Saturday, January 25, 2014

Leadership Lessons from a Super Bowl Sideshow

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, 
or to get all the credit for doing it. 
-Andrew Carnegie-

I watched the interviews of Richard Sherman following the Seattle Seahawks' NFC Championship victory over San Francisco. If you don't what I'm talking about it, you missed a powderkeg that exploded on Facebook and Twitter for the last week. Basically, his comments about the team's win focused mostly on his confidence in his own physical talents as well as ability to belittle his opponent.  He said very little about his team's success. In short, his comments came off to many as cocky rather than confident.  What's interesting was that his teammates were ok with his comments while his critics were fired up, and in the end, I don't think he gained more supporters.

Every bit of research says that leaders must be confident individuals if their organizations are going to achieve success. They must believe in their abilities to overcome the toughest of situations. They must be ready to step up when no one else will. But here's the issue. Some leaders exert their confidence to move people forward while others flaunt their confidence to turns followers off. 

Why is that?

It all comes down to how and when leaders use the words, me and we, as they deal with success or failure. 

In Times of Success 

Cocky leaders use the word, me, to describe the reason for the team's success. They may use the word, we, to define the team, but you will definitely hear overtones of the leader's abilities in every action that they describe as the reason for team's success. Success couldn't have happened without the cocky leader. 

Confident leaders see no use in the word, me, to describe reasons for success.  Confident leaders let their actions do the talking for them. You will hear constant praise for the team as they describe how everyone worked together to make it happen. You will hear no overtones of 'Me' because the leader will be constantly praising the strengths and contributions of every member that played an integral part of the team's success. 

In Times of Failure

The cocky leader will be extremely disappointed and moderately immature. His anger, aggravation, and frustration will reveal itself in the way that he describes the team's failure. Rarely will he point the finger at himself because there were too many variables and too many people involved that contributed to the team's failure. Cocky leaders cannot accept failure; and therefore, their narcissistic behavior will not allow them to personally accept responsibility for loss. 

The confident leader will acknowledge the fact that 'we' did not win the game; however, the leader will not put the blame on 'we' but on 'me'. Because of the leader's poor planning the team was not prepared to win the game. The leader does this because he knows that the team looks to him for guidance and strength. Strength is only revealed in times of true vulnerability. In showing flaws and revealing human imperfection, confident leaders grow and organizations respond positively. 

Super Bowl Sideshow 

Whether you agree with Richard Sherman or not, the fact remains that his statements put him in the spotlight rather than the team. Don't get me wrong. He's a great player and made a great game saving play in the NFC Championship Game; therefore, he deserves lots of credit for making that play, but we mustn't forget that the Seahawks put him in the position to make the play.  Without the team's effort and success, he just made another good play.

Now in the end, his comments may help his team prepare for the Super Bowl by taking the focus off of other key players on the team, but one thing is certain.  Sherman will be under intense pressure on Sunday to back up his statements when he faces arguably the best quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning.  Cocky leaders allow their emotions to get themselves into this position, but confident leaders never allow words of bravado to cause them this type of unnecessary pressure.

Finally, cocky leaders never consider using their words to bring people together as their first priority. Their insecurity won't allow that. However, confident leaders constantly find ways to put their team in the best position to win the game. When they win, the leader gives the team credit for doing so. And when the team loses, the leader takes full blame for not putting the team in the best position to win.

That is true leadership. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

5 Notification Settings for Focused Leadership

I recently readjusted my notification settings for all of my social media.  The reason for that was pretty simple, I was being interrupted way too much. Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy finding out what's happening through my different social media platforms, but I don't need to know that information every time it happens.

So while I was pondering how I wanted to be notified about updates and information like that, I started to think about the types of notification settings I have in my leadership?  After all, being reminded about critical tasks and events is one of the most essential things that every leader needs. So after pondering this idea for a little bit, I would like to share with you five ways to set up your notifications to keep your leadership focused. 

1.  Calendar

Early is on time and on time is late. There are so many things coming at leaders that sometimes they forget about important appointments. Setting up your calendar to your phone and allowing it to go off 15 minutes or 30 minutes before every event helps leaders make sure they arrive to all of their appointments on time. 

2. Tasks

There are always important tasks, and sometimes there are menial tasks that leaders put off to the last minute. Having reminders and alarms set to get all tasks completed keeps leaders focused. 

3.  Communication

This is the most important task leaders have to do. Communication must be done frequently and regularly so that followers are informed and know exactly where the organization is going. Setting alarms to schedule emails to the staff and social media posts to the community is an extremely important thing that all leaders must do; otherwise, leaders will forget to communicate ahead of time or completely fail to communicate altogether. 

4.  Monitoring and Evaluating

It is very easy for leaders to keep their eyes off the prize. Setting alarms and reminders to monitor and evaluate projects or classrooms is a very important that leaders must put in place.  These regular notifications to follow up help ensure that accountability occurs in the organization. 

5.. Celebration

Celebration is the fuel of achievement. If you don't fill up the car with gas, you won't have enough gas to reach your destination.  Leaders must set reminders and notifications to keep them focused on celebrating the organization teams that are excelling and individuals that are rising to the occasion. Forgetting to celebrate will ultimately cause your organization to fail. 

Focused Leadership

Leaders are bombarded from the moment they walk in the door. Emails, phone calls, surprise appointments, and other interactions will always deter leaders from getting the job done. Having the 5 notification settings of focus leadership turned on will ensure not only that the job gets done, but that it will get done correctly.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Transforming our Dream into a Vision

One of the most memorable speeches in American history is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech.  As he spoke to hundreds of thousands in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, he had a vivid vision of a day where children of all races would come together at the table of brotherhood.  He saw a day where people would be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.  For those of us who never grew up in a time where Jim Crow ruled the day, it is indescribable to witness 50 years later the passion and commitment that Dr. King and millions of others had to make our country a better place for all people.

The interesting thing about Dr. King’s speech is that it actually wasn’t a dream or even a wish.  It was a vision.  It was a powerful belief that went far beyond hope.  He anticipated a new day where the ways of the present would be replaced by a much better future.  But here is where the dream turned into a vision.  Dr. King didn’t stop with his words.  He worked tirelessly and fearlessly to make the vision of the civil rights movement a reality.  People rallied.  People suffered and many died, but the vision never ceased.  With each day, the vision inched closer to becoming more real than it was the previous day. 

So in thinking about the definition of school vision, what are questions that schools should ask to define their vision?  School visions describe what the school hopes to become as a result of its daily commitment to the mission.  If the school truly believes in its mission of educating 100% of the students that arrive on its doorstep, what would the school be like when it realizes that mission of truly educating every child?  This vision represents a roadmap for decisions that must be made to construct the campus culture that reflects its constant movement toward the school that it desires to be.

When DuFour et al described school visions in “Learning by Doing, 2nd Edition” (2010), they made the following descriptions.  “Vision statements are credible and focus on the essential outcomes for every kid.  Vision statements are used as a blueprint for improvement and they are widely shared through collaboration.  Vision statements are not opinions or wish lists.  They are not something to be ignored or worse dictated or developed by few”. Mattos, Buffum and Weber (2012) described a vision as collective responsibility or “a shared belief that the primary responsibility of each member of the organization is to ensure high levels of learning for every child”.

If we truly believe that all kids can learn, we must stop dreaming about it.  We must define what our school will look like when every kid learns.  From there, we must use that vision to make the rough places plain, and the crooked paths straight.  That means we must stop accepting excuses for why things can't change.  We must confront practices that do not align with that vision, and compel our colleagues to commit to believing in the potential of 100% of the kids that walk through the door.  By forcing our actions to visualize a better future, we will no longer be touting our dream with a banner on the wall, but planting that dream in the hearts and minds of every student in the building. 

So what will you do to make your dream a vision?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

6 Lines of the Net of Communication

Christmas came again for me on December 26 when I went crappie fishing with a friend.  We had a great time as we pulled in the motherload of a limit. To top it off, we enjoyed a beautiful sunny but chilly day on waters smooth as glass.

Fishing is a challenge much like communication is for leaders. We are constantly trying to hook each member of our community to our mission. Beneath the surface, community stakeholders are swimming around our hooks consuming a smorgasbord of communication. If all we have is one fishing pole and one hook, what's the real chance that we will be able to catch all of our stakeholders with our communication?

Communication in the 21st-century school must transcend itself from fishing with one line of communication into combining multiple lines of communication and weaving together to create a net of communication. There is no one lure that will hook all of your stakeholders.  There is no bait that will make them bite every time you throw out the hook. Let's face it. The people in our school community are way too busy to wait for us to give them communication in the manner that best suits us. Our message has to be wherever they are whenever they are ready to receive it. Communication has to be a net that catches every person every time the message is thrown out to the community.

In addition, communication can no longer be from one person. If we are going to create a net of communication, everyone has to play their part in our fishing expedition.  Everyone has to hold their end of the line because everyone has
the responsibility of making connections and maintaining them with all members of the school community. For every member of the organization that fails to except this challenge, the result will be one more fish that slips through the net. 

What Lines are needed to make a Net of Communication?

Verbal & Face-to-Face

Every member of your school comes in contact with stakeholders in your school community through verbal and face to face encounters. Of all the hooks, this is best way to communicate with your community and the best way to ruin your relationship with them as well. Capitalize on every meeting you have face-to-face with your community to project a positive image of the school because there's not a second opportunity for a good first impression. 


While this is the most traditional form of communication, it is still the preference of many members of our community. With all of our efforts to connect virtually, we can't stop sending things home for people to pull out of the backpack. For many people, paper is the only bait that will connect them to our school. 

Web Presence

Webpages are great one way communication tools. They can inform people whenever they are needing instant information. The biggest turn off about webpages is when they're not updated or are too difficult to navigate. If you plan to connect your community through a webpage, there are 2 rules of thumb. 

1. Make sure every page you create stays current and updated frequently with relevant information. It will hook members of your community on 24-7 basis. 

2. Make sure people can find the page they're looking for in 3 mouse clicks or less. Anything more than 3, and they'll stop biting. 

Social Media

Nothing gets two way dialogue going with more people better than social media. People are always on their phone thumbing through their newsfeed of choice. Schools with daily or even hourly updates on multiple social media platforms and blogs promote strong lines of communication with the community because parents and the community can get involved in the discussion and even start discussion on topics that leaders weren't even considering.  Finally, social media is the best way to identify the undercurrents that are beginning to form in the community.  

Text Message Services

This is a great one way communication tool that schools can use to update their parents with important information immediately. With the click of a button your entire school community can be informed of extremely important information. Remind 101 is a great example of this tool. 

Gradebook Subscriptions

Many gradebook software programs have features where parents can subscribe for email updates and alerts about their student's grades. Schools need to take advantage of this opportunity and encourage parents and even teach them how to subscribe to their child's grade book. Making the grade book transparent gives parents the opportunity to be proactive in helping their kids improve their grades. 

Catch More Fish!

Commercial fishermen could cast out fishing lines and wait for the fish to come to them, but they don't leave their success to chance. These fisherman are successful because they go to the fish and use strong nets to catch more fish. If schools wish to strengthen the lines of communication with more parents and community members, leaders must put down the fishing pole and make a net. They need to assemble their organization and multiple communication tools into strong nets of communication each time they send out their message.  If they can adopt this philosophy of communication,  they will always pull in a much more informed school community. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Finding a Socket for Every Plug

My daughter just made the drill team, and I am extremely excited. It was such a proud moment to watch her overcome obstacles to accomplish this goal.   The most impressive part of her accomplishment was her grit and determination. She was obsessive in her tireless pursuit. She practiced every day, and she attended every possible practice to get better at the art of dance. 

Needless to say, I'm very proud of her!

What made the difference?  Sure, she has two parents that support her. We give her encouragement and advice in times of difficulty. We teach her the importance of never giving up. But we're not the only ones.  Her teachers and her friends play a huge part in building her confidence and self-esteem. They give her lots of feedback that helped her every day inch closer to achieving her goal. 

In short, she is lucky because she is plugged in.  Think about it.  An appliance is no good if you can't plug it into an electrical socket. Take a coffee pot for example.  Mine simply won't work unless it is plugged in.  Even worse, it has a short plug, so I have no choice but to place it very close to an outlet to plug it in. That is if I want some coffee. I can demand and plead for it to make my coffee, but if it isn't plugged in, the pot just simply won't do a thing. 

Kids are much the same. Every one of them has a plug, but they won't work until they are plugged into a socket. You can beg, plead, entice or threaten, but kids only work when their plug is in the socket. 

Some kids, like my coffee pot, have a very short cord; therefore, they have to be very close to a socket. In other words, we really have to dig into their mind to truly understand who they are, what their interests are, so we can build a relationship that will help them move closer to a socket. This takes a lot of time, trust and patience, but it is the only way to get kids interested in plugging in. 

How do we plug in kids?

Unlike the coffee pot, I can't plug kids in. That is their choice. When they are intrigued, inspired, and motivated, they will make a conscientious effort to plug themselves in. Kids must see that engaging in learning is worthwhile and ultimately beneficial to their lives. That can't happen without an enthusiastic educator who loves what they do and gauges their own success by how many kids they can connect to learning. 

Plugging kids in to the socket can be challenging, but the last thing I'll share is this. Educators shouldn't focus on plugging kids in to the educator's socket of choice. They must be committed to creating the conditions for kids to seek out their own unique socket and plugging themselves into their new-found passion, deepening their knowledge about it, and finally redefining their life in a way that they never imagined. 

A coffee pot can be as pricey or as plain as possible; however, they're worthless without power. Kids can be affluent or poor, but without plugging in to their passion, they won't accomplish much. The difference is me and you and whether or not we believe in our purpose of inspiring all kids to plug themselves into their future. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Will your PLC put the One-Four in 2014?

Schools around the country are back in session after Christmas break. Everybody is rested up and ready to resume the arduous task of educating all kids. If you reflect on the fall semester, you will find that much has happened. All schools started out with a plan to focus on kids, but life and it's endless interruptions managed to derail some of our essential tasks.  When we reflect back on our plans for the fall of 2013, we may be wondering, "how did we get away from our plan?"

Life is crazy, and it can be even crazier in the school business.  Disciplinary issues, unforeseen obstacles, and implementation difficulties always divert the attention from the one thing that we must guarantee.  Challenging questions and misunderstandings detract from our focus.  How does that always happen, or even better, why do we allow it to happen?

It is because we lose sight of the "1-4 Principle".

Since it is 2014, we need to use this year's digits to refocus us on what's most important.


Our school's New Year's Resolution can only be one thing, All Kids will Learn.  Say what you want about integrating technology, becoming more innovative with assessments or designing more real world learning environments, but if it doesn't guarantee that all kids will learn, those things are kind of pointless.  Our belief system is the difference in whether or not we deliver that guarantee. All the new instructional innovations are great ideas to connect more kids to learning, but we must never forget.  Instructional ideas are tools, but we are the carpenters.


If all members of a school believe in all kids, then they must employ the number 4 into their daily work.  There are 4 questions that every educator must answer every day to guarantee that all kids learn.   These questions, which are the crux of DuFour, DuFour and Eaker's work, are the guiding questions to help educators focus on learning.  Let's review these questions before we dissect them a bit.

  1. What do we expect all kids to learn?
  2. How will we know if they have learned?
  3. How will we respond if they don't learn?
  4. How will we respond when they do learn?
The 4 questions are not something to be reviewed lightly.  The questions should always remind us of our belief in all kids and then direct our actions to meet the needs of all kids.  

The Power of 'We'

Notice that the subject of each question is the pronoun, we.  It is not you, me, he, she or they.  We means that no one is exempt from participating in the most important thing, guaranteeing that all kids succeed.  It also means that diverse opinions and ideas play a huge role in the development of all educators; therefore, all educators are required to participate.  PLC's can't be one person dictating what the group will expect, and then everyone follows along.  We means consensus.  It requires the vision of several I's in the room to unite and find a collective focal point, Learning for All. (which also includes educators learning from each other)

The Agreement of Expecting

If teams are able to transcend into the power of 'We', then they are ready to definitively define what all kids must be able to do to demonstrate mastery.  Whether it be reading, writing, math or any other high leverage skill, teams must clearly define levels of proficiency for every kid. By agreeing on what they expect all students to know as a result of instruction, students have a greater chance of achieving success in their learning.  Conversely, if teams fail to agree on the expectations for mastery, every action from that point will be literally pointless.  

The Alignment of Knowing

Once teams can agree on the levels of mastery for learning, they are ready to align the instructional methods and strategies that they will employ to determine if kids have actually learned.  Determining an aligned understanding of the depth of knowledge, complexity of assessments, as well as conceptual understanding are vital conversations that all teams must have if they want to determine which kids need more time and which kids can move on.  The most important idea about the alignment of knowing is that it helps teams determine which kids need which response.

The Heart of Responding

Every kid deserves a response.  If they get it, they need to be able to apply their learning through more challenging and meaningful work.  And if they don't get it, all kids deserve a response that pinpoints the onset of failure and then builds a bridge to understanding.  Every response requires educators to connect with kids in unique and personalized ways.  All kids learn or fail to learn, and they all deserve a unified response from teams.

Making the 1-4 Principle a Daily Focus

New year's resolutions fail for one reason.  They are not referred to daily.  If teams expect to the 4 questions to be successful, they must first commit to one belief, All Kids can Learn.  Each day, teachers and  teams must remind themselves that all kids can learn, but in some cases we have failed to figure out how we can get them there.  Staying focused on believing in the potential of all kids helps teams find new ways to solve old problems.

Secondly, teams must evaluate the 4 questions from a preventive as well as reactive mindset.  Teams plan together to help kids learn, but they must never forget to look back and reflect on student performance.  Reflection guides teams in the creation of next steps.  Learning requires teachers to decide the best pathway for students to acquire knowledge while looking back to determine if the team created the best pathway for all kids.

The 1-4 principle is a delicate balance between culture and structure.  It's a deep-rooted belief in all kids and a unified action plan to help that belief actualize itself.  In 2014, I hope that as you return to the hectic work of educating all kids, you will put the 1-4 principle in the forefront of your work.  By keeping this as your focal point every day, the daily obstacles and interruptions have less of a chance of derailing your work all together.