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.

 

Quick Tip for How a Google Form Can Frame February for Your Faculty

In Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, she shares a story of a leader within the US Army that has spoken about the challenges her soldiers face at different times during their tour of duty.  While I am not equating risking your life to defend our country with teaching each day, I do believe that both are at their best when members of either community understand their interdependence on one another.  The story concludes with the idea that often when we are struggling the most, and morale may be low, the real culprit may be that we are lonely.

If you think about it, February can seem to isolate us as we are stuck inside with our students, or stuck inside with Netflix.  The human connection that is so inherent in our daily work can feel strained or frayed or simply absent.  So how do we defeat loneliness when we are on campus with, sometimes, 3000 other people.

Mad Cool Award QuestionsThis year I have established the Mad Cool Awards.  Focused on recognizing innovative work that is happening on campus, adults have the chance to recognize really cool stuff that is happening on their campus.  Realizing that innovation is simply taking something that already exists and making it better, I ask them to complete a Google Form that asks just a few simple questions.  And I consistently include the link to this form at the beginning of meetings and as an extra piece every so often within an email.

The next step is to use Autocrat as an Add-On to Google Forms.  Essentially this allows you to mail merge the responses from the form in to a Google Doc.  However, as I learned, there must be a template that you have in place for Autocrat to use.

Here is a video that I used for how to create your own custom template within Google Doc Click Here.  Once the template is created then you will have it available each time you run your awards.  Now you can use Autocrat to generate the docs using the template.  I found this video very helpful Using Autocrat with Google Forms.

Mad Cool Lightbulb

Though the Google Form remains live at all times, I run the Mad Cool Awards once a month.  After generating the Mad Cool Certificates, I do give a quick glance over to ensure the spelling is good and the grammar works within the template.  This takes some time however I don’t want either the nominee or nominator to see an unintended error.  Once that is all set, then I print and prepare to deliver the awards.  Now you can do this a few ways.  Presenting at a faculty meeting is likely most common though I have shied away from that.  Instead I take one or two other leaders with me to the innovators classroom and interrupt with great news.  I tell the kids about what a Mad Cool Award is and that we are here to give one to their teacher.  I read the wonderful words to the recipient and each time applause has broken out at the end.  We then take a picture and spread the word through all of our social media channels and communication tools.

I don’t think this necessary solves the doldrums that seem to come every year around this time.  However I do believe that it reminds others of the power we have each day to change lives.  And not just the lives of children.  It’s a form of connection that helps us feel a little less lonely, maybe a little more connected.  And feeling connected to others is 100% Mad Cool Stuff!

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?