How Do You Choose To React?

In January, I participated in a common blog activity where I share my #oneword that will launch me into the new year (What Are You Prepared To Do?). It’s a good exercise, and, admittedly, this most recent year has been tough. Yet I recently read something that sparked me and thus I’m embarking on a new exploration where, at the end of the year, I reflect on the learning I’ve done with my #oneword.

My focus in January was on the idea of RESPONSE. And while I imagine the totality of responses that have been generated these last twelve months is likely similar to any other year, it sure doesn’t feel like it. I’ve had to listen and manage and learn. I’ve had to act gently when I was frustrated and lead bravely when I was unsure. Those who’ve read or followed any work by Dr. Brene’ Brown know of her adoration for the Man in the Arena. Well this year, I think each of us has been kicked and knocked down and faced struggles all while daring to be great for those we stand alongside. Yeah, I’m declaring it right now – we’ve earned it.

And so it was on a recent trip that I had a friend lend me her copy of The Gifts of Imperfection. There are many pages I dog-eared and lots of quotes I wrote down, yet the section on calm is what resonates with me today. She defines CALM as “creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity.” In practice, she says that she tries to be slow to respond and quick to think. I love that.

Connecting with others and making yourself vulnerable is hard. And in those moments where you look around and others are looking to you – well – game on! You see, it’s right at that moment that we have the opportunity to choose how we will react? How will we respond? When I’m at my best, I find that I most honor my commitment to a response by slowing down. It’s not weakness or indecisiveness. Rather it deserves to be seen as a strategy – slow on the outside while thinking quickly on the inside.

I understand this isn’t breakthrough science and that many are likely practicing this. Yet it was a helpful reminder to me as I rumbled with my #oneword challenge for 2021.

Thinking about when you’re at you’re best, what’s a practice or behavior that you’d like to replicate more often?

Thirty Seconds That Woke Me Up

I saw this commercial the other day and it stuck with me. Thirty seconds long and yet I had to share it with others. It seemed that, in that moment, Western Governors University had summarized what a personalized education plan could/should look like. Check it out here: The University of You

Years ago I attended a PLC institute and got to hear Rick DuFour talk about public schools and this new model for how educators would come together to make student learning more powerful. Specifically, I remember him saying that what needed to be learned was static (constant) and that the amount of time needed to demonstrate the learning is what was dynamic (the variable). The idea of removing the mandate that a kiddo had to demonstrate mastery of the content taught in this classroom, at this school, in this town, by this date, resonated and made complete sense. That was nearly 20 years ago and I don’t think we’ve made nearly enough progress.

Even as we come out of the March 2020 – August 2021 virtual vs Face-to-Face school experience, far too many public schools are, in my opinion, stuck. Foregoing the opportunity to do something different, something unknown, something better for kids, we slid back into what we already knew. “Now isn’t the time to try something else because we have lost so much” is the refrain I kept hearing.

I’m not saying we blew it as we can always get better. Heck, it may have been the right decision. Yet I do believe that the next leap in public education is figuring out how to really personalize learning for a kid. And honestly, today, at this moment, it feels like too much to tackle. Sure, I’ve got early ideas of what some of the key elements might include; and certainly thoughts on what should NOT be part of it (required seat time, one-shot-assessment, etc). But how to make it all “fit”? I don’t know. Yet we’ve got to do something.

I have spent the last 12 years leading a large comprehensive high school, and I think that’s the level that is most in need of growth. I have to believe that we can gather enough intellectual and political will to change some pieces so as to improve the overall experience. I mean, we sorta have to, right? Can we at least agree that we are in a moment of urgency? Now it’s going to take lots of people smarter & wiser than me to rally together on this, at the most local level, and I’m ready to join that conversation. We’ve got to take action so that they can begin to view their 8:30-4:00, five-day-a-week, “job” as something with potential rather than another thing to endure. I know that my students are watching and they’re growing tired of waiting.

Now I know almost nothing about WGU yet they seem to have a clear vision of what & for whom they exist. And their plan signals a boldness that isn’t exclusive to them. Maybe it’ll work. Most likely they’ll learn and have to adapt and adjust. But you know what, they’re trying. And I know that, personally, for me right now, I’ve got to commit to furthering my own learning in this area. I can be better. We have to be better.

Looking Back Can Move Us Forward

Three weeks ago, we welcomed our faculty back to campus. For those of us that had been working on site since July, we were excited to have more people, energy, and ideas inside the building. And when the students joined all of us a week later, we found ourselves hoping to have some sense of “normal” back in our professional lives. In alignment with the state of Texas, our district allowed students to choose whether they wanted to remain virtual or opt for in-person learning. For October 19 – December 4, nearly 84% of our students chose to remain virtual. Essentially that is five of every six students decided that staying at home could work for them at least for another six weeks. So while we saw kids walking our halls for the first time in seven months, and we offered smiles through our eyes, it certainly was not the same as before. And as we close out this second full week of students on campus, I have to admit that I find myself harking back to “old times” when more than 3000 kids filled our halls and classrooms with laughs and questions and retorts and all that I adore from this age group.

A month ago I finally read an article I had bookmarked, Why We Reach for Nostalgia In Times Of Crisis, and I realized that what I and others were feeling was both okay and helpful. The article makes a point to share that nostalgia can serve as a transitional object that helps us navigate stressors as we move from before the trauma to the inside of the trauma (and then out the other side). Dr. Stoycheva goes on to say that “It increase your ability to self-soothe during a stressful time.” Presuming that what we are all experiencing is certainly trauma, I would contend that looking back on old pictures, watching old movies, and reconnecting with old friends can be healthy. It can assist us as we navigate through the uncertainty. Now, to be clear, the article also points out that we should be careful not to dwell too long in the past nor apply any revisionist history to relationships that were unhealthy. We must remain self-aware enough to respond positively to the question, “why am i craving this and what do I hope to get out of it?”

During our professional learning in late August, I took my faculty and staff through a bit of a trip down my personal memory lane. I shared pictures of when I was young and memories that I rekindled since March 2020. I then split them in to small groups and asked them to briefly consider and share something they longed to do again – something they missed. It could be personal or professional, and most found themselves easily in either category. And to a person, it wasn’t a specific event or a lesson or day at work that they necessarily longed to engage in again. At the core was a relationship; a connection to others regardless of the setting. A sense of being together.

What are you hoping to be able to safely do again soon? How can you lead your team through #NostalgiaNovember? I plan to share images that bring me warmth during this month and I hope you will consider doing the same. Let’s remind others that “waxing nostalgic” can be healthy by using the hashtag #NostalgiaNovember. Stay classy, live long & prosper, and may the force be with you.

Leveraging Mistakes at Any Age

I recently shared on Twitter an article that came to me from Runners World.  The title spoke about how competitive runner Molly Huddle handles a bad race or workout (Click here for the article)   She explains that when she was with two other famous runners in an elementary school, the kids kept asking questions about failure.  This surprised her, and admittedly, probably would have surprised me.  However as I was running this morning, I thought about this very idea.  Kids were focused on what could be learned from failure.  At that young age, they understood that it’s what can be taken from adversity or failure or a bad experience that might matter most.  They get it.  Maybe they don’t have the words to articulate what they are exploring, but they were seeking ideas for how to handle it.  And when they face it, they may be a bit more equipped to respond.

And this now begs the question – where does that approach go as they get older? And how can we bring it back?

An excuse is stated without intent to find a solution, and removes blame from yourself to something external. A reason addresses factual causes.Later she contrasts excuses vs reasons and I found this compelling for educators.  Too often I think we offer, or at least entertain, excuses because that is often the path of least resistance.  It’s always easier to look for a culprit rather then to look for a path forward. The students she spoke with seemed to understand that stuff happens.  And when you opt to ask questions then you can reflect.  And when you commit to reflect you find a solution or a next step. It is the act of choosing – making a decision – that matters.

Which of your most recent mistakes did you choose to learn from?  Did you start that process alone or with someone else?  Which of those two options works best for you?

Two Ingredients To Start

I had an email exchange with a teacher a couple weeks ago that left me blown away. I have to say it’s one of my favorite emails in quite some time (is that even a thing?). So here’s the context – A small but significant department within our school is needing to find a successor for the long-time leader as she is retiring.  And a veteran teacher within the group wrote to me this week with the intention of advocating for a candidate.  However, what she did was two-fold as she illustrated for me her influence as a leader as well as inspiring me around the idea of what makes a great teacher.  Check it out:

I struggle with where to go from here other than “C’mon! Does it get any better than that?” Those are the building blocks, the ingredients needed to be an effective teacher. 

The first descriptor aligns with the notion that relationships and connection must be present for any significant learning to occur.  And that when that relationship begins with the idea that you are coming from a good place, that you simply extend kindness, then so many doors are opened.

The second descriptor touches on the idea that we must work hard at being good.  We can’t just hope to be better, we can’t pray to be better, and we can’t wish we were better.  We have to reflect today on what can make us stronger tomorrow. And not just to improve our practice – she goes on to say AND improve student results.

Finally, she is 100% on the money in that everything else builds off those two elements.  When I look to hire a new teacher, someone with little to no experience, then I have often focused on whether they like kids and if they know their content.  My thought has always been that we can build effective strategies and develop you.  However, this leads me to understand that it’s not as complex as I thought.  This teacher simplified it.Colin Powell QuoteEach time I read this quote from Colin Powell, I find myself drawn to the idea of how a leader can hear many different ideas and narrow down the focus to a simple idea or two.  I work hard on this trait as a campus leader myself – sometimes with a focus on a solution and other times only on finding common agreement.

This teacher may not hold a specific title or role within her department, her campus, or her district.  Yet she is a leader and she has influence.  I know I am changed.

I wrote a few years ago reflecting on the Drew Dudley TED Talk regarding Everyday Leadership Who Doesn’t Like a Lollipop?  A major element in that piece is the idea that sometimes we reserve calling someone a leader until they have done something publicly remarkable.  And he argues that, instead, it is many smaller acts that define a leader.  This email illustrates that idea for me. And while I’m happy to enjoy this new idea of what makes a great teacher, I’m most energized by the notion that another leader has emerged on campus.  As that will serve all of us well. 

How are you ensuring that you do not miss those small comments, conversations, or constructs that could lead to moments of simplification – inspiration? Are you actively listening for those small nuggets, those ingredients that can make something so much more clear?  

 

 

 

Living in the Gray

Awhile back I was making my way through Dare to Lead by Dr. Brene’ Brown, and stumbled upon this quote which left me intrigued.

“Leadership is the ability to thrive in the ambiguity of paradoxes and opposites”

– Dr. Brene’ Brown

I appreciate the use of the word Thrive.  First it reinforces the idea of a wide spectrum of performance when it comes to leadership.  Second is that if there are gradients of performance then that also means it is complex.  Each of those are affirming to the notion that leadership should be respected.  It doesn’t say live, survive, complete, etc.  It says that in order to prosper or flourish as a leader you must be able to operate with ambiguity.  So lets talk about that.Leadership ThriveI am drawn to the idea of Ambiguity being the same as inexactness.  And the gray is where we often attribute the idea of being open to more than one interpretation.  So much of what we do as leaders lies in the contrary.  I understand the discomfort with not always knowing when so much is at stake.  I get that it is hard and challenging, and you may not understand for a long time whether your choice was the best one.  That small undefined area, that sliver of mystery, is where the strongest leaders have the chance to emerge.  To thrive.

So often when we are thrust in to the role of being a leader the immediate goal is to appear proficient.  We want to be able to answer each question, address each concern, and keep everything moving forward.  A new leader can survive making decisions early on – many of them likely simple and black/white.  And maybe even the gray ones seem easy enough as most people being supervised will be polite and offer the benefit of the doubt.  However, some leaders linger in that space, they get comfortable.  However I don’t think you can thrive – prosper – flourish – if you don’t dig deeper in to that gray area.  It’s hard.  Yet the gray area is where risks are taken, lessons are learned, and better ideas emerge.  If you aren’t willing to lean in to the gray area then you may never realize your potential.

I don’t know, I haven’t figured this one out yet.  It’s been rolling around in my head for some time.  What do you make of this descriptor for leadership?  How do you wrestle with the unknown?

 

You Never Know Where That First Step Will Lead

There is a great story that Sir Ken Robinson shared during his famous 2006 TED Talk regarding how schools kill creativity.  In the video he tells us of two anecdotes involving a little girl and a little boy.  And the gist of the story is that both of them separately take chances with whatever they are working on – they Give it a Go!  They aren’t afraid to be wrong when they are young and they’ll take a chance.  (Here is a link to that particular section of his TED Talk Sir Ken Robinson Link )

Inspired by his commitment to creativity, I have tried to model what it is like to take a chance as a leader.  The last three years we have begun each year focused on the idea that LEARN is a verb.  We began this by focusing on the muscles and pushing our teachers to commit to the experience of learning.  We asked them to choose anything they wanted to learn about – it didn’t matter if it was connected to education at all.  Rather we wanted them to simply be a learner again.  I wrote about how I did this with my leadership team in a previous blog My Attempt at #GeniusHour with Adults.  In any case I was now trying it with 185 teachers and 30 support staff.

“Learning is experience.  Everything else is just information.” – Albert Einstein

Our second year we focused on the brain and what you did with your learning.  Having engaged as a learner again, we wanted them to exercise their creativity in how they demonstrated that new knowledge. The idea was that simply learning something is no longer enough.  The next step, the innovative step, is to create something new from your learning.  And, perhaps, the biggest step is/was to then share it with others.

“Learning is creation not consumption.” – Dave Meier

Finally, this fall we pushed with the heart.  Fortunate to have Dr Brene Brown and her team spend two days with our faculty/staff was an amazing opportunity to really push us forward.  In retrospect, I believe this was definitely an act involving vulnerability as I knew some people would be thrilled and others dismissive.  I processed this experience through a blog post a few months ago We are Where We are Until we Move (and sometimes that’s okay)  I have seen the impact in pockets around campus, almost like seeds planted.  Time and patience is what’s needed for this to flourish and saturate the campus.  Our kids can only benefit so I’m in it for the long haul.

“We are born makers.  We move what we are learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands.” – Dr. Brene Brown

I share all of this as I reflect on what we continue to do.  Truthfully, when I embarked on this work with others, I didn’t know where it would lead.  I certainly couldn’t have predicted that nearly 200 faculty/staff would share their personal learning with others, making themselves vulnerable in new ways that I doubt they anticipated.  I would not have placed any bet in Vegas that Brene Brown would select us as a pilot school for her Daring Greatly Educator Workshop.  And had I known about the stumbles along the way, the eye rolls that I saw, and the comments that I heard, then I doubt I would have embarked.

I heard Brian Apsinall say on a podcast the other day that “it’s okay to be where you are.  It’s not okay to stay there.”  So I guess I moved.  I gave it a go.  And I hope you will also.

 

A Call To Explore

Years ago I visited the Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C.  Standing with a friend near the Eternal Flame, we found ourselves in awe both by the setting and the words from a JFK speech inscribed on a wall.  Breaking the silence, my friend simply stated, “it feels like he took all the best words.”  I simply nodded my head.  She was right.  leadership & learningAs a result of my PLN growing over the last several years, I have become convinced that investing in ourselves is paramount to growing stronger as leaders.  If you are not pushing yourself to learn more – either through reading, writing, posting, or lurking – then you are robbing others of all you can offer.  Don’t do that.  Instead, get in the game.  Personal or professional learning is now available 24/7 from the comfort of your couch.  Will it come in spurts?  Will it ebb and flow?  Might it be hard and confusing at times?  Yeah, probably.  The most important stuff usually is.

Merriam-Webster offers as a definition of the word “explore” the following:  to become familiar with by testing or experimenting. Inherent in the definition is being an active participant.  As I continue to work on my own leadership, I find myself drawn, more than ever, toward learning more about leadership in many forms.  Whether it is through my reflecting on an article, blog, image, or a personal lesson learned, I commit to #explore what it means to be a leader, especially when working with both students and adults on a large urban campus.  I intend to hold myself accountable through my reflections within this blog.   img_5fa2bec61763-1Accepting that JFK was right and our learning is critical toward our leadership, how can you commit to be active now?

 

Inspiration On a Morning Run

I have been an active runner for many years now, and typically get out 4-5 times a week.  I love it.  This morning, I was running in the neighborhood and I saw a neighbor walking toward me on the sidewalk.  I waved and said Good Morning.  He waved back and said, “New Years resolution?”  I quickly searched my mind for a reply, something that could be uttered without breaking stride, that acknowledged the commonalities between us that could transcend simple age, and something that would not necessitate further conversation.  The product of all that rapid, and one could argue, unnecessary thought, was three simple words, “always moving forward.”  Pleased with myself, I kept moving, offered a thumbs up with a smile, and concluded that my beautiful retort would be the best answer he would likely receive in his quest among our shared streets.  Surely no one had been able to offer such wisdom on the spot – certainly others were stumped by his inquiry.  Magic!

However, about 25 seconds later, I realized he wasn’t soliciting resolutions from those he saw in the neighborhood.  Rather, he was asking if I was running that morning to launch the start of a New Years resolution.  D’oh!  Homer-DohWhile the prestige I had placed on him and his open question to the neighborhood was not just that – I still walked away thinking about those three words.

Eddie George was a Heisman Trophy winning running back at Ohio State and then had a successful career with the Tennessee Titans in the NFL.  While he would batter and bruise his way to each yard on the football field, I remember commentators attributing one specific quality to his rushing style – they say he always fell forward.  And that by standing more than 6 feet tall, this specific ability could often grab another yard for his team.  And each yard, over time, grew to more achievement.   Eddie George

Each year, my fellow #compelledbloggers share a challenge where we identify one word or three words to guide our learning for the coming year.  Lately I wasn’t feeling either.  However, through this random morning run, I realize that “Always moving forward” is three words.  And I think it’s pretty good as it focuses on improvement, even if only an inch at a time.  It’s also aligned with a book I just started, Atomic Habits, after a close friend recommended it.  The idea being that similar to an atom, there are small little things we can develop as habits, that can, with patience, lead to desired results.  So I have decided that Always Moving Forward (AMF) will be my three words.

I will focus on little things I can do each day that can influence the overall year.  I see these being in the personal relationships I strengthen, the campus leaders I further support, and the resulting student experiences that grow more powerful.  #Destiny

How does potential inspiration find you?

 

Two Family Holiday Traditions That Influence My Leadership

Within my #CompelledTribe blog group, our topic for this month is focused on traditions.  And at this time of year, it is easy to conjure up images of traditions that may exist at family or work.  Personally, it seems as though anything we might do twice can become a tradition.  “We did it last year and had fun.  So we have to do it this year.  It’s a tradition!”

As I further reflected on my favorite family traditions for December, I quickly realized that the underlying sentiment between them both also spills over in to my leadership style.  Let me try and explain.

Christmas Eve for my family includes everyone coming together and enjoying time with each other while eating pizza.  Cheese for the kids, supreme for the adventurous, and pepperoni for most of the rest of us.  Extra sauce, traditional crust, and lots of napkins are the norm.  We forgo the salad for laughs and there is an age minimum for those that get to go pick up the meal – and grand smiles when the latest nephew “graduates” to pizza escort.  There is also a theme each year which may include goofy holiday hats, silly magic tricks, or simply dorky jokes.  Old stories and hearty laughs are what is most important.  IMG_8437Christmas Day begins with the normal stockings and presents.  And as the morning nears end, we prepare for lunch.  However, with deliberate intent, there is no stress in preparation for this meal.  Cold cuts, fresh rolls, chips and queso lead the way.  Instead of a ham or turkey with tasty sides, we choose melted cheese rolling over perfectly salted tortilla chips; mayo on a fresh roll layered with salami, ham or roast beef.  The prep time is minimal and we all appreciate that.  Reminiscing, joking around, and warm smiles are the currency.

I love both of these traditions because of what they represent – namely that being together is what is being celebrated.  You don’t need some fancy lunch/dinner that hits someone else’s expectations in order to enjoy the holiday season.  Stress and angst as family members focus on a large meal is not where I want our energy.  Rather all of that is traded for time being present with the person next to you.  Appearances don’t matter – you don’t have to be cool or appropriate.  Rather you are simply in the moment.

These two traditions remind me of the same approach I take when serving as a leader; namely that the experience is what matters, not the specific setting.   Each day, week, semester and school year, I work with others to create meaningful experiences for our students and our faculty/staff.  I believe that the magic that happens between our students and adults on campus has little to do with the way our building may look, the manner in which we organize the tables and chairs, or the style with which I organize the main office.  Rather its about the people – all day, every day.  I adore the traditions with my family and I so appreciate the way my school focuses on the very same things.  True CurrencyWhich of your traditions best reflect you?