Friday, October 31, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 305

May you always lead with #treats, rather than with #tricks. #QuoteADay #Day305 #edchat #edu #Lead #Learn #HappyHalloween

Halloween is an interesting holiday.  Most leaders I know either love it or detest it.  Regardless, it is a time that most students, particularly young ones enjoy, and as leaders we have to acknowledge the fact that events we may wish were over faster may also be events that some people look forward to all year long.

Here at my BOCES, we set up the administration building with all sorts of Halloween decorations.  In our curriculum department, this year we chose the theme of the Wizard of Oz, and we’ve decked out the department accordingly.  See below:

I’m going as the yellow brick road (thank you Zappos boxes); others on our team are going as flying monkeys, the Tin Man, and of course, Dorothy.  You name it, someone is likely dressing up as it.

Why do we do this?

Because we want to lead with treats.

Our administration building is across the street from our special education buildings.  Our BOCES serves students with a myriad of intensive special needs, and for some of our students, visiting the administration building on Halloween is some of the most fun they have all year long.

Think about that.

All year long.

So, it falls on us to make sure that, regardless of what we really think of Halloween, we lead with treats and not tricks, and give these students a morning to remember.

In all of our leadership work, we must do this.  Regardless of our personal feelings, if we can raise the spirits of one person we serve, we should do whatever we can to make it happen.

So lead with treats, rather than tricks.  You’ll end up being happier for it too.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 304

The best kept #secret?

Keep no secrets.

Secrets, secrets, truly are no fun.

In fact, they take away from the great work that goes on in our communities, as they lead people to be less trusting of everyone else around them.

As leaders, we should look to abolish secrets.  The old adage about the best kept secret?

It’s that we should never keep any.

Sometimes we’re told things in confidence, and for a myriad of reasons we can’t speak about them.  This might be because they involve sensitive information about a student, faculty member, parent, etc.  Or, it could simply be because we don’t yet have enough data to know the true nature of a scenario.  In these cases, there isn’t much we can do beyond releasing the information as soon as we can, or as soon as we know it is validated.

But, when secrets are intentionally held, when we hold onto information when we really should be releasing it, that’s when we have a problem.

The best way to avoid a scenario where people begin to believe there is always something hidden is to make sure you share all the information you can, and if you aren’t sure of the factual nature of the information, let people know.

While those we serve would rather hear good news than bad, they would also rather hear news from us, rather than from another source.

So make part of your mantra the removal of secrets.  An open community is a trusting community.

And that trust is what we need to help everyone keep getting better.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 303

The joy we get from helping others is always more powerful than the joy we get from helping ourselves.  #QuoteADay #Day303 #edchat #edu

Ever notice how good it feels when you help somebody accomplish a goal?

Maybe it’s a small thing.  Maybe it’s large.

Regardless, there is a tremendous sense of satisfaction and joy that we feel when we help others accomplish a task they’ve been working on.

What’s so interesting about this is that the sense of joy we feel is often greater in these circumstances than the feelings of enjoyment we take from completing our own tasks.

Why might that be?

Well, for one thing, there’s an emotional connection that gets built when we help others that doesn’t exist when we do things for our own benefit.

For another, a simple “Thank You” can go a long way towards helping us develop as leaders and learners.  We don’t tend to say “Thanks” to ourselves, so that connection between gratitude and lifelong development is missing, unless we’re consciously reaching out to help other people.

Plus, it just feels good to do great things for others.

As we go throughout our day, we should map out how often we’re assisting others.  How do we feel while we do this?  After?  Before?

Just as importantly, how do those we help feel when we help them?  After?  Before?

Leading and learning is a mutualistic process.  We tend to gain more when we give more, and we tend to give more when we’ve gained more from others.

If we value the importance of keeping ourselves happy, then we have to make sure we work to please others as well as ourselves.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 302

I learned an important lesson early on in my career as an educator.  A decision was made that had a major impact on me, and I could have spoken out about it. 

But I didn’t.

Maybe it was fear.

Maybe it was because I didn’t trust what I wanted to say.

Or maybe it was just a lesson I needed to learn.

But, I gained some tremendous insight that day.  It was that if I choose to not speak my mind, than whatever barrier is in my way will continue to stay up.

However, if I speak my mind, even if others don’t “like” what I have to say, the worst that can happen is that obstacle stays there.  The best thing that can happen is that by me voicing my thoughts, the wall can be broken down (or, steps can be taken to move in the right direction towards toppling whatever barrier is up).
Since that time, and in my work with both young learners and old, I’ve always made it clear that I want everyone to give voice to their mind.  Everyone I work with has the right to and duty to say what they’re thinking.

There are no bad ideas, and really, no bad time to express them.

The only bad thing is to never let them see the light of day.  After all, how can we improve the work that we do if we don’t even know what needs to be improved?

The other key point?

When everyone has a voice, the topics being discussed carry much more weight with the leaders and learners we work with.  Nothing builds capacity like people actively invested in an idea, topic, or situation.

So let’s promise ourselves that we will always voice our minds.  With so many barriers left to overcome, there really isn’t any other option.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 301

Why #wish for something when YOU can make it happen? #QuoteADay #Day301 #edchat #edu #MakeItHappen #ASCDL2L

Wishing for things is overrated.  Sure, it can feel nice to wish things were different, but in wishing, we take the burden off our own shoulders and put it on someone else’s.

And, when these things don’t happen, we tend to get just as upset (if not more so) than if we were actively in control of the situation.

Since wishing removes us from the locus of control and makes us dependent solely on the actions of others, it stands to reason that we should spend less time wishing and more time making things happen.

The more time we are actively trying to make a difference, the more difference we can make.

And in the long run, isn’t that the most important thing?

So, let’s stop wishing, and let’s start doing.  After all, we can accomplish all that we’ve wished for by simply putting the onus on us, and getting stuff done.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 300

Initiatives will be more successful when we point them out to people, rather than push people to them.

Even the best initiative can fall flat if people don't support it, and building support is never the same as telling people what they need to do.

In fact, rarely should there be any "telling" involved when initiatives are at stake.  Rather, for initiatives to truly be successful, we need to point them out to people, rather than push people to them.

It's a simple idea.  We can share the details of an initiative with others.  And, we can explain why the initiative will benefit everyone.

And, really, that's it.

The best initiatives then take off because people opt into them, rather than being forced.

Initiatives that don't take off, even after information is shared and the importance is explained, are simply not ready for prime-time, and need to be either incubated or discarded.

For those initiatives that do garner support, agencies are more primed to run with them because those they serve haven't been coerced into "support."

If we want leaders and learners throughout our schools and districts to feel good about the paths they are exploring, we have to provide them with the opportunity to explore, learn, and lead.  If we simply show them the paths, and let them decide which way is best, we'll have infinitely tighter communities than if we tell them there is only one path and push them down it.

As an aside, today marks the 300th entry in my Quote-A-Day challenge.  It's been a great experience, and I'm looking forward to bringing it on home over the next two months!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 299

The worst kind of ideas? Lonely ones.

I mentioned the great experience I had yesterday visiting Scarsdale Public Schools.  One of the presenters mentioned a book that sounds intriguing called Lonely Ideas: Can Russia Compete? (by Loren Graham).

The basic premise seems to be this:

Throughout history, there have been plenty of great ideas that have arisen in countries like Russia.  However, due to the more tightly held structure of that society and its culture, idea generators and visionaries were and are often thinking and creating alone.  Unlike in the US, where ideation continues to happen in all sorts of formats (alone, paired, teamed, crowd-sourced, etc.), Russian ideas were and are often lonely ones, doomed to sit on an idea shelf, without anyone realizing how great they are.

The crowd-sourcing of ideation and true power of collaboration is apparent when you consider the downfall of lonely ideas.

Even the best ideas mean nothing if no one knows they exist.  So, it makes sense to wonder, "How do we avoid crafting lonely ideas?"

1.  Bounce creations off collaborators.  Every idea you have should be bounced off at least two people.  If each of these two people bounce it off two more, you can get a massive return on your initial ideation.  The best way to tell an idea's worth is never through your own eyes (of course we think all of our own ideas are great :) ).  The more minds considering an idea, the more accurate a decision we'll be able to make about it.

2.  Retire an idea when it is time.  Some ideas, regardless of their "greatness," never seem to catch on (search for the kitchen invention my wife and I "created," it's called "Click 'n Cook").  We have to be willing to part with all ideas when it is time to hang them up.  Ideas take up space, and we can't create more when the ideation portion of our brain is full.

3.  Stay social.  The best way to avoid lonely ideas is to craft a community of conversationalists.  Encourage talk, debate, argumentation, and feedback giving.  Show others that unless we converse around what matters, we'll never know what truly does.

A lonely idea is a lit match in another room.  No matter how much light it gives off, you'll never know it exists.  Better to open all the doors and let the light shine through; we should always want to bring others into the ideation fold.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 298

We can't just allow people to fail. We have to make them want to. #QuoteADay #Day298 #edchat #edu #ASCDL2L #FailForward #Innovate

This morning, we did something a little bit different during our monthly Curriculum Council session.  We took a visit down to Fox Meadow Elementary in Scarsdale, where we had the opportunity to learn from leaders in the district about the creation of their Center for Innovation, and how the Center, in turn, led to explorations by teachers, students, and the community into a variety of other initiatives that have helped to continue to propel Scarsdale in the right direction.

While the Center has led to many positive changes for the district, we were focused on viewing Fox Meadow's MakerSpace, and engaging in collaborative talk about how this has changed elementary education throughout the district.

Fox Meadow turned an old library closet into a Maker room, and it was amazing to see all the great things that students and staff are Making throughout the school that began, both literally and figuratively, in that room.

You can learn more about the Center here, and can peruse info about their MakerSpace here.

The morning was filled with great information, but I would like to speak to two points that had a tremendous impact on me:

1.  It isn't enough to fail and learn from it.  Instead, we have to actually want to fail, and by extension, see the merit of it.  Our colleagues from Scarsdale understood that as important as failure is, it isn't as helpful to us until we actually want to fail.  While we can learn from any failure, we tend to learn most when we seek failure out, and embrace it.

2.  Action by itself is never as powerful as action that follows information gathering.  Our colleagues spoke of their elements of innovation, two being fostering an environment for change and sparking creative thinking.  If you don't collect data and fact find, then you'll never know how you need to build capacity.  And, without an environment that is ready to change and the thinking to go along with it, an innovation is doomed, before it even gets started.

Thanks to our colleagues in Scarsdale Public Schools for the tremendous learning opportunity provided to our PLN.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 297

The more #flexible you're willing to be, the more capacity you're likely to build. #QuoteADay297 #edchat #edu #MoreThanOneWayToDoThings

“It’s My Way or the Highway.”

If there was ever a phrase that destroyed collaboration, it’s that one.

To collaborate well, we have to be willing to be flexible.  Everyone’s voice matters, and as such, the more flexible we can be in approaching situations, the more support we tend to be able to build for any given initiative.

This doesn’t mean that we should be so flexible that we’re constantly blowing in the wind, changing direction at a moment’s notice.

But, it does mean that our vision needs to have just a little bit of grey in it, so that we can change course and direction without taking everyone by total surprise.

The benefit of flexibility is that even if we do nothing else, our flexibility makes us better suited to engage in collaborative decision-making.  Those who are willing to be flexible are always easier to work with, even if they aren’t particularly collaborative.

The necessity is to figure out what you are willing to be flexible around, and what you are not.  By laying out the “non-negotiable” items early and being totally transparent, we can still be flexible without having to sacrifice those things that can’t be “moved on.” 

Of course, this means that your non-negotiables should be few, and should be able to be explained to those you serve.  Otherwise you’re not really being flexible, and likely doing more harm than if you were a bulldozer of a decision-maker.

The takeaway?

Success in both learning and leading requires a cache of flexibility.  Since leading and learning are not truly individual endeavors, we have to be willing (and happy) to negotiate to achieve common goals.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 296

#Truth = You can never make everyone #happy. Other truth = You can always make yourself happy. #QuoteADay #Day296 #edchat #edu #ASCDL2L

It’s a fact of life.

You can’t always please everyone, and if we spend all of our time trying, we’ll end up disappointing those who we can make happy, and just as importantly, ourselves.

But, on the flip side, you can always please yourself.  We are the keepers of our own happiness, and if we want to be happy, we can make it happen.

Leaders need to always be focused on their own well-being, for if we are never happy, then it will be impossible to make others happy as well.

And happiness is key to any successful initiative.  We don’t just need people to buy in, we also need them to be truly happy about where they are, and what they’re doing.

Rather than focusing on trying to always make everyone happy, we should focus on making those happy who want to be happy, and just as importantly, spreading the happiness around enough so everyone can be happy, if they want to be.

Happiness isn’t a characteristic that can be just dumped in people’s laps.  There’s a systematic design to happiness that prevents those who choose to be miserable from becoming happy.

Therefore, every leader needs to choose to be happy and positive.  While we can’t make everyone a “happy camper” we can show others that we choose to be joyful, and if nothing else, maybe, just maybe, our happiness will be contagious.  And happiness is always great to catch.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 295

I grumbled a bit this morning. 

I woke up, and it was pitch black out (not abnormal at this time of year), and when I was packing the kids up to take them off to school, it was still pretty dark.

I’m a sunlight type of guy, and when the fall and winter start to come, and it gets dark earlier and light later, it can be tough for me to keep my positivity going.

So this morning, when I got to work, I took a few minutes to think about a bunch of great things that are going on in my life right now. 

Only about two minutes.  That’s it.

And, despite the chilly conditions, and the somewhat dark environs, I felt pretty good.

It’s amazing what a little positivity can do for us. 

Imagine how much it can do for others if we start our day by throwing a bit of positivity their way. 
Leaders need to be positive in all that do with their charges.  Sure leaders can be sad, disappointed, depressed, and all the other range of negative emotions.  But when it comes to interacting with those we serve, we need to turn the positivity on. 

Leaders should inspire and bring hope to those they work with at all times.  Leaders should never bring others down.

Yesterday, I had an interaction with one of my staff members where I answered a question with a response that was more negative than I intended.  I automatically saw the shift in his face and knew I should have rethought what I said.  And, the worst part is, I may have negatively impacted his day as well.

We all need to keep it positive as we go about our work.  Everyone is depending on us to do so.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 294

Had a rough day? Consider how much of it is perception and how much is reality. #QuoteADay #Day294 #edchat #edu #KeepMovingForward

Today was a rough one.  Happily, it was the first rough one I’ve had in a long time.  At least I think so, because, as I’ve learned, rough days (and great days, by comparison) are some parts reality, and some parts perception.

Today had a number of fairly tense meetings going on with very little time in between to take care of the necessary “housekeeping” that any position has.  In addition, there were a number of small “fires” that needed to be put out (or at least cooled down).  This made for a day with little to no time (not even five minutes) to rest and reflect, and those days don’t sit particularly well for me.

But, I’ve learned in my life that the nature of a “good” or “bad” day is often created by how we perceive it.  Sure, things happen that definitely make some days bad (or, not exactly good), but in many cases, how I react to those stressful situations is really what determines how “rough” a day is.
For that reason, here are two “mantras” that I always attempt to live by.

1.        I always wait until a day is over to make a judgment on it. Even during those days that don’t seem like they will ever end, I do my best to wait until they do to decide whether the day was really “rough” or whether it was more my interpretation of the day.

2.       When things go wrong, I focus on changing what I do, so next time, they go right.  No matter what, bad days will happen.  And when those days are bad by reality, then I use that as a means to making changes so they go right the next time.  While this can involve quite a bit of work, it means that I’m not left in the exact same position when similar circumstances roll around again.

Remember that perception is both a blessing and a curse.  Without it, we wouldn’t be able to infer and our extremely necessary “gut” feelings would be gone.  But, with it, we fall victim to replacing what’s real with what we perceive.  The best leaders need to remember that perception and reality can often be very different.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 293

? ? No matter. What's important is that you did it.

The difficulty level of things doesn't matter so much.  Rather, what truly makes a difference is that we completed a task.

Easy or hard, the tasks we engage in are important for the opportunity they provide us with to complete them.  For through that process, we come out with more knowledge than we started with, and learning isn't about a range of difficulty, but rather knowing more after than before.

Let me tell you about my day.

I spent a good portion of today putting up shades in one of my daughter's rooms.  It wasn't a particularly "hard" job, but it was time consuming.  While it took me a while, I finished the task with a better understanding of easy ways to hang cordless shades (at least this brand. . . I've found that every different shade/blind manufacturer has "trouble points" in different spots :) ).

Then, I spent some time exploring the fuse compartment in my car.  The AC adapter port stopped working, so I figured a fuse blowing was to blame.  It turns out this batch of fuses was under the left instrument panel (as opposed to in the engine compartment0.  Getting under the steering column and into the foot well was a challenge and getting the fuse out of the array was incredibly hard, but I was able to see that it was blown, I ordered a new one off eBay (got to love eBay), and I feel confident I can pop it in without any problem (fingers crossed that it works).

Finally, I spent some time designing my Halloween costume.  We're going with a Wizard of Oz theme at work, and I'm going to be the yellow brick road.  This was neither easy nor hard, but simply a lot of fun.

These three tasks are examples of work I engaged in today.  Whether they were challenging or not is of no matter.  Instead, my increase in learning was based solely on my completion of these tasks, and figuring out how to work through them.

As leaders, we have to ignore the difficulty of tasks and concentrate instead on getting them done.  In this way, we can guarantee that our learning will continue, no matter what.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 292

You don't truly know something until you know it from experience.

I've been thinking a lot about my contribution during meetings lately.  I tend to be an active listener, but I speak quite a bit too.  One thing I do that I have been very conscious of over the last few weeks (and that I'm working towards moving away from), is I tend to share information that I "know" but I haven't yet "experienced."

There isn't necessarily anything bad in doing this.  We have to share information, and regardless of how we came across it, any information we share can be helpful.  However, when we speak from "knowledge" rather than from "experience" we're speaking from someone else's eyes, not our own.

This is a challenge, as a situation seen through someone else's eyes changes reality.  We can speak to an idea or situation we know about, but we can't do more than that.

When we've actually experienced something, we can speak to it, and we can also speak "through" it.  The power of the latter is that we can embody the situation, and that, in itself, builds trust, capacity, and understanding.

I've had a lot of experiences in my personal and professional life.  But, I haven't experienced everything (and who could).

Two goals?  One is to keep building on my experience base by taking risks and trying new things (that's the only way we can move from "knowing" to "experiencing").  The second is to spend more time speaking from experience rather than speaking from knowledge.

In reality, very few people want to hear what we know.  But no one can ignore what we've experienced.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 291

What you don't know is meaningless. It's how you use what you do know that makes all the difference.

Worrying about what we don't know won't help us know more.  In fact, if we spend all our time worrying about what we don't know, then we miss the opportunity to actually learn new things (how can we learn more when we're so worried about what we haven't learned?).

So, we should choose to focus on what we currently know, and how what we know can make us better at learning and leading.  And, if in the process, focusing on what we already know leads us to discover those things that we don't yet?

So much the better.  In fact, it makes more sense for our current learning to lead to uncovering, discovering, and internalizing new things than it does for those new and unknown things to serve as obstacles to what we currently know.

Plus, by admitting that we don't know everything (and we never will), it makes it easier for us to say, "I don't know, let's find out" and promotes a community that works with what it has and enjoys discovering things as they are unearthed.

A community that welcomes discovery?  People who are comfortable saying "I don't know?"  These are two of the ingredients to the development of a PLC that is always about getting better, and that is never afraid or disturbed by what isn't yet known.

Sounds good to me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Quote-A-Day: Day 290

Treat your #learning as if it were via dry-erase marker, rather than a permanent one. #QuoteADay #Day290 #edchat #edu #ASCDL2L #Lead #Learn

Sure, learning is a continual process, but it isn’t good enough to just focus on that.
Learning also needs to be erasable; if all we learn is to be useful, we have to be able to overwrite some learnings and replace them with others.

As educators, we know the challenges that breaking misconceptions can bring.  Once learners internalize an idea, it can be extremely difficult to get them to a place where that learning can be edited.

Yet, we don’t often see this type of “dry-erase” style learning as applying to us (possibly because we think what we learn is somehow different).

We are just like all other learners, though, and are just as susceptible to misconceptions and the problems associated with “permanent marker” learning. 

For that reason, we should never hold onto any one idea or any one learning too tightly, as a given idea can be removed and replaced at a moment’s notice.  We also have to be certain we don’t hold onto our own ideas with an iron grip, simply because “we came up with them.”  This is important for two reasons: First, there are very few “new ideas” (which means someone likely was thinking the same thing), and second, just because an idea was “ours” doesn’t mean it is any better than an idea that is “theirs.”

So, as we continue to lead and learn, we should approach every nugget as one that has been drawn with a dry-erase marker, and that, whenever necessary, can be edited, replaced, or highlighted to showcase new thinking and the evolution of us as effective leaders and learners.