Friday, October 30, 2015

No Excuse November!

For most of my life, November has been an excuse for me to grow out my beard. No matter the demands from my wife to shave it off, November has been and will always be No Shave November.  Now December...  That's another story for another day. 

Well, I'd like to add a new tradition to No Shave November and I'd like to call it this:

Let's be honest.  We make excuses when the going gets tough, but for the month of November, let's fight the urge to make excuses when things aren't going our way. Let's respond with courage when we would normally rationalize why something can't do accomplished. Below are a list of typical excuses that we could stop making during No Excuse November. 

  • We've never done that.
  • He can't learn.
  • He can't behave.
  • She won't do what we say.
  • They won't help us.
  • He won't listen to us.
  • We can't do that because (insert your excuse). 
  • We've always done it that way. 
  • We don't have enough (money, time, personnel, resources)
  • It's too much work.
  • It'll never work.

Let's Put the NO in November

There are 3 ways that we typically respond to excuses.  

  1. Agree - We verbally agree with the excuse and chime in to make it even more valid.  We do that when we're really fed up.  
  2. No Response - We validate someone else's excuse by saying nothing at all.  When we neither affirm nor confront an excuse, we silently validate that excuse and thus no reply is essentially agreeing that the excuse has merit and acceptable to the organization.
  3. Confront - The third and most courageous response to an excuse is to confront the excuse maker.  
Sure, it can be and is difficult to put someone in their place when they make an excuse.  So here are a few suggestions to courageously yet kindly embrace the No Excuse mindset.
  • Say, "Do you really mean that?"
  • Say, "Tell me why you feel that it couldn't be done."
  • Say, "Let's talk about that some more.  There may be another solution?"
  • Come up with reasons to argue against the excuse.
  • Show them how their excuse of "It'll never work" is false and can work.
Excuses are the defenders of the status quo.  They kill change, and they eviscerate visions.  The only way that excuses will ever be defeated is when more people develop a "No Excuse" mindset, and that starts when we collectively take a stance against making excuses every time something gets hard.  And what better month than November to say No More Excuses.

Monday, October 26, 2015

From Greek to Great: 7 Steps to Eliminate the Ambiguous Organizational Language

Language is the foundation of any culture, and within each educational organization, it has its own unique language. Some words evoke action while others stir up anger. Some words serve as symbols of pride while other symbolize scars of pain and anguish. If you know the words, you know exactly how to act, when to act and in which manner to act.  If you don't know the words, you'll spend most of your time lost not knowing what anything means.  What leaders must remember is that for many new members to a school, the organizaton's language at times can seem more like Greek than anything else.

In every organization that I have ever worked with, not only did I need to learn every new buzzword but I had to also to learn the etymology behind them. The sad thing is that many times, I learned more by bumbling and stumbling through my failures and misconceptions.  Yes, every organization has its own Greek that it speaks, and if you're a new immigrant to a new culture, there's a pretty good chance that you'll be lost every time you hear an unfamiliar word or acronym.

So what? 
Here's the problem.  Failure to accurately speak and understand the organizational lingo leaves people behind. It also causes them to be less equipped to serve students, and that is a huge problem. If the language and buzzwords create high levels of staff stress, that will ultimately be transferred over to the kids. Becoming fluent in a new organziaton's language can take months or even years to develop if supports aren't provided, but even worse, it isolates newcomers and relegates them to a lower class, and that is an even bigger dilemma.

"To not understand the local language is to demonstrate a lower level of usefulness to the culture. (Gruenart, Whitaker. School Culture Rewired. 2015)

Newcomers who are not provided supports to assimilate to the culture and the Greek that it speaks will be unintentionally ostracized. Essentially, not knowing the school's dialect of "Educationese" forces many to talk less, not more.  So the question has to be this. 

Source:  Google Images
How Important is Your Greek?
Well most organizational languages were developed a reason, to help people better communicate, right?  If that's true, then how important is it that all staff members not only know the language but the hidden meanings within the each word?  If it's critical that every person know the language to help move the entire organization forward, then it's important enough for leaders to provide a platform to not only help new staff members to learn the language, but develop an understanding of what those words look like and sound like in practice. 

Now What?   
Below are seven steps that school leaders can take to ensure that new staff learn to speak your Greek fluently. 
1.  Identify your organization's important buzzwords
2.  Define your buzzwords in written, and verbal form. 
3.  For words that represent a process, provide visual examples of that process. 
4.  Provide a platform for staff members to seek translation services if they don't know what a word or concept means. 
5.  Don't assume everyone has the same definition of a common word. Every word has a different meaning depending on the organization that taught them the word. 
6. Don't assume everyone who has been in your organization has the same meaning of he buzzword. Each person's experience also makes a variation of each word's meaning. 
7. Take time to align your language. Tier 1 instruction does not mean the same thing to everyone even if they've worked together for 10 years. 

From Greek to Great
If everyone is confused by the words you use, there's a strong chance your culture is paralyzed. Words are powerful. They invoke action; they inspire excellence. But they also stall progress and instill fear and uncertainty. Leaders must be careful that their organization's language is clear and specific, so that all members know exactly what the goal is and the action steps that they're expected to take to reach the goal. If leaders can speak in a way that limits confusion and creates consistency, the Greek that we speak will become the great that we lead. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Boo your School

It's October, and that means one thing. Everyone is exhausted. What? Did you think it was Halloween or something? Yes, everyone has been working very hard since the start of the school year.  Now, we're about a fourth of the way through it, and your teachers and staff need something from you. They need you to:

Boo your School

That's right!  You need to boo your people for all of their hard work. After all they're not expecting you to boo them.  Now before you freak out about this suggestion.  There's a right way and a wrong way to boo your school.  

Wrong way -  Criticize them for not doing their job hard, or continue telling them what they need to do better.

Right Way - Celebrate them with a surprise. See pictures below that my wife used to boo our neighbors.  You can use them if you want to create a tidal wave of people booing one another, or you can modify the card to boo each person yourself with a card and candy directly from you.

Getting booed means someone appreciates you. It means that you are a valued member of the organization.  Booing your people in the right way builds confidence. It affirms their hard work, and it adds value to your people. Halloween is a fun time of year, and school should be fun for the kids as well as for the teachers.  Take time next week to boo your school. Your people will never forget it and they'll definitely thank you for it. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Principal's Excellence Report Card

My post, The Principal's Summer Excellence Checklist was a fan favorite this summer. The idea behind the post was to encourage principals to stop focusing on everything when developing their plan to help their school reach excellence. After all when you focus on everything, you focus on nothing. My goal was to encourage principals and leaders to shift their focus to building the culture and structure that supported teachers who in turn help every child learn. 

Well, report cards are coming out, and they tell the kids how they have done in their learning thus far, but what about you?  Where is your report card? How well are you doing at building the best school for all kids and all staff? To help you determine your effectiveness, I developed a report card based on the Principal's Summer Excellence Checklist. You can use this tool to rate yourself as well as make a personalized plan for improvement based on identifying your strengths and targeting your areas for growth. 

Reflection is the difference between average and exceptional leaders. The more we reflect on our own effectiveness, the more we learn about ourselves, and the better we lead our organization.  I hope you will take a moment and reflect on your abilities as a leader and make a focused plan to lead your campus to excellence.

To make a copy of your very own Excellence Report Card, CLICK HERE

Monday, October 12, 2015

Did I Really Save his Life?

I was shopping in a store with my wife, and ran into a parent of a former student of mine. The student was someone that I really enjoyed having in my class and thought a lot.  We had small talk about what was going on in his life and what he was doing, and I told her to let him know that I was proud of him and that I wish him the best of luck. What she said next blew my mind.

"You saved my child's life." Completely floored by the statement, I humbly replied, "thank you but I don't think I saved his life. I just taught him and helped him be grow in his abilities."  

"No, John. You don't understand. Before you came to his school, he was spiraling downward. You're the one that saw potential in him and made him see potential in himself. You saved his life."  With tears welling up in her eyes, I instantly realized the power that I truly had as a teacher.

This conversation made me accept that I wasn't a teacher.  I was a life-saver, and I was completely oblivious to what I did not only for him but countless other students.  I thought all I was doing was teaching him my content. I believed that all I did was build a relationship with him and make him feel like he was important. I didn't think that I was actually saving his life.

We don't just Teach Kids; We Save lives.

I can't tell you how many times I said and thought this phrase. "I'm just a teacher." What we as a profession must realize is that we save students. We give them hope. We let them know that they're not alone.  We tell kids that they're not forgotten. We show them there's a world beyond their wildest dreams. We influence them to embrace their potential, and we convince them that their past doesn't have to be their future, and the present doesn't have to be forever.  What we tell them, and what we teach them actually transform their lives.  

The most interesting part about teaching or leading a campus is that in most cases we will never know that we saved a life, but we must always approach our work with the belief that what we are doing has the potential to save every student's life. What we do can transform lives. We can take students from their present lot in life and empower them to create a life that they never thought existed.  

I am reminded of the power of our profession by this song by Sidewalk Prophets, "Save My Life". I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you will embrace your daily opportunity to save lives. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Enhance your Instruction with Note-Taking AND Note-Drawing

What kids do while we teach them makes a huge difference in whether or not they will retain their newfound knowledge.   Teachers give their best effort to make great teaching the constant, but learning will always be the variable if they don't make a plan to guarantee that students actively retain what they are taught. To ensure that learning remains the constant, educators must continuously ask this guiding question. 

"What are kids doing while we're teaching them?"

Research proves that we retain at most 10% of what we hear, so if kids have nothing to do while they are listening to our instruction, what will they retain?  Chances are that they will retain nothing, and if they do remember what they hear, there's a strong chance that it won't be the most important 10% that they needed to remember.  

If we want to help kids retain what we teach, we must incorporate some form of note taking into our daily lessons. Note-taking is one of the highest yield strategies (SEE HERE for the RESEARCH), but note-taking is often thought of as a skill that's not very condusive to kids who like to doodle and draw.  Well, there are many benefits to all forms of note-taking and all of them help all kids learn more information in virtually every classroom.  See "The Biggest Benefits to Note-taking. But what blew my mind more than the research was this video below. If we want to help our "off-task" doodlers and drawers take meaningful notes and ultimately learn more, we must find a way to incorporate their artistic abilities into note-taking in a manner that works best for them.