faced with the choice, choose to be and over and .

(Note: I messed up the day on this one.  Getting tough to keep track.:) )

Nobody wants to be sad or upset.  And, nobody strives for the characteristic of "ignorance" (realistically, anyway).

On the flip side, we would like to be happy all the time, and strive to be constantly informed.

If given the choice, leaders would very likely choose to be informed and sad, over ignorant and happy.

Ignorance, it turns out, isn't bliss.

In today's world, one of the expectations for leaders is constant information sharing.  If we can't do that, then we have failed in one of our most important jobs: staying relevant.

It isn't easy to choose being sad over being happy, but the price to pay for ignorance is a high one indeed.  With information flow as quick as it is these days, leaders can't afford to "not know."  We need to be at the forefront of information, and have to be constantly working to determine how this knowledge affects us and those we work with.  Sticking our heads in the sand accomplishes nothing (other than creating a feeling akin to rug burn), and it can actually be incredibly detrimental.  Change is never easy, but it can be quite good; if we're afraid of information because we're afraid of change, then we'll be left behind.

It's as simple as that.

So, while I hope you never have to choose between being happy and being sad, I hope that if you were faced with the choice between being informed or ignorant, you would choose informed, and deal with whatever emotion might come you way, knowing that you'll be able to share important information with those around you.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 89

It isn't enough to with . You also have to be willing to lead with your feet.

Visionary leaders need to do more than just craft the vision itself.  Alone, a well crafted vision is inspiring, and often, it sets the groundwork for the challenging endeavors that come with motivating and changing organizations.

But, visions by themselves are simply words.

A leader can lead with vision (both figuratively and literally), but if that leader doesn't lead with his or her feet, then little and less will likely be accomplished.

Leading with your feet is a slightly more friendly version of putting your money where your mouth is.  To lead with your feet requires you to back up your vision with action, and to regularly be the first one to step into uncharted territory.  Whether you end up going it alone, or whether others follow you is often secondary.  The fact is, those who lead with their feet understand that they may be the first to fall, but they take those first steps in hopes of others joining in.

Leading with your feet not only means taking positive risks, it also means being visible.  To lead with your feet means you must leave your office.  As challenging as that may be on some occasions, the leader who is present is also the leader who provides presents in the form of feedback, conversation, and community.

To avoid either aspect of leading with your feet simply means you have a ship with a destination, but no sail to help you get there.  The waters of education can get pretty wild, and unless we have the tools to get our learners to their respective destinations, we're apt to have a mutiny on our hands, and rightly so.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 88

"I can't" has no place in the verbal repertoire of a or .

We've all said it.  Five dreaded letters that push responsibility off our shoulders and onto someone else (or simply out into the ether).

"I can't."

From the moment those words leave our mouths, we have doomed the issue at hand.

Saying "I can't" has a way of letting a problem continue to persist, without any hope of resolution.  And, if we really think about it, there are very few things that we can't do.  Rather, "I can't" is more like saying "I won't," but without the responsibility attached.

Rather than uttering those two words (either pair of them), instead say, "I will see what I can do" or "Let's brainstorm some ways to figure this out."  By responding in one of these ways, you take the responsibility for following up (or, you share the responsibility with a group of other learners and leaders).

This type of response is transformative.  It doesn't guarantee you'll be able to solve the problem, but it does guarantee that you are going to do something about the situation at hand, regardless of the end result.  That desire to make things right is sometimes more important than whether the situation ends up being "rightable" or not.

If we want to build community and foster collaboration in a way that leads to learning for everyone, than we have to be willing to stop saying "I can't" and start saying "I will."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 87

An is simply a waiting to be asked.

An answer is never final, nor should it be.  We often look at responses to questions as being "it."  But, in reality, an answer is simply another question just waiting to be asked.

This idea is an important one, as it encapsulates the value of keeping to a continuous improvement model of learning and leading.  When we ask a question and receive an answer, that isn't an invitation to stop learning.  Rather it is an invitation to take learning further, so that we might investigate deeper and more fully than we would have originally.  And through that, the hope is we keep getting better.

What we can't do is assume that we're done when we arrive at an answer.  If we asked a question that appears to have "one right answer," we have to keep asking follow-up questions; we can't simply stop.

Learning and leading are endeavors that require us to always be "minds-on."  An answer often portends an option to turn our mind off.  That can't be allowed as one of the key requirements for learning and leading is to always be thinking.

So, the next time you receive an answer to something, take it as an opportunity to generate a question that will take your learning even further.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 86

Before you build , you must build .

We know the importance of community.  The building of community within a school or district is touted as one of the most important steps to successful leading and learning, and truthfully, it is.  Community leads to increases in morale and motivation, and these two "Ms" promote another "M": "MAJOR" learning (though I guess that is an ML).

But community building isn't easy (as any leader can attest to).  And frankly, you can't build any community until you've surmounted the hurdle of trust.

Picture this: You're a new leader just beginning work in a new school.  You've got thousands of aspirations, and you've done your homework. . . "you" know what this school needs.  Of course, the school isn't just about you.  It's about the hundreds of other learners and leaders in the building who, in their shoes, know exactly what the school needs (and their list is likely different than yours).  If you assume that you can simply build community by making changes, you've got another thing coming.

Instead, leaders need to start by building trust, which often means they need to start by listening.  This can be tough for those of us (like me) who love to talk; but it is a necessity.  You can't make change until you understand what others believe needs to change (or stay the same).  This is important, because if a goal is to turn a school or district into a community, then everyone needs to trust each other, unconditionally.

In particularly challenging times, trust is often one of the first characteristics to go in relationships.  That is, unless the trust built up has allowed for the creation of a very strong community, one where mistakes and transgressions are addressed by the populace at large, and people realize that the only way to get anywhere is to believe in those around them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 85

Say things like they mean something. Say things like, "They mean something."

The power of words is amazing.  Who would think that a slight change in wording, or even a different inflection or pause point, could totally change the way what we say is interpreted?

But, of course, these variables make all the difference.

We've all been in situations where we have misspoken or where information was shared with us that we interpreted in a way different than was intended.

Words have tremendous power.

So, as leaders and learners it falls on us to use them appropriately, and most importantly, to live by the old adage, "We must think before we speak."

The two statements I used in the tweet above are great examples.  Here's why:

Say things like they mean something.  This can be interpreted as stating that we should use words wisely, and speak when we have something important to say.  This is a rule to live by for all leaders and learners as we want to develop a culture where when people speak, everyone listens.

Say things like, "They mean something." This is also a powerful statement.  It includes all the same words as the first, in the same order, but with a comma for a pause and two quotation marks.  With those additions, what this statement says is totally different.  This can be interpreted to mean that we should regularly and often say, "They mean something."  This is also a great rule to live by.  The "they" could represent students, teachers, parents, family, friends, pets, etc.  The simple idea is that by regularly stating these words, we encourage others to believe in the importance of people.  Everyone means something, and everyone should know that people care.

So, with three small changes to the same statement, we can say equally important (and equally powerful) things.

We should never discount the power of the written or spoken word, and should make sure that we always consider how our words can, and will be, interpreted by others.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 84

must be provided with opportunities to ; must take advantage of opportunities to .

Learners and leaders are truly two sides of the same coin.  Each face must be provided with the opportunity to experience the other in order to stay current and relevant.

Teachers in buildings need to be given the opportunity to take on leadership roles.  This requires a leadership structure that welcomes innovation and the sharing of responsibility.  Support must also exist if these roles are to blossom into deeper and more meaningful experiences.  An organization that provides and supports teacher leaders is an organization that is creating its own future and destiny.

Leaders need the opportunity to not only learn, but to teach.  In school buildings this might mean partnering up with a teacher to do some co-teaching, or individually working with a selection of students throughout the year.  In more of a central office role, this means spending time consistently in buildings and/or providing teaching and leading staff with regular professional learning opportunities, where the leader, is the facilitator.

This community of leader-learners leads to a number of amazing outcomes.  Of note are two:

First, this structure levels the playing field.  Leaders are teachers and teachers are leaders.  This builds community, and encourages students (and parents) to take on roles that further support the school and district.  When we see others taking on a multitude of roles, we are more likely to do the same.

Second, wearing both faces of the same coin keeps everyone aware of not only what is going on in the school/district, but also what is going on across the nation and the world.  To understand best practices in teaching, leaders need to do more than read about them.  They must integrate them into the practices they try with learners of all ages.  At the same time, teachers can't truly understand the challenges and successes of leadership until they've given it a go.

This opportunity to put everyone on the same page can do wonders for any organization.  When we all speak the same language, it is much more difficult to misunderstand each other.  So, today, wear the other face of the coin we all share.  Will you teach today?  Lead?  Both?  Whatever you do, make sure you learn.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 83

What is taught in the is only one set of that exists in schools.

There are numerous curricula that are taught and experienced daily in our schools.

And, I'm not referring to the ones just taught in our classrooms.

The idea of a secondary (and tertiary, and so on) curriculum isn't new, and it represents the myriad of other learnings and experiences students come to us with and experience within our care.  Some of these curricula provide for wonderful community-building opportunities (i.e. the teacher who engages in sports and/or recess activities outside with students, or the principal who eats lunch with a random lunch table ever Monday) while others expose learners to places and spaces they never thought they could learn from (i.e. an outdoor learning walk where students observe, listen, and reflect).

Still other curricula provide more challenge, and sometimes we are attempting to un-teach what has already been taught.  The student who comes from a family with a history of abuse and neglect, or the group of students who transferred schools to avoid gang repercussions all carry experiences that we did not expose them to, but that we must work with them to address.  These negative influences, are curricula, nonetheless. 

Whether this secondary curriculum brings heart or heartache, as educators we must acknowledge its existence and work to make sure that all tiers of curriculum are addressed and learned from.  The leader who recognizes that more than one form of curriculum exists in her district is the leader who is best prepared for the unexpected.

While our high-stakes culture often puts the emphasis on classroom curriculum as the roadmap to success, life itself seems to rest on the infusion of all curricula present to truly help learners (and leaders for that matter) reach the height of their abilities.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 82

and should never be allowed to drown. But they must be made to swim.

One of the worst things we can do for a leader or learner is provide them with an answer.

Life isn't meant to be easy, and the process of leading and learning shouldn't be either.  Too often, we so want people to succeed that we are too quick to end the necessary struggle that leads to elation, once people get to where they want to go.

As a parent, I experience this daily with my two kids.  Internally, I don't want them to struggle, and it sometimes pains me to see the look of frustration on their faces when they don't have the patience, grit, or perseverance to complete the task they're working on.  However, I do my best to put the control in their hands by letting them know how much I believe in them, and that I'm here if they want to take a break and come back to whatever it is they are doing (of course, this type of support/feedback doesn't have much impact on my infant :) ).

The struggle to succeed is a necessary one.  If we want the learners and leaders in our lives to see success as a series of failures strung together, then we need to make sure we provide the necessary opportunities for this realization to happen.

This means structured struggle, where we hang around in the "background" to prevent learners from falling hard, but give them plenty of room to slip, slide, and trip.  In order for this to truly work, however, there has to be a culture of "failure as being good" in one's professional and personal life.  Leaders need to be willing to fail and exhibit their failures regularly.  Learners need to support each other as they fail and encourage each other to keep going.  As a colleague of mine told me, "I want to leave an impression on the work my students do, but avoid leaving any of my fingerprints on it."  That makes perfect sense to me.

Many are quick to lament the fact that, "today" learners seem a lot less intrinsically motivated and less capable of individual work then they were in the "past."  This may or may not be true, but if it is, the solution rests in our hands.  We must let others struggle before they encounter success.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 81

The best know decisions involving people should always be about ; never about the person.

Leaders have to make tough decisions, and many times those tough decisions involve people.  Sometimes they involve bringing new people onto the team, while at others they are about making the team smaller and reducing staff.  Both situations are challenging, as no matter what you do, the impact of the decisions made will be felt by many.

One important lesson for all leaders in this arena is that all people decisions need to be about personnel, and must never be seen as being personal.  This is an important point that is easy to remember, but often tough to put into practice.

The merit of this idea is clear: when sharing either very good or very bad news with others, we want to make sure that we are focused on the job at hand, not the people themselves.  This allows information to be shared that, while still emotionally charged, takes much of the potential anger, fear, or anxiety, out of the initial discussion.

In addition, once we talk about the changes in personnel that are being made to better the program and/or agency, we need to make sure we end on a high note, explaining that we will provide support to the person moving forward.  This allows for the decision to be based on personnel\l need, without discounting the needs of the person involved.

"Personnel, not personal" can be a tough mantra to live by.  Hiring and firing decisions are rarely smooth, and because of relationships built up (or torn down) with and by staff members, it can be difficult to not slip into the personal realm.

That being said, we're more likely to be able to keep lasting relationships (not to mention build capacity for making appropriate tough decisions), when we decide with research, rather than relationships.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 80

If it wasn't for the bad times, we wouldn't know to the good ones.

Life is full of ups and downs.  The goal is to struggle through the down times so we can make it to the up ones.  It isn't always easy, nor should it be.  After all, if we didn't realize the challenges of the bad times, we wouldn't be able to truly enjoy the times that are good.

As leaders and learners, we've all had those days that are truly horrible.  Sometimes it is due to one terrible scenario, other times it is due to a number of much smaller items that add up to put a negative spin on things. Getting past these days (and/or weeks or months) can be extremely challenging.

But, our grit, and our perseverance, allow us to soldier on, and either individually, or with the help of those around us, we make it through.

These rough times are counter-balanced by the times that are incredibly good, where things seem to go exactly the way we hoped or better, and we feel that all is right with the world.

Interestingly, if we didn't have such a large dichotomy in how things "happened," it is unlikely we would be able to truly celebrate the great occurrences in our lives.

We must make sure that those we work and live with understand the importance of this idea.  No one can avoid bad things.  But we can all celebrate the good.

I had an opportunity yesterday to emcee a Young Authors Conference at Westchester Community College.  Students from the tri-state area joined us to celebrate writing and the written word.  We had presenters who were authors, editors, film producers, and more, all working with high school students to further hone their craft.

Seeing how happy and engaged each student was proves my point about the good and the bad.  No matter how challenging this week might have been for the students in attendance, this opportunity to celebrate the good, shifted their thinking to the positive.  I did not see one sullen student leaving the conference yesterday afternoon.

We need to think this same way.  We need the yin as well as the yang.
Presenter Darell Swann discussing screenwriting with students.

Students conducting pre-reading of another participants script.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 79

We must turn over a new leaf from time-to-time. Just don't turn over so many that we can't recognize the tree.

I'm the first to admit I'm wrong from time-to-time.  Okay, maybe I'm wrong quite a bit.  And, there have been times in my life where I've learned that I need to make major changes in the way I do things.  Let's face it, we all have to start fresh every once in a while.

Leaders need to do this too.  A leader might be expected to know the right things to do all the time, but that is an unrealistic expectation.  We all make mistakes, even the best of us (and I'm far from that, believe me).

So, we need to be prepared to change habits and behaviors while still keeping true to ourselves.

The key, though, is to make sure we don't change so often that those who we have relationships with (either personal or professional) can't tell who we are or what we stand for.  There are times where we need to take a stand, and despite the push back, hold true to certain ideals.

No one is perfect, and no one really can be.  But, we can be dependable and trustworthy, and part of that stems from, in some ways, being partially predictable.  If we change too often, or too quickly, it can be near impossible for those around us to tell who we we really are, and what we really stand for.  And in those cases, then, all that change may really have been for naught.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 78

At times, being a true means taking the back seat and following along.

Leadership isn't always about, well, leading.  Sometimes we have to be willing to follow along, and let others take the reins.  This can be tough for some, especially if they are used to being more directive in their leadership style.  But, all leaders, regardless of their experience or methodology, can't be in the driver's seat at all times.

My older daughter's nursery school has a rotating list of responsibilities.  Some weeks you're the pet feeder, during others you're the flag holder.  Every once in the while you're the line leader.  The point is, to build the most well-rounded learners, we have to provide multiple roles and experiences.  The same goes for leaders.

Delegation is never easy.  Nor is stepping back and letting others find solutions.  But, true leaders know the importance of laying the ground work for a community that works together; a community where everyone poses as a leader in some respect and at some point.

The fact is, if we aren't willing to lead as followers from time-to-time, then we can never build the type of community that is truly exhibited by collaborative enterprises.  These types of communities lead together rather than apart.

Taking a step back to let others move forward is a necessity.  After all, as my daughter would tell you, "We can't always be the line leader."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 77

The best share the good news and the bad. But they always . Transparency matters.

It isn't easy to give bad news.  But, it is a necessity.  And if we're going to be tasked with giving bad news, then we definitely should have the opportunity to share the news that is good!  No matter what, however, we need to share information.

Schools can't operate in a vacuum, and as primarily social enterprises, our schools need to be abuzz with information, and information that is evidence-based.  Rumors never help anyone.

The challenge, of course, is that many people don't like to give bad news.  But, bad news actually becomes horrible news when people hear about it from other sources than those who should be sharing it.  Information tends to get corrupted, and once corrupted, information is hard to fix.

Leaders need to share bad news as quickly as they share good news.

When should info be shared?

The best answer?  As soon as it can be verified.

Sometimes we want to hold onto bad news because we're worried that it might not be evidence-based.  However, as soon as we know, we need to make others aware.  Information that comes from a school leader can be approached in a very different way than if it was heard on the nightly news.  The goal is to get in front of the firestorm, not to be caught behind it.

Overall, leaders need to make sure that they are nothing if not transparent.  Community members should never wonder if a leader is telling the truth.  If that occurs, then all hope is lost.

Leadership isn't easy, and it shouldn't be.  But, it must be about strengthening relationships, and sometimes that means sharing information that tests the ties that bind.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 76

Increasing  doesn't mean decreasing people.  Rather, it means stepping up     

Being collaborative is a key to success.  We can't truly learn in a vacuum; we need contact with others to make knowledge truly meaningful.  Working together means solving problems as a team, as multiple heads are always better than one.

If you pay attention to the educational landscape today, you know that much of what is discussed is all about increasing "efficiency."  In a world focused on reducing expenses and increasing output, the "more from less" strategy is constantly being applied everywhere in education.

What does that mean?  Often it means cutting staff while attempting to keep program offerings/structures the same; usually a fruitless enterprise.

Not surprisingly, we're going about this the wrong way.  If we want to increase efficiency, we can't worry about people numbers.  Instead, we have to worry about people power.  The more opportunities for collaboration we have, the more likely we are to grow as learners and leaders.  That growth makes us more effective educators, and our effectiveness can be tightly tied to our efficiency (the more you know, the more you're able to do, right?).

So how can we use the power of collaboration to reduce "true expenses?"

By trusting staff members to work together and solve problems quicker than one person could do him or herself.  This is a stretch, I know.  When staff is reduced, people can "see" the dollar value being reduced.

But time is money, literally.  If we can fix problems quicker and innovate more fully when we work together, then we're saving our organizations money over the long haul.  Moving forward with this type of vision requires a leadership-style that won't quit, and getting anyone to agree to "wait" in the education world is very difficult.

Still, imagine the capital that can be built, and the learning that can take place if we focused on increasing efficiency by increasing the power of people.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 75

Legacies are left by those who "do," not those who tell others to "do."

I had the chance to read a cool little piece in the NYT Mag this weekend (you can find it here).  Called "15 Minutes of Fame? Try 1,500 Years," (this was the printed title) this piece by Dwight Garner harnesses the power of MIT's data crunching to plot out the "most famous" folks who fit into a number of different categories.  It's really interesting to look at, and it tends to speak to two main conclusions (or at least these were the conclusions I took from it):

1.  The longer you're remembered, the stronger your legacy.  So, in the case of Aristotle or Isaac Newton, for instance, since their ideas are so ingrained in life today, their "fame" is quite high.

2.  In order to build a solid legacy, you have to actually contribute something lasting to society.  So, for example, Homer is much higher on the "fame" scale than Justin Bieber (sorry, beliebers).

There is a sobering piece to this, however.  And it is one that all leaders and learners should remember.  One's legacy-building capacity, and even one's "leadership" level, are not necessarily tied to one's righteousness.  Adolf Hitler is ranked one place above Mozart, in terms of fame.  This shows that even the most deplorable people like Hitler can serve as leaders in certain conditions.

What can we take from this?  One idea is that if we hope to be the best leaders we can be, we have to make sure we "do" as much as we "speak."  Action makes change, and if we hope that our organizations are better with us in them, we have to take positive risks.  Another idea is that we have to do whatever is in our power to prevent those who shouldn't be leading from doing so.  This means that we must be bodyguards to our organizations, communities, and stakeholders-at-large, and do whatever we can to make sure that improvement is always on the horizon.

Garner, Dwight.  (2014).  Who's More Famous Than Jesus?  New York Times Magazine.  March 16.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 74

Anyone can give . Only the best and can take and do something with it.

Criticism is a part of everyday life, and this is unlikely to change.  From a young age, we are used to being critiqued, whether based on achievement, behavior, or opinion.  As we age, we begin to separate out the helpful critiques from the less helpful ones, understanding that some who share information share it to help while others share it to make themselves feel better.

One interesting aspect of criticism is that everyone feels expert enough to give it.  As leaders and learners, we have to understand that giving criticism requires no degree.  Regardless of who we are or where we are in life, one thing we can always share is a critical idea.

And yet, criticism can be one of the most powerful ingredients to a growing learner or leader, despite the fact that it is always in high supply, regardless of demand.  I'm lucky to work for a supervisor who actively seeks out criticism from all members of our team.  Regardless of one's position, she asks for feedback, and readily seeks out constructive criticism.  Having the opportunity to work with her has helped me become better at regularly seeking to be critiqued; this in turn has made me a more effective educator.


Simply because I realize that everyone's ideas have the potential to be game changers, and despite how great I believe an action I've taken is, I'm always cognizant of the fact that many could have done it better.  The other great aspect of regularly seeking criticism and putting it to use is that it builds capacity and community.  When a leader (or a learner for that matter) asks for others to find fault in actions taken, it shows a desire to remove the person and focus on the organization.  This community push often encourages others to put themselves out there as well.

This week I'll be sharing a problem of practice with our curriculum team.  I'm looking forward to receiving warm and cool feedback, and putting the ideas shared into use.  After all, how can we hope to change if we don't let others help us see that things need changing?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 73

If we can help discover how to a concept or skill, we've met our goal as .

A number of years ago, as a teacher and department chair, our science department designed what we called a "Student Understanding Pyramid."  The goal of this pyramid was to help students learn to self-monitor, and like a Bloom's Taxonomy or Maslow's Hierarchy, show an increase in learning needs met as learners progressed.  We inverted the pyramid to highlight what we saw as the power of mastery growth.  You can check out the picture below.

As I was thinking of today's quote and looking at the poster of the pyramid in my office, I began to think about some ultimate goals for leaders.  We certainly want all our students to be successful, and we definitely want all students to have their needs met.  Along with that, we want students to display mastery of the learning process.

The best way to get to true mastery?

Take a skill or concept and teach it.

The act of teaching requires learners to not only know about an idea or skill set, but be able to explain it deeply and connect it to other relevant items.  Teachers have to be able to anticipate questions, and that "preflective" thinking is what helps separate those who know, from those who can teach.

A learner who can teach something to other learners has truly internalized that information.  If we want school to be meaningful for students, we have to move past the "standard" assessment practices we see regularly, and put learners in a position that requires them to not just show their knowledge, but to teach it to others.