Thursday, June 25, 2015

Teacher Voice: The Secret Ingredient in Successful Schools

As a singer who loved music so much that I majored in it, I have never had a problem making my voice heard.  It takes very little muse for me to share my gift with others.  All I need is a tune in my head and the opportunity to let it out.  No matter how large or small the audience, I am perfectly comfortable making my voice heard.

Teachers' voices are not that much different than a singer's voice.  Every teacher has a song in their heart or a passion if you want to call it, but there are varying degrees of confidence that each teacher possesses to share their voice with others.  Some are shy or uncertain, while others are extremely confident of themselves and have no problem sharing their voice with others.  Then you have those in the middle that wait for just the right time to share their thoughts. The problem is that in this business of educating all kids, every teacher's voice MUST be heard, and the conditions must be right to make their voices heard.

Nothing is more frustrating than having an opinion and not feeling comfortable enough to voice it.  Some teachers feel inadequate but are scared to speak up for fear of being viewed negatively by their peers or leaders.  Veteran teachers see problems that need to be fixed but don't voice their concerns because they don't want to give leaders the impression that they're negative nancies or cynical.  Leaders are like music directors, and they must create a culture where all teachers feel comfortable as well as compelled to share their voice with their peers and their leaders.

Teacher Voice:  The Secret Ingredient to Success
If you want teachers to grow, they have to have their voice heard, and that can only occur when these 5 components of teacher voice are not only present but nurtured by the leader.

Teachers must feel valued as people first, and second they must feel that what they say matters before they open their mouths.  No value; no voice.

If teachers are going to share their voice, they have to know that the school culture values openness.  Leaders must model openness in their appreciation of diverse ideas, expertise, and opinions.  Teachers must also feel safe being open and honest with their leader and with one another when they are frustrated or have concerns.

This is a big one but gets to the heart of teacher voice.  When teachers feel insecure, they will choose to either withdraw or seek support.  The culture created by the leader makes that decision for teachers.  If a leader creates a culture that doesn't support teachers when they're vulnerable, that leader doesn't support teachers.

Growth can only occur in a culture that values curiosity.  All teachers must know that challenging the status quo and asking "what if" and "why is that" questions helps them grow personally grow and helps the culture as a whole.

Once teachers know that their voice is heard, they know that they are valued.  Once teachers know that they are valued, they take ownership of not only the learning space that they create for kids.  They take responsibility for making the school a better place for all staff and students.

What Song are your Teachers Singing?
So do all of your teachers feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts?  Are they afraid to show their shortcomings?  Do they feel comfortable enough to step onto the stage and share their voice with the world?  The song of school culture is most harmonious when all teachers raise their voices.  Teachers can also create a song of deafening silence (see video of John Cage's 4' 33" below) when they feel like the school or the leader or both do not value their voice. If we want to accelerate our efforts to create a culture that saves every kid, then we must make sure that we create the same environment that values every teacher's voice first.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Important Principles and Impressive Principals

I love it when a quote blows my mind.  Today, this quote came up in my BrainyQuote app today.

Important principles may and must be inflexible.
Abraham Lincoln.

Every time I see the word, principle, I can't help but think about how many times it is mistaken for the word, principal, or vice-versa.  But let's go a little deeper with the misunderstandings in these two homonyms.  Many principals mistakenly can be flexible with their principles while at other times inflexible in how they principal their campus.  

To help keep this in perspective, I whipped up this slide to remind principals that in order to be highly effective as well as impressive to those who follow their work, great principals never waver on their principles, yet they continuously adapt their leadership to the ever changing needs of their campus, teachers, students and culture.  The only way that a great principal is inflexible is in times where his principles are challenged.  

What do you think?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Wanted: The Ultimate Teacher, Fathers

Happy Father's Day!  As I reflect on my many blessings of being a father, I cannot help but make a connection to education. After all, my oldest daughter says my hashtag is #PeaceLoveEducation. Today I would like to thank fathers for the commitment you have made to your children, and I would also like to issue a challenge to all the fathers out there.

The work of the father has a huge impact on their children. It's so big that children of single parent households have around a 50% chance of dropping out of high school. There's plenty of research that supports the fact that kids benefit from having two parents. But that's not all. Kids also benefit from living in a home that is above the poverty line. That means that what both parents do sets the tone for their kids to succeed in school, and dads play a huge role in that fact. 

Fathers play a unique role in their children's development.
Here are just a few roles that fathers play. 

  • Positive Male Role Model - Every kid with an involved father has one, and this role is epic.
  • Builder - Fathers teach their kids how to build things or do things with their hands. 
  • Conflict Resolver - Fathers teach their children how to handle conflict like an adult.  
  • Hard Worker - They show their kids the value of hard work and commitment to doing a good job. 
  • Playmate - They spend time playing with their kids.
  • Friend - They are their child's best friend.
  • Protector - They love, guard and protect their children.
  • Teacher - What dads teach their children through their words and actions stays with them FOREVER.
Now obviously moms do a lot of these jobs as well, but dads play a special role.  Dads are not extras.  They're not bonuses.  They're essential, and any kid with a committed father has a great chance to have a successful future.   That is why we must compel fathers to know their role and not underestimate it.  What they do or fail to do for their children has a huge impact on their children.  Schools and parents must work hard to not only encourage dads to come to the school and get involved.  They should encourage dads to get involved in their kids' lives.  They should promote the importance found in the statistics.  Dads matter ALOT! 

On this Father's Day, take time to not only thank the dads out there.  Encourage them to either get involved or stay involved in their children's lives because it matters.  Thank you fathers out there for all that you do.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Finding Tomorrow's Teachers Today

Every summer, the same problem presents itself. There aren't enough qualified teachers to fill the vacancies posted. Whether it's secondary math or science, foreign language, or some other teaching assignment that requires a strange combination of education and certification, there never seems to be enough, if any, applicants out there. For principals and personnel directors the task of filling vacancies seems to have more demand than supply.

There are several reasons why there aren't enough teachers out there. There aren't enough students majoring in education, especially in hard to fill spots. Salaries for teachers, especially in math and science positions aren't as competitive as careers in the private sector. Politicians and pundits belittle the education profession to the point that everyone believes that public education is the worst possible career you could select.  The media promotes the narrative that public education is failing.  There are a host of other reasons that I could list, but we as educators must ask ourselves this question. 

Why are we not intentionally developing and recruiting tomorrow's teachers while they are still our students today?

Recruiting teachers from college when they're about to graduate is too late. We must start sooner. Most kids select their major in their first or second year and most don't change from it; therefore recruiting college freshmen and sophomores is also too late to help the profession.  We must start sooner. 

There's No Time like the Present

What's crazy is that education is the only profession in the world that has first dibs on recruiting kids into the profession. No other career in the world has the opportunity or the advantage in not only promoting the profession but actually convincing kids at a young age to join the profession before they graduate.  Imagine how much bigger the pool of qualified applicants would be if every teacher in America identified one or two kids per year and encouraged them to pursue a career in education. 


When I was in high school, I  vividly remember one of my teachers preaching to the class about how being a teacher was absolutely the worst profession in the world.  This teacher went on to tell us that we would be crazy if we pursued a degree in education and that we should avoid it at all costs. While the sermon made me wonder why this individual was even teaching in the first place, I wonder now how many kids changed their minds about teaching as a profession thanks to him.  


If you think about it, kids are being persuaded to pursue or avoid the education profession altogether.  Even if we never say a word about our profession, it is what we do for kids each and every day that gives them a positive or negative impression of the profession as a whole.  If we believe in the power of education to maintain our free society, we must do whatever it takes to promote education in both our words and actions and make a constant effort to recruit the very best students into the profession before they graduate from high school. Whether you are a kindergarten teacher, a high school calculus teacher or somewhere in between, you should recruit and develop future teachers. The future of public education is sitting in our classrooms right now, and we must nurture our future from the moment our students enter our classrooms. If we could all commit to our profession in this way, finding the very best teachers for our schools would no longer be a wish. It would be the reality.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Excellence Mindset

Growth is learning in action, but what is excellence?  Is it a result or a mindset?  If you think about it, growth takes passion for improvement, but excellence requires an obsession for optimal performance.   It demands a growth mindset that gets you to the top and keeps you there.

As you reflect on where you are this year in your own personal growth as a teacher or leader, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What are my strengths?
This is an important question because you can't grow unless you identify your strengths first.  Once strengths are identified, they can be leveraged to address question 2.

2. What are my areas for growth?
Stop asking where you are weak because the idea of weakness is a fixed mindset.   Identifying your areas for growth is a growth mindset, but making a definitive plan to become an expert in your areas for growth is transcending growth mindset and developing your excellence mindset.

Growth is great but chasing personal excellence is even greater.  If you don't believe me, watch the video below.  The result of the video is a world record for solving a Rubik's Cube blindfolded, but the mindset that you will witness is a man's relentless obsession with being not just the best but his best.  People who possess an excellence mindset are driven by being better than their personal best every day.

Vince Lombardi is the epitome of the Excellence Mindset.  His quotes on success, leadership and discipline are timeless, but the following quote perfectly defines the Excellence Mindset.

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”

The quest for personal excellence, when pursued in the right way, not improves your life.  It improves the quality of your future.

The Obsession over Excellence

Friday, June 5, 2015

Teachers, Impact Next School Year Now!!!

Last week I wrote a bit called, "The Principal's Summer Excellence Checklist". The feedback from this piece was powerful as principals and teachers chimed in on how valuable they found the post. The cool part of the feedback was how teachers had an overwhelming sense of wanting to help their principal improve the school.   So this week's post is written to give teachers ideas that will help their principal improve the school next year. 

Summer is a break for teachers and kids, but it's not for the principal. We must remember that the foundation for next year is being laid right now in the work that he or she does over the summer. Does your campus principal have all the information that he or she needs to make the campus even better next year? If you think about it, they're going to make decisions that could impact you for the better or for the worse.  Decisions will be made about resources, schedules, discipline, collaboration, intervention and just about anything that will impact how you will meet the needs of kids. Without a doubt they're going to do their best to make the campus better, but why not take a few minutes and give your input to ensure a positive outcome? Giving input to your principal now could have more impact on your year than anything you do all of next year. 

15 Things Leaders Need to Know before Summer Break Begins

1. Successes from the year that you would like to see continue.
2.  Curricular changes that benefitted teachers. 
3.  Curricular or instructional changes that caused confusion or frustration 
4.  Disciplinary issues that improved this year. 
5.  Disciplinary issues that started to become problematic for teachers. 
6.  Resources that you found very helpful. 
7.  Resources that need more staff development in mastering. 
8. Students that are in need of more social and emotional supports. 
9.  Students that made huge gains and will need continued supports to continue academic growth. 
10. Ideas to strengthen communication between administration and teachers. 
11. Ideas to increase technology integration. 
12. Ideas to improve collaboration among teachers. 
13. Student motivation ideas. 
14. Staff motivation ideas. 
15. Any ideas or suggestions that you feel would make the school a better place for students and staff

 How the school is structured has a direct impact on your effectiveness as a teacher. By knowing what works for you, principals can leave successful structures and strategies in place. By hearing what causes frustration or concern, principals can devote their time to refining or revamping those structures. The bottom line is this.  Every leader needs to be led by their followers, and giving your input is the way to lead your leader. Not all of your suggestions will be taken, but they will plant a seed that can positively influence the overall effort that the principal will make to improve the school. 

Now is the time to influence your next year.  Don't miss your chance to help your principal help you.