Saturday, May 27, 2017

Don't Forget to Excel

Note - This post is my commencement address to the Blue Ridge Senior Class of 2017.

Seniors, Parents and Guests,

On behalf of the Blue Ridge ISD Board of Trustees, I would like to welcome you to the 2017 Blue Ridge High School Graduation Ceremony.  I am truly honored to have this opportunity to celebrate the senior class of 2017 for successfully completing their journey through public education.  As a parent of one of these senior, I address you with both a tear in my eye and an excitement in my heart.  Hannah we love you and are very proud of you.  To the senior class of 2017, I know that right now you are thinking, "Hurry up! I'm ready to move on from Senior to See Ya", but I would like to have just a minute or two of your time.

In our district this year, we created a new motto, Learn...Grow...Excel...  This motto represents the next steps that we should all take in life. The next steps are hard ones to make, and sadly steps that some fail to make, so today I would like to share with you what they are and how your life will benefit from them.

The 1st Step is to Learn.
Those who succeed in life realize that learning doesn't end after high school; it actually begins.  The minute you stop learning is the minute you stop living.  My greatest hope for you is that you never view learning as a pain, but that you embrace it as an exciting and joyful part of life.  Always choose to learn more about your faith.  Learn from your experiences, but most importantly learn from your mistakes.  I challenge you to fail and fail a lot.  Because the more you fail, the more you can excel

The 2nd Step is to Grow.
Life is a metamorphosis.  You've grown physically into the adults you are today, but the very best people in life grow both mentally and spiritually.  They grow in their love for friends and family, and they grow in their passion and zest for life.  If you choose to take the 2nd step, you will experience life in the way it was meant to be lived.  You will never settle for life the way it is, and you will never make excuses for bad things that happen to you.  You will always find a better way, and you always make it a better day for yourself and those around you.

The 3rd and Final Step is to Excel.
When I think about what it means to excel, I look to the words of our founding fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence over 240 years ago.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, 
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Those who excel discover Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness when they realize that their purpose in life is not to take but to give.  If our country is to continue to be the greatest nation on the planet, we need less takers and more givers.  The bottom line is that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not handed to you.  It is earned and it has to be earned every single day. 

Excelling is not about being the best; it is about giving your best to make a strong family.  It's about volunteering in your church, little league, in your school, and in the community, and most importantly it's not about waiting for someone else to do it for you.  It's about being an active leader in making your community and our country a better place for everyone.  

Think about this.  Who has stood out in your life and in your time here in Blue Ridge?  It was the people who excelled.  They did more than they were asked to do.  They were the ones who always stepped up to help you, and they were the people who invested in you.  Well now it's your turn.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, I challenge you to remember that the purpose of life is to make life better for everyone you come in contact with.  Then and only then will you find true happiness.

My final words to  you can be found in this 8 ounce cup.  To some it's just a cup, but to the senior class of 2017, it was your opportunity to leave a lasting impression on Blue Ridge (see video here).  From now on, every time I look at this ordinary cup, I will remember the legacy you left behind for future classes to follow.  I will always see your awesome personalities and special moments throughout the year, but most importantly I will forever see the potential that you have to make this world a better place.   I wish each of you the best luck and  I think I speak for everyone when I say this.

We will all miss you when you're gone.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist.

Note:  The contents of this post are based on my new book, A Leader's Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom. 

When summer is in full swing, that means one thing for teachers; they are 6-8 weeks away from the start of another school year. Kids will soon begin shopping for items on their school supply lists, and parents will anxiously await the announcement of their child's teachers while they get their children ready for the start of school. But what about teachers?  What do they need to start off the new school year on the right foot?



Just like principals need a Principal's Summer Excellence Checklist to prepare their school for the best year ever, every teacher needs an excellence checklist of their very own that will help them set the stage to empower every student to reach excellence this year. 

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist

Here is a list of the the top 10 things every teacher needs to create the conditions that will inspire every student to have their best year ever.

 Resources

Obviously, every teacher needs the tools of the trade, but great teachers surpass possession of tools by also possessing the skillful use of those tools to help every kid learn. The more technical the resource, the more necessary it is to learn how to be proficient at using that tool in a way that will empower kids to own their learning.

✔ Routines & Procedures

Every good teacher develops routines and procedures for their classroom, but great teachers have a plan to intentionally transfer the responsibility and leadership for those routines and procedures over to the kids. If the goal is learning for all, students need to own the routines and procedures that are designed to help them learn.  For each routine, great teachers have a plan to empower students to take ownership of it.

 Relationships

Relationships are important, but alone they don't get the job done. (See The 'Right' Relationships Matter).  Relationships for learning, however, require teachers to develop the optimal relationship with each child in order to accelerate each child's learning. To prepare for these relationships with new students, great teachers research their students. They learn their strengths, areas for growth and strategies that are proven to help each student learn, but they go the extra mile by making a plan to build a meaningful relationship with each child in an effort to inspire him to learn. 

✔ Relevance

Nothing is more boring to a student than sitting in a class that has no relevance. To engage kids, excellent teachers plan their instruction with one purpose: connect kids to the learning target during every minute of the day. Sure, great activities help develop relevance, but how great teachers structure their instructional time to keep kids engaged through those activities is what maintains and even accelerates engagement and relevance. Great teachers are developing or refining their plans with the specific purpose of optimizing engagement.

✔ Rigor

Rigor is about 3 things: planning for it, delivering it, and responding to it. Great teachers realize that rigor can't occur unless they, themselves, have the content knowledge and expertise first. From content expertise, teachers of excellence focus their efforts on transferring that expertise to students through the intentional use of assessments, instructional strategies and questioning techniques that take kids from what they know to what they need to know, and they do that at high levels of complexity. Excellent teachers are busy locating and curating all kinds of strategies that will lead every student to rigorous learning. 

Intervention

Great teachers know that even the best lesson will leave some students behind; therefore, they don't wait for failure. They plan for it.  They anticipate possible mistakes or misunderstandings that students will have and have automatic responses when those mistakes reveal themselves. The best intervention is prevention, and great teachers do a whole lot of preventing in their instruction.  These teachers are making plans to identify students with a history of failure and creating prevention strategies that will help these students overcome failure beginning with the first day of instruction. 

✔ Extension

While some kids need extra attention, other kids need extra extension. When kids learn a concept in a great teacher's class, they don't get more of the same. They are provided choices to apply their learning through personalized activities that matter to the student. Great teachers offer students a menu of extension activities that are on display for students on the first day of school, and this menu serves as great motivator to remind kids to work hard at learning.

✔ Collaboration  

Great teachers grow, and they grow by learning with and from their peers inside and outside of the school. Whether it is a collaborative team, their campus leaders or their PLN, great teachers are connected to a wide variety of educators and collaborate with them frequently because they believe their own continuous improvement is essential to help all students learn. Great teachers are gathering ideas and thoughts all summer long so that when schools starts, they can help their peers grow and their students learn. 

✔ Tech Integration 

Technology is a tool that supports learning, and great teachers integrate technology with one specific purpose, support the learning goals of the lesson. It is also important to note that they don't jump onto every tech bandwagon that rolls into town. They ensure that technology will enhance student learning by seamlessly integrating technology into their lessons. To enhance student learning, excellent teachers brush up on their tech tools and ensure that they work out the kinks with each tool, so that kids will have a smooth start using these tools in the first week of school. 

✔ Parent Communication

Parents are a valuable resource to support student learning, and great teachers tap into that resource by initiating, building, and maintaining parent communication through both face to face and digital interactions with parents. By keeping the lines of communication open through weekly communication with parents, they build support systems that reinforce student learning. Great teachers will have their communication plan ready to disseminate to students and parents on the first day of school as well as a system to keep the communication system effectively running all year long. 

What Else Would You Add?
Teachers of excellence aren't waiting for school to start. They are putting their plans in place. What makes a great teacher is their performance, but what makes their performance great is their preparation. They pathway to excellence is not through talent alone but through diligent preparation. By putting together a powerful plan to guarantee that every student learns, great teachers create a classroom culture that inspires, challenges, and empowers every student to discover the excellence that is within them. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Biggest Barrier to School Improvement

In all my years in education, one of the most confusing concepts is something that is disguised to serve as the great clarifier of learning. When progress needs to be defined, you go to it. When decisions are made about kids, you depend on in it. And when determining the best and worst, it is your number one go-to source. 

Yes, I'm talking about GRADING

Here's the problem that I have with grading. Every time a new idea about improving instruction is levied, the first question that pops up is this.  "How are we going to grade that?" A suggestion to move to project based learning gets a visit from "How will that affect our grading policy?"  When a kid who normally makes As is making a C in a rigorous class, grading once again shows up to be the catalyst for lowering standards. If a kid makes a 68 in a class for the grading period, it prompts a challenge to the grading system as a whole 

Ever Experienced One of These Issues?

Of course, you have.  The fact is that we have been institutionalized by the 20th century grading scale. To prove my point, can you identify the instrument in this picture below?


Everyone knows what this is and everyone knows that it is the basis for how we have determined proficiency for almost 100 years.  

Are Schools about Grading or Learning?

If we truly want to improve school, we have to make a decision if we are driven more by grading or more by learning.  This is the question that we all must answer when trying to do what's best for kids. The reality is that numbers don't tell the story of learning, and an "averaging" mindset simply will not tell me or other parents what their child is actually learning in school. 

As educators and ambassadors of Future Ready schools, we must be vigilant in creating learning spaces that are actually driven by learning instead of grading.  Sure grading is necessary to communicate progress, but it shouldn't inhibit schools from becoming progressive.   We must recondition ourselves and our students that we don't do work for a grade. Learning as an active pursuit of knowledge and mastery not so that we can figure out how to get the highest number we can in the gradebook. Finally, our moral imperative must end the idea that the smartest, best and brightest students are not identified by the average of an infinite set of numbers that are generated by mastery of an undefined set of skills which are to be judged by an arbitrary and partial grading system. 

We are better than that, and our kids deserve schools that are focused on learning first and how to rate or grade learning second. 

DROP ME A COMMENT BELOW TO LEAVE YOUR THOUGHTS...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

6 Keys to a Successful STARTegy

The difference between a dream and a vision is action. Dreams fail to materialize simply because of the inability to act, or more specifically the inability to start.  Too many great ideas ended with a dream. 

So how do We turn Dreams into Reality?

So many strategies never materialize or they fall well short of the grandeur in its descriptive language.  Action in a strategy begins when the first step or STARTegy takes place.  Simply put, a STARTegy is the beginning movement or the actual implementation of your strategy. Sure planning is great, but plans are worthless until you implement them. This decision to start a strategy is often stalled by indecision about rollout, disagreements about first steps, lack of clarity in roles, or simply by making the strategy so complex that it collapses under  the weight of its utter confusion.  Any and all of these reasons paralyzes others so that action can never begin. 


6 Keys to a Successful STARTegy

  1. The simpler the strategy, the easier the STARTegy.
  2. Selling the WHY is more important than telling the WHAT.
  3. Mistakes are expected in order for the STARTegy to work.
  4. STARTegies can't survive without questions, input and feedback.
  5. Teamwork enhances the STARTegy.
  6. Reflection throughout the strategy is critical to success.


Strategies rise and fall with leadership.  The best leaders know that a successful strategy begins with a successful STARTegy.  With STARTegy, confidence in the organization grows.  Individual efficacy improves, and the overall culture excels.  The best organizations don't succeed by planning.  They excel by doing, and they start with STARTegy.


Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hours for Excellence

Excellence isn't found during business hours. If it was, everyone would find it.  But to be more precise, excellence isn't really found.  It's made and it's only made after hours, before hours, when no one's watching hours, while no one's around hours, and where others won't go hours.



SO, ARE YOU WORKING DURING EXCELLENCE HOURS???

People believe that what you do from 8-5 will lead you to excellence, but the secret is this.  What you do, why 
you do it, and how much you learn from it separates excellence from the rest.  Excellence isn't awarded during business hours. Sure you may accomplish great feats during working hours, but the work that lead to your excellence is earned outside those hours. 

The temptation called mediocrity deceives us into believing that we're special and therefore entitled to be the given the rewards and titles of excellence because we show up.  But mediocrity won't accept the cold hard facts of what it takes to be the best.  To mediocrity, hard work and extra work are the obstacle.  To excellence they are the price to be paid every single day.



SO WHAT ARE EXCELLENCE HOURS???

Excellence hours aren't actually hours.  They are behaviors, beliefs and commitments to continuous improvement.  Here are just a few characteristics that the best people in their business exhibit during their excellence hours.

Humility - Excellence is about recognizing and accepting the fact that you are always growth in progress.  The constant goal is turning your weaknesses into strengths.
Obsession - Excellence hours accelerate growth when those hours are no longer about clocking in and out but being obsessed with your growth.
Unveiling - Excellence is about finding new things about yourself that you never thought you could do or would do.  
Research - Excellence hours are about searching for next steps, the latest research and the best practices that will make you better.
Slump - Good people work extra hours only when they are in a slump.  Excellence hours, however, are in place to prevent slumps from ever forming.

To become excellent at whatever endeavor you choose, it's never about time.  It's about focus, practice, reflection and practice some more. 

Good, better, best.  Never let it rest
Until your good is better and your better is best.


Bonus - 5 Tips to Succeed in your Hours of Excellence




  1. Find an area that you would like to improve in.
  2. Determine your plan of action to address this area with 3 tasks or less.
  3. Schedule a regular time in your day to work your plan.
  4. Set a deadline to check your progress.
  5. Check your progress 
  6. Repeat steps 1-5.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

#LoveMySchoolDay 2017: Year 4 of the Real 411 about Education

It is hard to believe that #LoveMySchoolDay is at its 4th year.  Every year that we have flood the Twittersphere has always been a complete inspiration to see the wonderful things happening in schools across the globe. As I think about this wonderful celebration, a thought comes to mind. 

This Story Can Never End. 

There is always someone calling for a complete change to education today. After all, the ills of our society have to be the fault of the someone, right? And it's a quick and easy fix to blame those who are actually working hard to prevent failure. Here's the thing.  What most people don't understand or even see is that schools are doing  great and amazing things for all kids. 

Here's What People Don't See
  • They won't see the work you do to close the learning gaps created by generational poverty. 
  • They won't see the collaboration your teachers do to learn how to better serve all kids. 
  • They won't see the beauty of makerspaces, fine arts, enrichment activities, or technology integration that advances and inspires a passion for learning. 
  • They won't hear the excitement kids have when a science experiment matches their initial hypothesis or the discovery of something new. 
  • They won't see the hard work of counselors and teachers who teach kids the lessons of conflict resolution. 
  • They won't see the fun you are having.

Do you see where I'm heading?

So Why Even Have #LoveMySchoolDay?
Reason #1 - Educators must give the world the 411 (thus April 11th every year) about the great things happening in schools across the country.  In this fast paced world, not everyone can come to the open house or parent event. Schools must realize that their social media accounts are their proverbial open house that is open 24/7/365.  #LoveMySchoolDay is a world-wide open house for the entire world to attend.

Reason #2  - Legislators are making policies and passing laws based on what they hear.   Many times legislators know little to nothing about the impact of their laws on education because they are only getting their information from lobbyists who many times are not concerned with yours or the kids' best interest.  If they aren't hearing from schools and the people inside them, chances are that future policies and laws will not be made in the best interest of your school. 

Reason 3 & THE COLD HARD TRUTH - If you want schools to get better, it starts with YOU telling YOUR story of the great things inside your school.  People must see and hear the growth that is occurring and listen to the people you work with who are making your school a success.   YOU must be your school's storyteller in chief.  If not, someone else will be.


4 Tips to Tell your #LoveMySchoolDay Story 
  1. Use the #LoveMySchoolDay hashtag in all of your posts. 
  2. Tag your legislators, school leaders, colleagues, and other influential people to your posts or images. 
  3. Use pictures and video as this increases your post engagement and interactions. 
  4. Share or Retweet great stories that you see on the hashtag. This keeps the story going. 

If you need ideas, here are some ideas:

Don't miss your chance to tell your story.  It's being written by the best authors in the world, you!!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Eliminating The Excuse of Enough.

I had the pleasure of learning at the Future Ready Superintendent Leadership Network where a panel of 5 innovative superintendents reflected on their vision of public schools in the coming 20 years as well as the change that must be made to transform that vision into a reality. Steve Waddell and Jeff Turner reflected on their work and shared a powerful thought that leaders must always remember if they truly want to create schools that lead kids to the future they deserve.   

If we want to create the kinds of schools that truly prepare kids for the future, it is high time that we eliminate the excuse of "Enough".

If you think about it, they're right.   This barrier of scarcity is something that we too readily claim as the reason we can't move forward when in fact it is merely a figment of our imagination.  Here are just few "Enough" statements that prevent schools, leaders and educators from moving forward, and some of my thoughts on these obstacles to organizational improvement.




We don't have enough time.
The fact is you have the exact same amount of time as high performers. Identify where you are wasting time, and you'll find enough time. 

We don't have enough money.
There are countless examples of high performers who had less money and resources. How are you optimizing what you currently have?  Answer that question before making the decision to  spend more. 

We don't have enough personnel. 
This is the same as money. Schools with fewer personnel achieve high performance through synergy of professional growth through ongoing collaboration. Are you truly working as a professional learning community at work that is focused with laserlike precision on improving the adults in the building?   

We don't have enough parent support. 
Educators control 90% of the factors that impact student learning, so blaming parents means that you don't own the potential of your own impact. What are you doing to build the optimal relationships with your parents before you need to access them to help with their children?

We don't have enough information.
Lack of information is a real thing, but the stalwarts of the status quo use this as their main reason to say, "we can't abandon the comforts of today to create the classrooms of tomorrow because we need more information".

Enough is Enough!
The fact of the matter is that we have enough if not way too many excuses that stop us from reaching our goals for school improvement. The question is not if we're going to say enough is enough. The question is whether we will be so focused on guaranteeing that every kid learns that you won't even allow these excuses a seat at your table of continuous improvement.