(140 + 1) The Power Of One

“If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg.  There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows.  Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.  It is the part that does.”  -Ernest Hemingway

We have learned that there is power found in the ‘140 Characters’ of Twitter.  Power to create change.  Power to spur a movement.  Power to share and learn.  And yet, at some level, I believe that this barely scratches the surface.  We have just touched on the power and possibilities that may be found within.  Possibilities that are yet to be unveiled as we discover and create new and innovative ways to utilize this tool.

And like a leader who fails to grasp the power of culture in their organization…many fail to understand the power of this tool and what lies beneath the surface.  When leaders take a surface-level approach to issues and concerns in their organization without understanding the culture and history that underlies those issues…then they often fail to correct the issues from short-sighted understandings and decisions.  In much the same manner, many leaders and educators have quickly dismissed Twitter as a powerful learning tool from a surface-level view of it.  And when we take a surface-level approach, we often fail to see the full extent of what lies below the surface.

With that said, let’s take a look at the cold and hot of this social-media tool…

The Cold of Twitter: Twitter can best be described as a social-media iceberg.  And much like an iceberg, the power is not found at the surface, rather discovered in the hidden depths below the surface.  In the same manner a sea captain places his ship and crew in danger by not grasping the depth and width of an iceberg, we often put our organizations and those we lead at a disservice when we fail to grasp the power and depth of those tools that can enhance learning.

The ‘140 Characters‘ serves as the surface of Twitter.  And yes, there is tremendous power in those ‘140 Characters‘ to transform.  Yet, we have to realize the depth and true power of this tool is really found in the +1.  Or what we can refer to as the “seven-eighths” of Twitter.  The +1 is the click that takes us below the surface to the “seven-eighths” of research, articles, videos, blogs and other learnings connected to the ‘140 Characters‘.  That extra click, or +1 is the power that lies below the surface.  It serves as the difference maker between socializing and powerful professional development.

Whereas an iceberg can be difficult to access and traverse, Twitter serves as an open service for around-the-clock access to learning and collaboration.  However, not understanding the “seven-eighths” of this tool relegates it to just another social space.  When we understand the power of the +1, we understand the true value of this tool…to increase our learning, our collaborative networks, and access to people otherwise considered impossible previously.  We have the ability to tailor-make our professional learning networks and/or our “seven-eighths”.

The Hot of Twitter: Once we understand the ‘cold’, we can also see the ‘hot’ of twitter.  Much like Sam Parker’s 212 degrees, the +1 of Twitter serves as the “steam” to power the engine of learning.  We are just tapping into the collaborative capabilities of this tool.  The ‘140 Characters‘ of Twitter serve as as the “211 degrees…very hot, but not yet boiling“.  The +1 or “extra degree” of effort is what takes your learning and collaboration to the next level, or gets you to 212 degrees.  The power of the +1 is the difference between an inspirational quote and a fully developed digital citizenship curriculum.  As Sam Parker puts forth, the “extra degree” or +1 is the difference maker.

It is vital that we understand that most often the smallest things can have the biggest impact”…and +1 has that type of impact.  And it all sits at your fingertips.  The question you must answer for yourself in going forward is…do I want to be a Pioneer or a Settler?  Either way, remember that small choices can make all the difference…

“At 211 degrees water is hot.  At 212 degrees, it boils.  And with boiling water, comes steam.  And with steam you can power a train.  Just one extra degree makes all the difference.”  -Sam Parker


A New Conversation…

“Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” – Pasi Sahlberg

Recently the consistent flow of tweets across my Professional Learning Network (PLN) has sent a resounding message…a message which has made two things very apparent for me as an educator…

  1. We aren’t going to improve education by getting rid of teachers
  2. Our current evaluation models are not sufficient for improving the profession

Let’s quickly run through those two concerns and determine where we are at…

First, if we are going to improve our current model for education then it will be necessary to both invest in and support those providing the frontline services to our students.  Both Dylan Williams and Pasi Sahlberg preach investment over banishment.  Dylan William does a tremendous job in his new book on formative assessment providing reasons why termination is a timely, costly, and ineffective practice for reforming our current system.  While Pasi Sahlberg is currently keynoting across the globe the benefits of the Finnish system and their deep professional investment in the ongoing learning of their educators.

With this information in hand it becomes more and more obvious that we have to move our system towards improved support of our educators in the profession.  We have to level our efforts towards the enhancement of their craft for the benefit of our students and for the increased intrinsic value that it will bring to them as professionals.  However, be very clear on this, it will be no easy task and will take a concerted effort from district office and schoolhouse leaders if we are going to create any type of serious inroads to improving the overall strategies and abilities of every teacher in every classroom.

Second, our current models of evaluation are not providing the sufficient support, guidance and feedback necessary to focus and improve professional practice.  Very often, the evaluative processes we utilize are cumbersome and unwieldy.  Many times serving as mere checklists for our administrators.  More often than not it  becomes more about creating a tight ship running smoothly than it is about ongoing growth and improving professional practice.  At its worst, it can serve as a contentious and antagonistic process that creates distrust and divisions on our school campuses.  It can create an us vs them structure between our teachers and administrators, the very people the process is intended to support and grow.  However, in most cases, the evaluation process eventually fails to accomplish what it was intended to do, provide support the ongoing growth and learning of our educators.

So what does this tell us?  What does it say about our system and those that work in it?  It tells me that the dismissal bells are ringing on our current conversations…we are clamoring for a ‘new conversation’ in our schools.  It is time to ‘change the conversations‘.  For too long the conversations occurring in our classrooms and schools have struggled to grow and improve our practices.  Our evaluations have run the margin of meaningless and/or do more harm than good in improving the profession.

Yet, we must realize…

…teaching as a practice and profession is such an extremely complex process that no one person could master the craft over one or even several lifetimes.  And even if we could, our current learnings in regards to teaching and learning are constantly evolving and changing at such a rapid pace that our educational landscape is often displaced on a daily basis.  It is too much for one person to ever know or learn.  But that does not mean we ever stop trying, learning, or evolving.  Rather, we have to look for ways to simplify the complex…

So if we understand that teaching is a complex and constantly evolving craft and the evaluation system that is in place to improve the craft is either deeply flawed or broken…how can ‘changing the conversation’ as instructional leaders provide a new perspective and guide us forward?

I want to start the change with the writing of Harvard Professor, Dr. Richard Elmore and his work in Instructional Rounds.  Past practice has focused leaders on the teacher and teaching.  Dr. Elmore asks us to take on a new lens or perspective in the classroom.  He is asking our instructional leaders to focus our efforts at the level of the student desk.  Which is not an overly complex concept.  Many of us will even say we do…but honesty will allow that many of us approach it with a surface level depth.  Dr. Elmore is asking us to dig in and really determine what is happening on the student desk and is it a reflection of the instruction?  Is the instruction truly affecting what is happening on every student’s desk?

In the same manner that Rick DuFour urged us in our Professional Learning Communities to turn our focus from the teaching to the learning…Dr. Elmore is asking us to move our focus from the teacher and the front of the room and place it squarely on what is happening on the desk of the student.  Not very complex, but very powerful.

For the majority of the classroom observations in our schools this a byproduct rather than a focus of our administrative visits.  We spend our observation time focused on the teacher ‘presentation’ rather than determining whether the instruction is finding its way down to the learning level of the individual student.  We are captivated by whether our teachers are incorporating the newest and greatest strategies than whether it is truly affecting the learning of our students.

However, we have to ensure the depth of the process doesn’t stop at the classroom observation level.  Unfortunately we approach the post-observation conference as a duty to review the ‘presentation’.  Many administrators are uncomfortable with the evaluation process and want to quickly move through the meeting as a rote checklist review, rather than an authentic opportunity for collaborative discussion, feedback, and next steps for growth.  Very seldom do the conversations in the post-observation meetings reveal the depth necessary to hold much of a chance for changing practice or behaviors.

Usually one or two things happen in these meetings…one, the teacher can relax and breathe a sigh of relief as the administrator recalls the great instruction and strategies that were implemented during the observation…or the conversation turns defensive or antagonistic if the observer provides any hint that they were less than pleased with the instruction or lesson.

In the end, what is usually left missing in the process is the learning.  And all parties involved end up losing.  When we approach the process as a checklist rather than an opportunity for collaborative feedback and growth, everyone loses.  And very often we end up creating a divide that hampers any further possibilities for enriching collaboration and feedback.

That is why there is such value to the work of Dr. Elmore in Instructional Rounds.  He shows us how vital and yet simple it is to improve our ability to serve as instructional leaders for our schools.  When our observation efforts become about what is happening at the level of the student desk, our perspective and focus changes substantially.  We remove the spotlight from the teacher…and transfer it to the learning.  Which, as Stephen Covey often referred, is “keeping the main thing the main thing of the main thing.”

And when this happens…when we shift our focus to the student desk…we are also required to shift  and ultimately ‘change the conversations‘ that are happening between administrators and teachers.  We move the conversation away from the teacher…it is no longer about what strategies you were or were not using, rather the conversation turns to students and why or why not the instruction was having an impact on their learning.  It is a paradigm shift…it is the next level of moving our focus from teaching to learning.

So how do we ‘change the conversation’ in our schools?  However, before we get to that question, I want us all to agree that the one thing we know about most teachers is that they are all ‘in’ for improving the learning and achievement of their students.  And if that statement is true, then what they desire most as a professionals is to increase the learning and achievement of their students.

And if that is the case…

Then we must turn our conversations to the students in the classroom.  We must shift our conversation.  When we focus the concerns and questions on the learning that was taking place during the observation we invite engagement from the teacher.  We invite them into the conversation.  A conversation that is no longer about the administrator having the right answers for what was effective and what needs to improve.  Rather it is about asking the right questions.  Questions that create dialogue and increase learning.  Questions that improve trust and build stronger relationships between our teachers and administrators.  It is much easier to dive into questions about why a student was struggling with the instruction or assignment than it is to discuss why the observer believed the teacher failed to utilize the appropriate strategies to support the concept they were teaching.

When we turn the conversation from teacher ‘presentation’ to student ‘learning’ we create an entirely different dynamic and atmosphere to our observation dialogue.  We move from defensive to engaged.  And when you engage teachers around discussions to improve the learning of their students you create and open a natural channel for collaborative dialogue and feedback.  Which is what we really want to occur through an effective evaluation process.  When we ask the right questions as instructional leaders, when we move away from always trying to provide the right answers, we create an environment for learning and growth.  And we all know the learning is much stronger when people are given the opportunity to come to their own realizations and answers.  And furthermore, we have created stronger relationships with those we serve and started to build a more trusting environment.

But let’s be real…in the end it is much easier to just take the checklist route and ensure a smooth running building than it is to ‘change the conversations’ that upset the status quo.  Yet, when we change the conversation, we change the environment.  And we change the system.  And isn’t that what a learning organization is all about.

Just a thought…


Looking Around The Corner

“But one of the most important insights from our research is that knowledge that is actually implemented is much more likely to be acquired from learning by doing…” Pfeiffer and Sutton The Knowing-Doing Gap

A cornerstone that we have incorporated into many of our conversations over the last year is to determine whether we are ‘looking around the corner?’ It has turned into one of those consistent terms that we have used to guide and push our work.  We view ‘looking around the corner’ in the way Steve Jobs looked at providing people the innovations they would find indispensable and yet hadn’t even considered a necessity.  It is the visionary and long-term thinking part of leadership.  It is being able to scan the horizon and determine the best coordinates for directing the organization into the future.

Yet, as leaders we have a tendency to lose focus on the long-term visionary portion of our leadership when accountability measures and pressures to show progress take over our time and calendars.  We find ourselves just trying to keep the ship moving forward.  In fact, vision very often gets pushed aside in an effort to just keep our people and organizations moving from point A to point B.  Vision very often takes a backseat to ‘reality’.  We see a vibrant vision of our future slowly stunted by the allure of the short-term and ‘making it’ to the next point.  Ultimately, we find ourselves doing more managing than leading.

This is one of the struggles of leadership…it is not just about staying current.  Staying current is a disservice to those you lead.  Staying ahead of the curve and ‘looking around the corner’ is a 21st century leadership imperative.  It is about creating a mindset and environment in the organization that allows those you lead to ‘look around the corner’.

However, don’t be surprised when we create the environment and nothing happens.  Ideas are flowing and there is a sense of excitement of what could be, and yet…

Very often when we do allow our leadership to ‘look around the corner’ and we acquire the necessary knowledge to move our people and organization forward and nothing changes.  Silence.  Status quo and business as usual continue to reign the day,  We spend hours in meetings discussing our findings, framing the problem, issues and concerns, and we walk away.  We all leave feeling good knowing what we need to do next…and yet, nothing changes.

Pfeiffer and Sutton refer to this as the knowing-doing gap.  And their research points to this knowing-doing gap “malady” being prevalent in a many of our organizations in every type of industry.  We know what to do…we understand what the problem is…and yet we fail to implement the correct actions to provide the necessary changes to improve our work and organizations.

There is a key to this lock in changing our organizations…and that key is ‘action’.  No amount of talking, reading and training will replace a lack of action if we are going to infuse change into the process.  Without action, status quo will continue to reign us back in.

However, we have to be aware as leaders that it is not just ‘action’ that will overcome the day.  Action alone will not create change and can actually cause more harm and chaos than good.  Rather, Pfeiffer and Sutton refer to the key as “thoughtful action“.  If we are going to over come the knowing-doing gap that affects our organizations we need to include “thoughtful action” to making those ‘looking around the corner’ ideas come to life in our organizations.

“One of our main recommendations is to engage more frequently in thoughtful action.  Spend less time just contemplating and talking about organizational problems.  Taking action will generate experience from which you can learn.”

So the next time you are ‘looking around the corner’ remember to ensure those you lead leave with a ‘plan of action’, not just an ‘action plan’.

Engage Your Expertise

“The work of particular teachers and principals is seldom visible to the public or even to other teachers and principals.  One way of making it more so is through writing.  Writing about practice is both visible and collegial.  It helps build a community of learners.”

The above mentioned quote comes from Improving Schools From Within authored by Roland Barth, a recommendation received from Austin Buffum, a name you may recognize for his exceptional work as both an author and speaker in regards to Response to Intervention.  For those of you who have heard Austin Buffum speak will most likely know that this serves as one of his favorite educational books.  And for good reason…

Throughout his book Barth provides a tremendous amount of wisdom for improving our schools and ourselves as educators.  Barth provides direction to the importance of “continuous, professional collegial relationships” and moving teachers away from isolation and involving them in the direct decisions that affect what happens in their schools and classrooms.  Throughout his book Barth hits on a multitude of issues that we are still grappling with as a professionals and as a professional community even to this day.  For example from his chapter on “Building a Community of Learners” Barth touches on a subject that still serves as a source of contention on all sides and pervades our work conversations even in the 21st century…tests.  Barth goes on to say that “Tests lead to a preoccupation with production, workbooks, worksheets, and drills…”  Which is a conversation that you still hear in many a schoolhouse still to this day.

Barth pushes the idea of culture and community in his work and the need for us to understand that “everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner.”  A concern which pervades many of our professional development conversations in regards to building a community of learners.  To take it even farther, Barth provides this example…”In schools we spend a great deal of time placing oxygen masks on other people’s faces while we ourselves are suffocating.  Principals, preoccupied with expected outcomes, desperately want teachers to breather in new ideas, yet do not themselves engage in visible, serious learning.  Teachers badly want their students to learn to perform at grade level, yet seldom reveal themselves to children as learners.  It is small wonder that anyone learns anything in schools.”  Barth points us to deep and thought-provoking issues that currently affect how we are working to improve our schools.  Yet, Barth was writing and discussing these improvement efforts in 1990…

With a plethora of useful improvement strategies within his book, it would be quite easy to overlook a chapter towards the end of his work, “Practice into Prose.”  Trust me I did.  While it did pique my interest initially , it wasn’t until recently that I began seeing the true value in this chapter.

Barth puts forth in the opening paragraph…

Probably no professional development activity has as much potential for promoting reflection, clarification, articulation, discussion – and risk – as writing.  Successful writing about practice can be an endeavor from which ‘everyone wins’, and learns: the writer, the reader, and the school.”  

“And yet while writing about practice is a most powerful form of learning and of sharing craft knowledge, it is also undoubtedly the most problematical.  Encouraging teachers and principals to want to write about their important work, getting them to write, and then persuading them to clarify and edit their writing and to make this writing mutually visible can be tortuous.”

So let’s roll back to 1990…  I can see how these words would be very true and reflective of that period of time.  While writing and its overall benefits still have the ability to improve the practice of educators, I would say that the process has changed immensely in regards to the visibility and impact.  The advent of blogging and social media vehicles has opened up this avenue and given those willing to engage in the process a voice that would have been unheard of at the time Barth brought his book to print.  Educators have a truly epic opportunity to use their learning and expertise to impact in ways not previously imagined.  The question is…are we willing to open ourselves up and partake in this opportunity that is sitting at our fingertips?

Barth continues within the chapter to promote the benefits of writing…

“Consequently, writing about the practices and problems with which school practitioners deal intimately each day is often left to others.  Paradoxically, those who systematically examine and write about schools come, for the most part, not from the school community itself but from higher education.”

Our ease and accessibility to blogging and social media platforms has allowed the practitioners in our schools to share and collaborate in a manner beyond any possibilities of previous ages.  We not only have the ability to read about and learn from the strategies that actual practitioners are utilizing and finding success with in our schools, we are able to access, correspond, and collaborate with them to support our own work.  It is no longer about whether educators are willing to dive in and share their successes and failures…the question now becomes are you willing to engage in the process as either an observer, a participant, or even both.  It is no longer can I?  Rather, will I?

“So the problem for the practitioner-writer is not only finding enough time, given the intense and demanding nature of school work.  The problem is to identify for oneself and supply the conditions under which it becomes likely one will write.”  Looking back on this quote by Barth…I think the only question we have to contend with now is the question of time.  Are we willing to make the time to improve our practice and to increase our learning?  Are we willing to engage with others and build a community of learners beyond what was previously ever imagined?  No one will make the time for you.  Nor should they.  Leaders of learners make the commitment to increase their own learning…they don’t wait on the learning to be provided to them.  They go forth and seek out their own professional development for the benefit of those they serve and lead.  It serves as a moral imperative for them.

“Far more critical than insufficient time in discouraging practitioners’ writing is the underlying fear that ‘I have nothing to say,’ that ‘others will criticize what I write,’ that ‘my writing will neither be accepted nor used by anyone.”  And what I have found is that is true.  Very often we have nothing to say…that is, until we dive into the process.  Once we begin, it seems that it becomes difficult to turn it off.  More often than not once I see those once leery to dive into writing and blogging because they are worried that they will not have anything to say…struggle to find time to keep up with all that they want to write about once they have started down the path.  Time more than content becomes their struggle.  So don’t wait till you think you have something to say or you won’t ever start…it takes action.

While Barth’s words were written over twenty-years ago…they still have the ability affect the work that we do today.  I will leave you with one final quote from his work…

“Practitioners who work conscientiously to convert their ideas in print have an opportunity to convey to the public message that schools are complex institutions; that leadership and teaching are difficult; that more good than bad things are happening in classrooms; that good schools do make a difference for students, their parents, and professionals alike; and that it is quite possible, even common, for schools to improve from within.”

Visible Leadership

“it is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde

I have a tendency to keep anywhere from ten to twenty books going at any one time.  I often find myself pulled in many different directions on what I want to read on any given day.  So whether it is the ‘whatever strikes my fancy’ to the need to know this for my work or those I lead…reading is just a natural part of my day.  I actually feel unnatural when I don’t have a book with me.

With that said, a recent round of literature purchases landed a copy of John Hattie’s “Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning” on my desk.  While the book continues to make the trek to and from work each and every day, my overall workload and pressures of getting ready for a new school year have hampered my ability to fully dive in to his work.  However, just perusing Hattie’s preface has already pushed the possibilities of what might be found within this gem.

Hattie’s preface to “Visible Learning for Teachers” sets the stage for the questions that we will be required to grapple with throughout the volume.  Hattie is asking if there is “visible learning inside?”  Is there “visible learning” occurring on your campus…and if so, what exactly does that look like?  Furthermore, if we were asked to show people “visible learning” occurring on our campuses, how would we do that?  It is a question that is worth our time and reflection, and not just for the short term…

While Hattie apparently focuses on the teacher…I would like to approach “visible learning” from a different perspective.  Let’s put a leadership perspective on the same question.  How do we create “visible learning” as leaders and administrators in our schools.  While many may consider it easier to spotlight our teachers and students…it is vital for school leaders to grapple with the idea of how they are creating “visible learning” on their campus and within our districts?  A question that we don’t often contemplate as leaders.

So let’s start there.  In the preface of the book, Hattie asks the question of “Where do I start?”  In which Hattie discusses the starting place…“is the way in which you think about your role – it is to know, on a regular basis, the nature and magnitude of your impact on the learning of your students.”  At which point, I would also include our teachers, parents and community members.

Hattie’s question is incredibly important and often glossed over…“Where do I start?”  Many leaders have a tendency to keep doing and doing and doing and doing.  The work and responsibility load for 21st century administrators can be overwhelming to say the least.  And as Artie Davis says, “sometimes we need to stop the bus and get off if we are going to be able to lead forward effectively.”  We may need to stop what we are doing, ascertain the reality of where we are at compared to where we want to go, and determine that as the starting point from which we can monitor the progress of our following efforts.

Hattie goes beyond the ‘start and requires a consideration of ‘your role‘ in ascertaining the “magnitude of your impact on learning” on your campus.  That speaks directly to vision, which is a leadership imperative.  The quality and ability for building a vision for your school can quite dramatically affect the magnitude of your impact on all members of your community and organization.  Many leaders lack clarity to their ‘role and end up spending a good amount of their time managing rather than leading.  Leading is not just about making sure that the campus doors are open and the lights are turned on each day.  Rather, leading is about making sure that you are turning a light on in each individual on your campus.  It is about leading with a vision that sweeps everyone up and aligns the building and organization towards a better future.

So, back to Hattie’s question, “Where do I start?”  Leaders start with themselves.  They start with high expectations and then serve as a model of those expectations.  And don’t be fooled, at times this can be incredibly difficult and lonely work.  That is why trust, relationships, collaboration and community are all vital to the success of an organization.  When those are in place, a leader can gain the needed honesty and feedback to grow and propel the organization forward.  When these are not in place, no matter how many conversations, meetings, trainings, and seminars you provide…it is unlikely that change will happen in the classroom, or behaviors across the campus, including the overall culture of the school.  Without these in place, you will find your leadership ‘role diminished and will lack the influence necessary to create any type of impact on the organization.  The nature and magnitude of your impact” will be minimal.

The other vital question that Hattie puts out on the table…“What does visible learning look like in a school?” and is there “visible learning inside.”  This is an incredibly deep and thoughtful question requiring our reflection.  A question that could be reviewed, discussed, pondered and provided serious thought and ongoing consideration throughout an entire year, or beyond.  Yet we have a tendency to put it all on the classroom, when I think that it starts first with leadership.  Leadership needs to model the process.  As they say, leaders go first.  With that said, let’s reframe the question…

“What does visible learning look like in leadership?”  A thought-provoking question that many leaders fail to wrestle with…which would promote transparency in and through their leadership.  If we want to make our leadership authentic and transparent, then we need to be the model on how to promote ‘visible’ learning?  And it starts with the key word ‘visible’.  We need to make our leadership visual for those we lead.

And what a grand idea it is!  Making our own learning transparent and visual for those in our learning community.  What a tremendous model for any learning community leader.  So how can we ‘start”‘this?  As mentioned before, it starts with the word ‘visible’.  Which reminds me of an article that came through my twitter feed…an article about how we share our learning with students.  The article described how a teacher posted pictures of books that he/she was reading and other learnings that they were engaged in as a motivation for students.  They were actually making their own learning ‘visible for their students.

Incredible!  A powerful and easy way to share with those we lead how we are promoting our own learning.  Just by making it ‘visible’.  As easy as posting it on your office door so others have a glimpse at how you are leading the learning.  Yet, we have to question why we aren’t as leaders visibly sharing our learnings for the betterment of our ‘learning‘ community.  If we are to serve as lead learners then we need to make those learnings apparent and transparent for the community around us.  That level of sharing often serves as the driving force for increasing inquiry and further professional learnings on your campus.  We must remember how incredibly powerful visuals can be…especially visuals that share a story.

However, it doesn’t  or shouldn’t stop at our office door.  Leaders understand that their words have influence and influence is a function of leading.  With that understanding in hand, leaders need to be strategic about the learning conversations they create and engage in.  We all know that the “I was just thinking…” conversation that the principal had with the teacher in the staff lounge before school is all over campus by recess.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any school leader how quickly their words travel from one end of the campus to the other.  Yet, what is most important is what a school leader does with that knowledge.  School leaders need to create conversations that will lead towards the vision…that will visibly drive the behaviors and actions of those across the campus towards that vision.  Or, at the very least raise the level of inquiry.  Leadership conversations have the power to visibly increase learning and serve as a change agent for the behaviors and culture of our campuses.  There is visible power in those conversations.

In closing, a question for reflection…is our own level of learning visibly moving the people and organizations we lead to higher levels of achievement and excellence.  And are we holding ourselves accountable?  Accountable to making our own learning visible.  When we do we make ourselves both accountable and vulnerable.  We serve as the model for others, we serve as the lead learner for our building.  This is not easy, being accountable and vulnerable never are.   Yet it is the difference between leading and managing.  We can all drive the bus around…the question is can we drive it to a better destination.

Hattie says, “It involves impacting on the love of learning, inviting students to stay in learning and seeing the ways in which students can improve their healthy sense of being, respect for self, and respect for others – as well as enhancing achievement.  What achievement is to be valued needs to be a major debate in schools, communities, and societies; right now, such curricular questions seem more determined by the test specifications than by such lively debate.”  Being the lead learner means being able to lead the ‘debate’ and the ability and courage to mine the conflict that will take our schools/organizations to higher levels of thinking and acting.  This is difficult and tiring work.  And it can be scary as we drive into unknown territory.  But it is also a leadership imperative.  We have a responsibility to those we serve to engage in this type of dialogue in productive ways in all of our schools.  While it is not easy, it can be deeply gratifying.

Hattie states in the preface, as does PLC Pioneer Rick DuFour…this type of work takes “passion” and a lot of it.  While Hattie states that passion” is a “difficult notion to measure”…it is also very similar to great teaching and instruction, we know it when we see it.

And as Hattie ends so eloquently, go forth and…

Know thy impact.

A Metal Venn: Rockstars and Educators

“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success – or are they holding you back?” -W. Clement Stone

Each of us are shaped in some way or ways by the place and times into which we are born.  Often those environments have a strong influence over our lives.  In some ways, I am very much a product of my childhood environment even though I ended up taking a divergent path from my original direction.

I grew up in the Bay Area section of Northern California.  My environment had a very strong influence on my life growing up.  The Bay Area was the metal and punk equivalent of Seattle and their grunge movement.  Metallica was leading the charge and was just erupting on the scene during my high school years.  On any given night, you could drive down Broadway Street in San Francisco and find Slayer playing at the Stone on one side of the street and the Dead Kennedy’s across the way headlining Mabuhay Gardens.  For many it wasn’t just a scene, it was a lifestyle.  For my best childhood friend Phil and I growing up in that musically-charged environment, it was what we wanted to do, it was what we wanted to be.

After high school life led us down very different paths, I went on to college and chose the life of an educator and my best friend Phil carried on with the childhood dream and now is truly what you would call a rockstar (pictured below).

Many of those that I work with think it is strange that I know someone that is in a band (actually know several), that world seems so foreign to them.  And when I discuss what my early years and those goals and passions were you often get the “are you from a different planet” look (which is why I think it difficult for many educators to identify and understand kids).  However, the comment that I receive the most, “you lead such different lives.”  And my standard response was always yes, until a put a little reflection into it.

While there are some very apparent differences, actually our lives are very similar in many different ways.  Let me expand on that a little…

Rockstars and Educators:

  1. We both have fans/students that arrive each day with high expectations.  It is our job to meet those expectations, or better yet exceed them.
  2. We have to constantly reflect and improve upon our craft.  We lose credibility when we keep putting out the same material year after year.
  3. We do what we do because we love it, we have a passion for it.  And it is apparent when that passion is or isn’t authentic.
  4. We each have different strengths or abilities that we bring to the whole and our final product excels on the level and precision of our collaboration and collaborative efforts.
  5. We both have the ability to influence and change lives.

While it is true and there are many differences in what we do, upon further reflection there are a lot of similarities to our professions.  And furthermore, we are both living our dreams, which is all that we can ask.

Creativity is Messy

“And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents.  And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.  So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity.  My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”  –from Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk Are Our Schools Killing Creativity

When I think of creativity, and especially creativity in and with children, a picture of messy often comes to mind.  And honestly, when we let go as parents and teachers of a situation where creativity can flourish and take off, it often turns out to be a rather organic and messy proposition.  But when we give our children the creativity green light we are often astounded by what they deliver, the problem is that we spend more time signaling red lights than green lights.


As we grow older we have a tendency to lose our love of messy.  We like the neat and orderly, we like things in their place.  We no longer like to run in the rain and splash each other in the puddles, or squirt each other with the water hose, and play in the mud for hours on end.

We like everything where it should be…

That is why creativity is so difficult, it requires risk taking and facing the unknown.  Two things that are not usually neat or orderly.  If we are going to get to the core of creativity and grow it within our children we are going to have to determine that we are willing to live with messy.  It takes us being vulnerable and giving up our control over the process.

And how can we expect to foster creativity in our schools and classrooms when everything we do (as adults) is about the neat and orderly.  We are often more about the 3 R’s of rules, rows, and regulations than we are about learning and creativity.  Letting go as an adult is often difficult, even painful.

We worry too much about the “What If’s?”  What if an administrator comes in my room? And what if the desks are not in rows?  And what if the students are out of their desks and talking, what if…

Creativity is about messy.  We can no longer choose to pour our students through a funnel and have everyone come out a standardized version on the other end.

We have to allow a little messy into the process if we are going to get to what if…

Don’t Leave Those You Lead Sitting On The Curb

One of the things that is very important to us as parents is keeping our boys physically active.  Whether that is around the house or in organized sports. However this can be quite difficult when fighting the allure of technology in the twenty-first century, especially during the summer.  Lately, we have pushed more and more for family runs around the neighborhood.  But suffice to say, the “let’s go for a run boys” is usually met with a symphony groans and a plethora of excuses.

Once we get them on the road our oldest son Bryan is good to go, whereas our youngest son Landon can be a different story.  Landon will drag his feet or even just stop and stand. Walking is always an alternative if necessary.  Other times, he will just turn around and head back towards home.  Inevitably we find ourselves running back and turning him around to get him back on track, which can be an exercise in itself.  And if we are not careful or paying attention we can easily run off and leave him behind.  We have to constantly check on him, guide him, and coax him so that he will stay motivated and on course.  Otherwise, we can get so far ahead of him that he can’t see us.

It dawned on me that leadership is so much like these morning runs.  For some of those we lead, once we get them on the path they are good to go.  Give them the support and resources they need to be successful and they are off to the races.

However, others can take almost all of our energy just to get them motivated to step on the path.  And once we get them started we have to constantly keep the path and vision in front of them.  If not, they are very likely to turn and around and head home like my youngest son.

The safety and ease of the known is very alluring.

However, it can’t stop there.  If we are not careful we can easily run too far ahead and lose sight of those we lead, and once that happens it is difficult for them to keep focused on a path and vision that has run off and left them behind.  We have to stay just far enough ahead to keep those we lead motivated and allow them to see the path we are creating and the direction it is heading.

Always keeping the vision right in front of them.

And on that path we sometimes have to turn around and go back for our people, coaching and motivating them towards the finish line.  Finding short and attainable goals that keep them moving forward, otherwise they might just decide to call it a day and take a seat right there on the curb.  As leaders, we can get frustrated with those we lead because they have taken a seat on the curb and “called it a day” or even worse they have turned around and headed back home.  However, on further reflection we find that our leadership is often the cause for these reactions.  We have run off and left our people behind, and they have lost direction and no longer see the path. In which case, it is much easier for them to stop and/or head back to the safety of what they know.  If we can’t see those we lead and allow ourselves the ability to monitor their progress then how will we know what ways we need to support and keep them moving forward.

It requires motivation, building the path, and providing the vision if we want to keep people on the road to progress, and know that short-term wins and goals can never be underestimated to help them get there.  Lose any of those and very well lose your progress.  In the beginning it can be very difficult and may require a lot of energy. But consistency builds stamina and the more you do it the easier it gets.  Until one day you discover it no longer takes work and it becomes effortless and that is when it becomes enjoyable.  It takes effort and a lot of persistence.  And then celebrate the heck out of those small wins.

Today may be a great day to start running…

The Joy of Serving

“It is a shame that so many leaders spend their time pondering their rights as leaders instead of their awesome responsibilities as leaders.” – James C. Hunter, The Servant

It was the first day back from vacation and I had to leave work early.  My wife was down and out having caught some bug on the way home.  She was not doing her best and needed me to come home and help take care of our boys.

It has been a few days and she is back to normal and feeling much better.  The impressive part was what happened on that day.

By the time I had arrived home, my older son Bryan had already made lunch for his little brother Landon and himself.  Both boys were chipping in and helping around the house.  They were doing their best to keep things moving and make their mom feel as comfortable as possible.  Both boys had stepped into leadership roles and were looking for any opportunities to help.

However, it did not stop when I walked in the door.  For the remainder of the evening my oldest son Bryan remained intent on finding ways to serve.  He secretly made a cup of tea for his mother and coffee with cream for dad.  He added stickies to the cups with thoughts of love for each of us.

What was even more impressive was the look of joy in his eyes.  He was finding incredible joy in serving and making those around him feel better.  There were no alternative motives and he was looking for nothing in return.  It was entirely about the joy of others through serving.  You could see the twinkle in his eyes.  And it was beautiful to behold.

As leaders we need to keep that focus in front of us at all times.  Understanding that serving others is a joy and brings a deep feeling of fulfillment is important to remember.  It is not about a hidden agenda or hoping to get something in return.  It is about the joy of serving others to improve and grow those around you.  That is the satisfaction that comes from servant leadership.

However, never think it is as easy as it sounds.  Servant leadership takes work…it requires you to have the right mindset and attitude.  Others can see through it when it is not authentic and real.  And when there are other agendas involved, you often do your leadership more of disservice than you realize.

I love what Ron Edmondson wrote in a blog about servant leadership I read many months ago and still sticks with me to this day.  Since I won’t be able to get the wording exact, I will provide you my own version of his message and hopefully you will get the gist of what he was trying to convey…

…if you really want to determine if the servant leadership is authentic, watch how the leader reacts when treated like one…

How powerful!  And how true!  When service to others is not authentic you see how attitudes of entitlement and titles are brought to the forefront and thrust into the picture.  Peter Lencioni wrote an article about how the most successful organizations were led by those who were willing to do the work without feeling that something was beneath their position.  If the floor was dirty, they picked up a broom and dived in.  They served others without an attitude of something being beneath them or their title.  It was all about serving and growing those they led…it was about being the model.

That is the type of leader that inspires and people want to follow.  They build relationships and create trust.  They never require anything of others that they are not willing to first do themselves.  I appreciate my boys for reminding me of that message.

Service is about raising up others and their is incredible joy and satisfaction in that type of work.  Leaders truly have the incredible opportunity to go first and the deep responsibility of thinking of themselves last.

Remember if you want to make an impact on others, choose to serve!


“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”  – Leonardo da Vinci

Most of us, at one time or another, have lived through a life-stopping experience.  One that mentally brings the world around us to a screeching halt.  And when it happens we find it difficult to watch others interacting around us without screaming, “Don’t you understand what happened?”

Yet, no passers-by recognize your situation.

And we, too, fail to recognize these moments as they descend upon others around us.  The majority of us are products of our environment and find ourselves constantly caught up in the same movement, places to go, people to see, meetings to attend, children to pick up, move, move, move.  Whether we want to admit it or not, each one of us is caught up in this daily movement until something, something powerful, stops you in your tracks.

Unfortunately, it is often something difficult or painful, that makes us want to scream at those bustling around us, “can’t you see?”  “Don’t you know what just happened?” and we find ourselves astonished with wonder that everyone around us can keep moving on oblivious to what has just jarred the walls of our world.

These experiences are often life-changing, and very seldom do you come out unscathed, rather you just hope for everyone to come out the other side intact.  These experiences leave an imprint, create a different perspective, and alter our own life for a time, until the daily hustle and bustle finally lulls us back to normal and auto-pilot once again takes over.

We recently had the walls of our world jarred, the kind of jarring that stops you in your tracks, in a painful and scary way.  The culprit, an armed robbery.  Fortunately everyone walked away intact, just not unscathed.  A horrible experience that has had far-reaching effects on the lives of those involved, both directly and indirectly.  The one thing that you walk away with from such an experience is a heightened focus towards the importance of living life fully with family and loved ones.

Throughout the aftermath, time seemed to slow while emotions ran high on so many levels.  Anger, sadness, concern, worry, frustration swirling unchecked as more and more family members arrived at the scene.  It was during this time that the officers in the room caught my attention, not so much for what they were doing, but what they weren’t doing.  Yet no word came as we sat waiting for a word of hope or relief…that everything was being handled, that everyone was now safe and those responsible were now in custody or even the arbitrary, we are following up on some strong leads and doing everything possible at this time.

Rather, it was a quite the opposite.  While one detective seemed intent on running the investigation, several other detectives and officers stood idly by laughing, joking, shooting the breeze.  The daily lunch destination, rather than the work at hand, seemed to be the hot topic of conversation.  It was the famed water-cooler in the office transpiring in the midst of this crime scene.  Blood, broken glass, interspersed with conversations revolving around the weekend and family.

My initial response was of a wanting to scream to the officers, “Hello! Is anyone here doing anything?  Do you need any help?  Is anyone tracking down leads?  Do you need another description of the car?  Is anyone really working?!!!”

And that was the point.  That was the perception rather, my perception of what was going on, whether accurate or not, that perception was shaping my reality and it was telling me that no one was doing anything!  I was completely floored by the nonchalant attitude.  It made me wonder if anyone was taking this serious?  I wanted to get people moving.  I wanted action.  I wanted to know that things were being done.

The problem with perceptions is that they shape our reality.  However, perceptions do not always give us the whole picture.  They don’t always tell us what is happening behind the scenes.  As were my perceptions on that day.  I was not privy to the wheels that may have been set into motion, just what I saw before me.  The nonchalant attitude from the officers served to further define my perceptions at the scene.  And the nonchalant attitude before me, said “no one cares and nothing is getting done here” which further fed the frustration and anger.

Reflecting back, this serves as such a vivid example of why leaders need to display a strong level of emotional intelligence.  High levels of emotional intelligence allow a leader to discern and understand, that while this is everyday for them in their job, when the person on the other line dials 911, it may be one of the most important and possibly devastating days in their entire life.  It is necessary for leaders to have that level of reflection and empathy for those we serve and support.

And how often do these same examples occur in our schoolhouses each and every day.  Like the officers, the everyday hustle, bustle and demands of leading a school can take its toll.  Without that level of emotional intelligence we, too, can appear nonchalant to our parents, as if we don’t grasp the gravity of the situation.

That is why it is vital that we approach every situation with the appropriate level of  professionalism that we remain perceptive to the fact that we are discussing a parents most valued and loved being on this earth, and that we display the empathy and understanding for their concerns, fears and frustrations as they walk through our doors.

While it may be true that you are sitting in on the third IEP meeting of the day, 911 was called for asthma attack, the lunches were an endless parade of discipline, or to put it mildly, it was a long and trying day, we STILL have to remember that the meeting we may be doing our best to just make it through is the most important meeting that the family sitting before you has ever experienced.  The current and future success of their child is at stake at that moment.  Their lives are being disrupted and jarred.  And unfortunately we often do ourselves, our school, and our profession a disservice when we appear and purport a nonchalant stance towards the situation at hand.

When we lack the appropriate levels of emotional intelligence and find ourselves taking a nonchalant, business as usual attitude, we need to take a step back and reflect on the situation.  How must the parents feel?  How would I feel if I was in there shoes?  Finding ways to relay to the parents that the wheels are in motion and there are supports and interventions employed goes a long way in these situations.  Letting a family know that you have our personal attention and we will work together to ensure that your child is successful will further the process of building a strong and supportive partnership between home and school.

So the next time that you are tired and just wish you were anywhere else than this SST or IEP meeting, ask yourself if, “I am providing the right level of attention to the situation? Is this the level of attention that I would expect for my own child?  How am I supporting these parents that are feeling a plethora of emotions?”  Reflecting upon and employing an appropriate amount of understanding and empathy will go a long way in building a connection that supports and sustains relationships with the families in your schoolhouse.

For the families we serve, this may feel like one of those life-changing situations.  The questions is: Are you moving too fast to recognize that concern?  Or do the parents know that you understand the gravity of the situation and that you are there to support and guide them through this difficult time?

It is worth reflecting upon…