Friday, June 29, 2012

Take That Positive to the Bank!

Education is a relational business. In order to get the very best from our students and our fellow staff members, we must have positive relationships established. Schools that excel know that positive and supportive teams focused on reaching a common goal are key. The most successful leaders, teachers and organizations take that idea to the extreme by making positive relationships the first priority because they know that learning cannot occur without a trusting relationship. Think of the relationship as a bank account. When you have a healthy balance in the account, surprise withdrawals can be easily overcome. If you have a low balance or even a deficit balance, you will definitely go bankrupt. So what can we do to build and keep healthy balances in our relationship accounts?

  1. Build Deposits into your Routine - Relationship millionaires are always looking for ways to make the dollar, so they are making deposits left and right with every interaction that they have. You will have a negative interaction with most people that you work with (students, parents & staff) at some point, so you may want to start building your relationship accounts as soon as possible. With every handshake, high 5, unsolicited polite word and positive feedback, you are building the balance. The more frequently you show your positive actions and encouragement in front of others, the more you build positive balances in their accounts as well.
  2. Identify High Withdrawal Relationships - Some relationships are harder than others to maintain a healthy balance. Some people can be negative or irrational, but that doesn't give you a pass on building a positive relationship with them. Stay frequent and consistent in your positive support and encouragement, but most importantly look beyond their words and tone for the message that they are trying to convey. If you can see what they are trying to communicate, you can build a positive account balance.
  3. Listening is an Easy Deposit - Many times I speak when I should be listening. I have to realize that if I want to make a deposit, I just need to be quiet and listen. Listening gives value to the other person and builds trust. Remember that effective listening also requires eye contact and no distractions.
  4. Restate What They are Saying - So what you're saying is... If you are actively listening, you can definitely get this right. Restating not what you hear, but what they said clarifies what the other person is feeling and strengthens the relationship because you are validating this person's feelings.
  5. Turn Conflict into a Deposit - This takes a lot of time and has the most risk, but it is important to keep in mind that you can't leave conflict unresolved. Most times you can resolve conflict right then and there (especially if you have a high balance in your account), but if not, you must commit to working with the person to resolve the conflict at some point. Keep in mind that the longer you wait to resolve conflict, the more value you lose in your bank account.
  6. Deposit Your Faults - So many people get this backwards. They think that they must prove that they are right, so they cannot or will not acknowledge their mistakes or shortcomings. If you want to build the strongest relationship, you must commit to developing trust, and there is no bigger deposit than saying that you are wrong and acknowledge when you have messed up. 'I was wrong' and 'I'm sorry' are the 5 most important words.
Imagine if every leader, teacher, staff member, student and parent committed to following these 6 little rules of thumb. Our relationship bank accounts would be so high that we could solve problems of national proportion. Student achievement cannot occur without positive relationships with our students, parents and colleagues, so before learning can begin, we must commit to building our relationship bank accounts.

Friday, June 15, 2012

5 Time-Saving Tips to Focus More on Learning

The most valuable resource any organization has is time, and all leaders recognize that. Highly effective leaders go a step further and make specific plans to use all members of the team to decide how the campus will best use time so that the organization is efficient, effective and ultimately successful. Here are 5 ways that leaders can guide their PLC to create more time to focus on learning.

1. As a Team, Reflect on Last Year's Campus Calendar - Many organizations fail to look back at last year's calendar to see what worked and what didn't work. The team should evaluate every event and gauge its value and necessity for meeting the campus' mission and vision. Teams should identify events/activities that stole valuable time from instruction and make changes as necessary. Moving events around or allocating the specific amount of time for events will create more time for instruction. Including everyone ensures success in improving time management.

2. Collaboratively Make your Yearly Calendar Now! - Now that you have evaluated your calendar, have your team list every event, assessment, celebration, parent event and activity and place it on the calendar. Look at your instructional pacing guides and ensure that events do not take away from instruction. Hang post-it chart paper in the meeting room and list each month and day. The team should collaboratively schedule every event for the entire year. Make sure that the team uses last year's calendar as a guide and schedules events in a way that minimizes loss of instruction.

3. Publish your Calendar Now! Post your calendar on the website ASAP so teachers can reference the calendar when they are planning for next year. If your staff knows what events are happening and how much time the events take, they have a head start in planning their instruction more efficiently.

4. Norm your Meeting Time - Set days and times for meetings. This will help staff members prioritize their time for planning and organize their week. On our campus, PLCs plan together on Mondays and/or Tuesdays. Wednesdays and/or Thursdays are reserved for special program meetings and intervention meetings on individual kids as needed. This weekly structure ensures that PLC planning time does not conflict with important meetings on individual kids. Each month, Leadership Team meetings are designated on the 1st Tuesday of the month, and Vertical Alignment Meetings are on the 2nd Monday of the month. By scheduling our priorities at regularly scheduled intervals, instructional alignment and academic effectiveness are maximized.

5. PLCs Norm their Time to Protect It. - Within our campus meeting structure, PLCs must have the autonomy to structure their planning and instructional time in ways that will help them reach their team's goals. Teams norm time for planning, instruction and intervention so that the work gets done with focus as well as minimal interruptions. These norms come with the understanding that flexibility must be allowed because learning requires flexible time. The schedule is published for all to see and protected so teachers can focus on preparing and delivering instruction efficiently and effectively.

As leaders, the most important thing we can do is bring people together for a common purpose. Our common purpose is 'Learning for All'. In order to guarantee that all learn, we must structure our time in a way that is proactive. We must go further by scheduling our time with laser like precision to ensure that all teachers and students are guaranteed the necessary time to make 'Learning for All' a reality and not a dream.

Leaders who fail to create detailed and effective systems fail to protect campus time which is the most valuable resource. Instead of spending their time focusing on learning, they will end up wasting their time wondering why they don't have enough time to help students learn.

8 Universal Apps to Start your BYOD Classroom:

This piece is a follow up from my last bit on BYOD, Whether You Like It or Not, You MUST Embrace BYOD!!!.  I had lots of great feedback on this thought, but the biggest question was how do you get started.  The best way I know how to start a new idea is begin with what you already have and go from there.  Kids have tons of apps in common, and while their devices may look or operate differently, they all pretty much function the same.

The First Step 

The first step to starting a BYOD classroom is to show kids how their device is a great organizational tool that can lead them to success in the classroom. Here's how.

Selfie Learning...
Kids are some of the most innovative photographers in the world.  Teach them how to walk up to the board to take pictures of their assignments so they won't forget what to do and when it's due.  Show them how to selfie a problem that you taught them so they can study it later.  Real-world math is everywhere.  Assign them to take pictures of where they see math or science concepts outside your classroom. Kids are taking pictures all the time and putting them on Instagram.  Show them how their camera can further their learning.

You've Got Mail...
Email is one of the most tried and true forms of communication.  Districts give students and teachers email accounts, so it is a great platform to teach kids this style of electronic communication.  All teachers use email in every district; therefore, teachers should employ it as a form of communication with students.  Students have questions about assignments or tests, but can't always access the teacher, and let's be honest with ourselves. Students need to learn that face to face communication with the teacher isn't always necessary.  Email is a great tool for beginning BYOD.

Notes on the Go...
Note-taking is a highly effective instructional strategy, and to be successful in college or the work place, you have to know how to take good notes. It's also a high yield instructional strategy.  Virtually every device has some type of note-taking app.  Students need to learn how to utilize the note-taking app on any device.  The benefit of note-taking apps is that students can take notes and never lose them because they never lose their device, right?  Notes can also be reviewed anywhere students need to access them. You don't always have your notes, but you always have your phone. Additionally, notes can be emailed and shared which is definitely a step up from the traditional method of note-taking.  

You can find virtually any video on any subject whether it be stupid or inspirational.  A lot of times a video can say what you can't.  Content can be delivered in a way that makes sense to students.  Interventions can be offered on the student's time.  I had a student that couldn't understand the content in his PreCal class, but after finding YouTube videos on PreCal concepts, he ended the semester with a B in the course.  YouTube is a great app to enhance your content.

Organization starts with a Good Calendar 
Inefficient employees struggle not only with work ethic but with time management.  Calendar apps have lots of functuality to help students put tests, due dates and events into their phone, and then alarms can be set to remind students.  In addition, teachers have tasks that reoccur weekly.  Calendar apps have the ability to schedule events with reoccurrances whether they be daily, weekly, monthly or yearly.  No paper calendar or organizer on earth can match calendar apps.

Teach Kids to be their own Task Master
Keeping up with assignments requires organization.  Like a calendar, task apps help students ensure completion of tasks.  Task apps help students manage progress on large tasks with multiple steps and students can schedule alarms when due dates arrive. The alarm feature is what keeps forgetful students organized.  Every student needs to learn how to use their device to complete tasks without reminders from the teacher or parents.

Special Note - For really important deadlines or really forgetful people like myself, teachers need to teach students how to set alarms to make sure they don't forget or ignore calendar or task alarms.

Text your Mom NOW!!!
Text messaging is the best form of parent communication.  Teach your students to text their parents in class as a part of your communication with the kids.  Have parent announcements on the board along with student announcements and encourage students to keep parents aware of important events such as the ending of grading periods, important test dates, and other events that support parent involvement.

Google It!!!
Students are already looking up stuff on the internet.  They want to know more information on topics that interest them.  Start off class with a question about your lesson that can only be answered with research.  Modeling this form of inquiry in your instruction shows students how to solve problems on a regular basis when you're not around.

Why You Should Do This
Students are more dependent on their devices than ever in the history of mankind, but many students do not know how to use these devices beyond a socially interactive nature.  Learning to many students seems disconnected from the technology sitting in their pockets today.  The sad reality is that students adapt to technology easily, but our instruction doesn't always adapt to students' strengths especially when it comes to technology.  Even worse, we often times fail to show students how to capitalize on those strengths in a way that benefits their learning.

The scary part is this. We must recognize that in 15 years, most work that students will do for a career will be done through a device that sits in the palm of their hands.  We must realize the future presently sits in the palm of each student's hands, and we owe it to them to provide an education that matches that future as much as possible.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

5 Strategies to Overcome "Message in a Bottle" Syndrome

Leaders communicate all the time. Some messages are received, while others seem to never reach their intended target. Poor leaders lament, "I told them what to do, but they're just not listening".  They complain, "I told them how to do it, but they won't even try".

Maybe the issue isn't your followers. Could it just be that your message wasn't delivered?

Poor communicators send out a message as if they're putting it in a bottle, throwing it out to sea, expecting someone to pick it up, and miraculously understand the message. What people don't understand is that followers are bombarded by communication all the time.  They receive messages from parents, upper administration, administration, office staff, and peers. Every message is asking for something:  knowledge, clarification, and advice.  Even if the message is in person, there's lots to be misunderstood. 

The Sea of Translation 

Every message has the opportunity to get lost in the Sea of Translation; therefore, all leaders must help followers navigate these confusing waters with these 5 strategies:

Common Language

Many words have multiple meetings.  Compound that with multiple interpretations that people have of each word and you get instant confusion.  Leaders must take time to develop a common language for all.

Regular Routines

Messages need to be sent on a regular basis.  Failure to send your message on a regular basis will increase stress and frustration about what needs to be done.  Knowing when to expect communication from the leader will help all members feel more confident about the direction of the organization.

Frequent Reminders

Just because the message was sent doesn't mean it was received.  To ensure receipt of the message, leaders must send the message multiple times and through multiple formats.  The more times you remind the staff, the higher the percentage of receipt and completing the task.

Constant Clarification

With frequent reminders comes the need for clarification and alignment of common language.  Many times messages are received but not followed the way the leader intended.  Leaders must invite and encourage followers to ask clarifying questions.  Failure to clarify will ultimately send followers in the wrong direction and require the task to be done again.

Support to get the Job Done

Sometimes, leaders send out tasks that require skills, resources or time that are not available.  The leader must always send messages with the understanding that if followers lack resources or support to get the job done, they must feel comfortable asking the leader for support.  

If leaders are able to do this, they won't need to put their message in a bottle and throw it out to sea. They will have no need for frustration because they will be no longer on an island throwing out messages and hoping that someone will retrieve them. They will have transcended into true leadership by getting off of their Island and joining their followers on the island in which they reside. 

What are You Dying For?

I was listening to "Minute with Maxwell" a free email service by the leadership expert, John Maxwell. The word for the day was Warrior.  He said that a warrior is best defined as the character, William Wallace from 'Braveheart'. Wallace had a cause that he was so committed to that he was willing to die for it. In essence that is a warrior.

This analogy strikes a chord because it challenges us all to find purpose in life and to find something that we believe in so much that it is worth dying for. 

But here's my problem with this idea.
Aren't we dying already?  Every day we are inching closer to the end of our lives. 

So I would like to phrase this question a little bit differently. Instead of saying what are you willing to die for? The question should be... 

What are you dying for today?

Every day you're building your legacy. You will be remembered most for what you actually died for everyday. The problem is that most of us sadly are dying for things that only benefit ourselves while we're here on earth for a short period of time. We make decisions that are comfortable and further preserve our quality of life.

But is this a noble cause? I guess it depends on what you consider a noble cause.  Here are some things that I think are noble causes worth dying for. 

1.  Your Family 
After all they are the closest people in your life. Shouldn't you strive every day to make decisions and take action that let them know they are the most important people in your life and that you exist to make a huge impact on their lives?

2.  Social Empowerment 
I prefer this term over term social justice because justice translates into equity. Empowerment means people take advantage of their equality and do something meaningful with it.  As educators we should strive to empower every student and colleague to make their lives mean something that benefits the greater good.

3. My Community and Country 
In these days of unhealthy political conflict, we must take a stand for the things that we believe in.  We must defend our Constitution, our rights as Americans and fight for those whose rights are being infringed upon.  But more importantly, we must embrace people whose beliefs differ from our own instead of vilifying them. That's what makes our country the best in the world. 

4.  My God 
I saved God for last for a reason.  In these days of systemic separation of Church and state, people are criticized for publicly displaying their faith.  We must never forget that the 1st 3 items that I mentioned above were endowed to us by our creator.  To be honest, I firmly believe that if we would put him first instead of last, our families would be better, social empowerment would be a non-issue and our country and community would not face the destructive forces that it faces on a daily basis.

The other reason that I must die for my God is because his Son died for me and my numerous sins. What an awesome sacrifice that is.  I will never fully comprehend the power of this gift, but it is one that I can fully accept because I accept Him into my heart.

So what are you dying for?

Are you dying for your comfort?  Are you silently preserving the status quo because the odds are too big?  The stakes too high?  The consequences too devastating?  Here's the deal.  You are dying.  You will die.  You can't avoid it, but you can confront the worldly issues and influences that kill others.  You can take a stand against negativity.  You can say loudly that the wrong must be righted.

William Wallace was a warrior because he was not swayed by earthly consequences.  His philosophy was simple.  "Every man dies, but not every man lives."  He is remembered because he lived his life.  He didn't succumb to the influence of man.  He lived because he died; therefore, we should all step away from our comfort zones and ask ourselves this question.  Are you truly dying for the most important things in this world?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Value your Mission & Vision

Your mission and vision have been reviewed. You have analyzed your Mission and Vision and reflected on where you currently are on your PLC journey after year 1. You make plans on how you can better align your future actions to the mission and vision and these discussions naturally lead to your values. 

How you behave is based on what you value.  Throughout the year at every campus in America, problems arise that either conflict with the campus values or haven't been addressed in the value statements. As the team digs deeper into the source of the problems, the team will find that sometimes the pressure of the day dictated how they solved the problem rather than pulling back and looking at the MVV (Mission, Vision and Values) for guidance.  When leaders let the pressure of the day guide them to the solution, campuses stand a chance of getting off course in their quest to meet their mission and vision, and sometimes it causes teams to go backwards and never reach their goals.  When personal emotions, rather than commitment to the values, guide teams in resolving problems, the team will develop fractures in its culture that will take much time to heal.  If the problem gets extremely personal, culture can be broken, and once the culture is broken, the campus can no longer focus on kids.

As your team reviews the value statements, I would strongly recommend that leaders guide their team to rate the campus' adherence to the values to see where the campus must improve.  This data must be posted next to the value statement and used as a reference point anytime the team comes to an obstacle in their campus planning.  This data can also be used for teams to fine tune their norms for planning, meeting, and reviewing data. Focusing on this qualitative data will take the "I think" and "I feel" out of problem solving and force teams to plan with laser-like focus on what's best for kids while molding the team's behaviors to reflect this detailed focus. 

Last, make a plan to promote your values next year. It can be in your weekly newsletter.  It can be discussed in teaming meetings or posted throughout the building.  Whatever you decide, schedule it on your calendar, commit to your values and most importantly, regularly assess if  you, your leaders and your campus are staying committed to your values.  After all, our true mission and vision reflects what we value.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Recommitting to the Mission and Vision

The year is  over and summer is now in full swing.  It is time to get the building ready for next year, hire new employees and get new resources and training in place for the teachers when they return in August.  As I ponder about the accomplishments from the past year, I find myself thinking how well did our campus do at meeting our mission and vision?  To find that answer, I look to myself.  How much did I do to remind our campus about our mission and vision?  When we encountered problems on our campus, did I guide the campus to look at our vision and mission to help our campus make the best decision to solve the problem or did I make decisions based on what I felt was best for the campus at that particular time? 

As I begin to think about my planning for the upcoming year, I must strive to keep the mission and vision at the forefront of every decision and plan that we make this summer.  In every norm that is reviewed, written and developed, the norm must point directly to our vision and mission.  With every event, meeting or activity that is put down on the calendar for next year, it must support our collective effort to achieve our mission and vision.  The key is to ensure that the mission and vision is reviewed daily, and so I must make plans to make the mission and vision come to life on our campus.  How will I do that?   My initial thought is that what gets promoted regularly with every stakeholder will be what affects the culture of the campus, and the campus culture will permeate that we are aligned to the mission and vision or not.

The mission must reflect what we commit to be each day for the benefit of all kids and the vision must describe what we will become as a result of our daily commitment to our mission.  If we don't make a collective effort to commit to aligning our daily actions with our mission with the desire of changing our campus into what our vision describes, our mission and vision will have been written in vain.