Monday, August 22, 2011

Removing Roadblocks

For every failure, there's an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour. 
Mary Kay Ash

One of the primary responsibilities of a leader is to remove roadblocks so that people can innovate and move the mission forward.  Change is a difficult process without roadblocks in place.  Unfortunately, leaders often unknowingly put additional roadblocks in the way.  Here are a few of the roadblocks that I have seen put in place by leaders with great intentions.
  1. FORMS - People are required to fill out a form for absolutely everything.  These forms could be filled out to document that a meeting took place, a meeting will take place, planning occurred, etc.  If you put a box on a piece of paper it will be filled out. That doesn't mean that anything different will ever take place.  Take a close look at what you are asking people to complete.  Does it match what you say you are about?  What would be different if nobody filled in a form?
  2. COMMITTEES - It seems like there is a committee for absolutely everything these days.  That is not the true essence of shared leadership.  Always start with your priorities.  If it isn't a strategic priority, there shouldn't be a group of people meeting about it.  
  3. MEETINGS - I successfully led a building without ever having a staff meeting.  It truly can be done.  Technology can be utilized to convey the messages of traditional staff meetings.  Your schedule tells people what is truly important to you.  Every time you gather a group of individuals, it has to be focused on the mission of the organization. How much time do you currently spend in meetings?  Is there a better, more effective and efficient way to accomplish the task?
These are just a few of the most common roadblocks disguised as organizational improvement structures.  I'm quite sure you can find more at your workplace.

As a leader, keep the following three questions in front of you as you embark on a new year?

What is preventing the necessary changes that need to take place?

How are you contributing to these roadblocks as a leader?

What roadblocks can you move out of the way for your stakeholders this year?  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Run Your Day

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.
Friedrich Nietzsche 

You have two choices as you enter each day.  You can either "run your day" or "your day can run you".

Which will you choose?

Get a plan or someone will get one for you.  Do something and start running your day.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

People Development is the Key to Organizational Improvement

All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual. 
Albert Einstein

Organizations will only improve as the people who work there improve their practices.  Much of what we currently do in terms of people development is isolated, ever-changing, and rarely related to organizational goals.

How can we begin changing the face of professional development?  

Effective professional development occurs at the intersection of meeting both organizational needs and individual needs.  How often does that typically happen in your workplace?  

Here are some ideas to begin moving towards more effective professional development in your workplace.

1. Differentiate - One size fits all doesn't meet the needs of your stakeholders  
2. Simplify - Choose one focus area the Development Plan
3. Recognize - Tap into individual strengths while raising the bar in other areas
3. Involve - Provide opportunities for individuals to be instrumental in developing their plan
4. Consistency - Avoid the temptation to constantly change your focus
5. Follow Up - Monitor the progress of individual plans through conversations and focused questions

Organizational improvement has ALWAYS been about people improvement.  Effective professional development will be the key to your organization's success in the new year.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Stop Waiting For A Map

"Please stop waiting for a map. 
We reward those who draw maps, 
not those who follow them."
- Seth Godin

This is one of my favorite quotes from the book Poke the Box (a definite must read for all individuals that breathe in and out).  

Leaders have a responsibility to initiate the drawing of maps that will move their organizations forward.  Unfortunately, these maps often appear in the form of lengthy, comprehensive improvement plans.  These plans are largely ineffective and stakeholders rarely get passed the first page.

I believe leaders should create a very different type of map.  Create a map that is similar to one that you would use in a GPS device.  These maps provide structure for reaching your destination but still offer you choice and flexibility.  They are relentless in getting you to your destination no matter how many times you fail.  They will reroute you no matter how many times you get lost in the journey.  Better yet, they typically fit on one page/screen. Leaders must take a GPS approach to moving organizations forward and exceeding goals.  

Put away the volumes of improvement plans that have done little to move organization forwards.  Instead begin creating a map for your organization by...

  • Involving stakeholders in creating a map that will move your organization forward
  • Including checkpoints to make sure that you are on the right track
  • Honoring that all of your stakeholders at different starting points
  • Differentiating development opportunities 
  • Embracing failure that will eventually get you closer to your destination
There are many other factors involved in the creating maps.  What would you add?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Impact of Accountability on Technology

During standardized testing windows all computers are set aside for testing purposes only.  

The picture above represents the scene in many schools.  

We get the results faster using this method but at what cost to learning?

Is this really how we want to measure readiness for college, careers, or life?

I could think of a million things that students could be doing with the same tools that would better prepare them for their future.    

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Creating Problems Solvers Who Need Answer Choices

The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things,
not simply of repeating what other generations have done
- men who are creative, inventive and discoverers
- Jean Piaget

The accountability movement has created a generation of problem solvers who rely on the fact that they will have multiple choices.  This is the time of year where many states begin giving their standardized assessments. I thought I’d provide some thoughts about what I believe and practice as a leader in regards to standardized testing.
I believe that….
  • students should be creators of content not consumers of bubble sheets
  • true learning and discovery are open-ended and have no answer choices
  • students that are taught to think and problem solve without answer choices can easily navigate a multiple-choice test
  • putting a multiple choice test on a computer does not make it more engaging or effective
  • time spent on teaching test-taking strategies would be better spent on teaching a love of reading
  • students are passionate about saving the world not circling the best answer
  • performance based assessments provide a more authentic form of assessment
  • students should get multiple opportunities to demonstrate knowledge of a concept
  • no teacher got into this profession for the purpose of teaching students how to bubble in answers
  • the leader has a responsibility to go beyond what a multiple choice assessment can measure
These are just a few of my beliefs in regards to the current accountability movement.  What do you think?  What would you add and/or delete?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Deliberate Excellence

“Excellence is never an accident; 

it is always the result of high intention, 

sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; 

it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”

- William A. Foster

This quote comes alive for me every time I work with, coach, and have conversations with leaders.  The most successful initiatives have these key ingredients in them.  Likewise many disastrous decisions are missing one or more of these components.

Often people do what they have always done or even what is easy to do.  Instead the focus should always be on "Doing the Next Right Thing" using the quote above as a guide.

What if everyone subscribed to this definition of excellence?  What if everyone in your organization did this? How would this change your practices or the practices of your organization?  Remember that it all begins with you and your intent...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How Clear is Your Vision?

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others"
Jonathan Swift

One of the cornerstones in propelling organizations forward is having a "Clearly Defined/Articulated Vision".  This is referenced in journal articles and in any Leadership 101 course.  Leaders that successfully transform organizations repeatedly cite the importance of a clear vision.  With the research being so clear I ask the following question:

How Clear is Your Vision?

If you aren't sure, I'll give you some indicators to go by.  
  • Can you articulate the vision of your organization in a way that anybody walking in would understand the work that you are doing?  
  • Can you do it in less than 3 minutes?  
  • Can you do it in 1 sentence?
  • More importantly, can other people in your organization clearly articulate the vision?
  • Is the vision reflected in the decisions you make as a leader?

Here are some ideas about how to create a clear vision just in case you answered no to any of the indicators above.
  • Project forward 3-5 years and imagine your ideal organization.
  • What does it look like? 
  • What steps can you take today to turn your vision into your reality?
  • Involve key stakeholders in the process of developing a collective vision.
  • Deliberately tie every decision and action back to the vision of the organization.

Vision is critical to a leader's success.  Communicating your vision does not always come down to the words you speak.  You should strive to get to the point that your actions speak so loudly that you no longer need to say anything...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Art of Deliberate Practice

In Why Talent Is Overrated, writer Geoff Colvin declares that the “conventional wisdom about ‘natural’ talent is a myth.”  If natural talent is a myth......What separates good leaders from truly great ones?  Deliberate practice is the key ingredient related to talent in all fields.  Deliberate practice is not just about working harder or the “practice makes perfect” model. 

Deliberate practice is designed with clear objectives and goals in mind.  When top musicians, athletes, etc. practice, they break down their skill into specifically defined elements. After breaking down the skill into parts, the individual relentlessly works on the element they need to improve most. During the entire practice session, they will only focus on that one aspect.  That is what separates good from great in all areas of life.  

The author of the book also outlines 8 key principles related to deliberate practice.  Apply each of these 8 principles to your work and greatness will certainly follow.

  1. Deliberate practice is designed specifically to improve performance.
  2. Deliberate practice can be repeated a lot.
  3. Feedback on results is continuously available. 
  4. It's highly demanding mentally. 
  5. It's hard.
  6. It occurs before the work in the form of planning
  7. It occurs during the work in the form of action
  8. It occurs after the work in the form of reflection

The bottom line is that we all have the same amount of time in our day.  It is how we spend our time that truly matters.  Often we will increase the time devoted to an initiative and expect different results.  It isn't necessarily the time that it is the issue.  It is the intensity in which we utilize the time given. 
Change doesn't occur overnight and it certainly will not be sustained without continued efforts.  Repetition alone won’t get you to the level of excellence you desire.  It can also true that you won’t reach greatness  without it. Keep in mind that practice will not make perfect.  Only "Perfect Practice" makes perfect!
Deliberate practice is the key to your improvement efforts. Make sure everything you do is on purpose.  You must be intentional in your thoughts, words, and actions.  
Be Deliberate, Be Intentional, Be Great

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day in Education

"Anyone Who Has Never Made A Mistake Has Never Tried Anything New"
Albert Einstein

The movie "Groundhog Day" depicts the main character repeating the same day over and over until he learns from his mistakes.  Many of our classrooms today have that "Groundhog Day" feel.  They really don't feel or look much different than they did fifty years ago despite countless reform efforts. There are certainly exceptions to this observation.  Consider the following questions:

  • Would you be comfortable with a business looking the same as it did fifty years ago?
  • Would you be okay with being operated on using techniques from decades ago despite advances in technology?
  • Would you get on a plane with a pilot that isn't constantly learning best practices in air safety?
The obvious answer would be no.  Why is it okay for it to happen in education?  

There is a revolution in education beginning in classrooms and schools across the world.  It is being led by classroom leaders, building leaders, and district leaders.  It is being led because our children deserve better.  

Start your (R)evolution in education today.  Engage in discussions both face to face and virtually with leaders and educators who are making a difference.  The power of my PLN always continues to amaze me.  You have access to the most innovative people in education at your fingertips.  Technology breaks down walls and allows you to span continents.  

Most importantly, DO SOMETHING TODAY!  

I propose that we only celebrate Groundhog Day on February 2nd.  Whether he sees his shadow or not...We continue to evolve!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Shift From At-Risk to School-Dependent

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

I believe that the words you use are extremely powerful.  The message you construct for your staff, community, etc. should reflect the vision/mission of the school.  There is a term that is frequently used that I am officially banning from my vocabulary.  The term I am referring to is 'at risk'. I spend a great deal of time talking to teachers, principals, etc. about students who are not successful.  Invariably, the discussion comes to the students being 'at risk'.

I believe that all of our students are 'at risk' of something.  The term 'at risk' typically involves a list of things that we are not directly in control of.  While those variables may impact success, they are largely out of our control.  I find that success is directly tied to the effort put into your circle of influence.  The focus of our efforts as leaders should be on those variables that we do have control over.  Our superintendent introduced us to the term 'school dependent' children.

We work with students each and every day that are 'school dependent'.  This simply means that their success/failure is dependent on the school that they attend.  After all, the greatest predictor of student success is the classroom teacher.  Yet, many conversations still focus on the factors that are outside of our control.

This shift from 'at risk' to 'school dependent' puts the focus on the variables that we have control of.  These variables include:

  • quality of instruction
  • interventions provided
  • opportunities to engage in clubs/activities
  • mentorship programs

Many of our students our 'school dependent'.   Our conversations, initiatives, and development efforts MUST focus on the variables that we have control of.  Please join the movement! Let's acknowledge that there our factors outside of our control. Then move forward with the things that we are in charge of. Success is far more likely with this approach!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Be Prepared To Be Nowhere Else Today

"If You Don't Create Change, Change Will Create You"

I'm currently reading Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.  One of the principles discussed in the book that most resonates with me is to be here, prepared to be nowhere else.

As leaders we have hundreds of conversations each day with a variety of stakeholders.  Often we are having multiple conversations at the same time.  We are also guilty of emailing, reading, or working while we are having those conversations.  The problem with multitasking is that it takes away from the conversation that you are having with the person.

Success in life (work, relationships, etc.) occurs one conversation at a time.  Similarly, failure also occurs one conversation at a time.  Your challenge (if you choose to accept it) is to practice being present in all of your conversations today.

This means putting down the blackberry, turning off your email, etc.  Give the person that you are speaking to your undivided attention.  Speak and listen as if this is the most critical conversation that you will have in your life.  You never know.  It truly could be the conversation that pushes your organization forward.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Creativity in the Classroom Begins with Leadership

This post is my submission as part of the Calling all Bloggers: Sir Ken Robinson Blogathon via @joebower

There have been many definitions used to describe the term creativity. Sir Ken Robinson uses one that I really like. The definition is short but it has two critical parts. 

“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value”

Sir Ken Robinson

The first part of the creativity definition "original ideas" is the piece that we tend to think of.  The important part of the definition is that the ideas have or add "value".

What does creativity look like in the classroom?  Our district is undergoing a major curriculum revision to make sure that critical skills like creativity are embedded in what we do.  Here is a sampling of some of the initial work.  In creative schools all stakeholders (administrators, teachers, parents, students, etc.) are able to:

  • Analyze and evaluate information, ideas, or objects to develop a point of view, make predictions, or draw inferences
  • Identify and define a problem-situation and work through a procedure to determine viable and appropriate solutions and next steps and carry out as applicable 
  • Generate and develop ideas, solutions and connections to create something original / novel that is meaningful or useful
  • Use an inquiry process to locate, evaluate and use sources based on accuracy, authority, and point of view to explore a question/topic and synthesize and share findings and give appropriate credit/ citation
  • Select and use appropriate format to effectively engage the target audience in a topic, point of view, argument and/or creative work
  • Contribute to the improvement of the local, national, or global community by making decisions / taking actions to  enhance the welfare of society in an ethical manner
  • Work with others by sharing responsibility and critically examining knowledge and ideas to build consensus in order to achieve an objective 
  • Independently select area of focus, develop achievable goals, organize and carry out plan, and seek feedback to achieve goals within designated timelines 

This type of learning will only occur with a change in the way schools are led and the way teachers teach. The larger question for me as a leader is "How Can I Foster Creativity In the Schools I Lead?"

The short answer is to model what you expect teachers to do with every opportunity you get.  This includes rethinking the way you.... 

  • lead faculty meetings
  • offer professional development
  • conduct interviews
  • participate in walkthroughs/learning walks
  • facilitate instructional conversations
  • develop improvement plans
  • analyze and utilize data for improvement initiatives
  • introduce new initiatives

Sir Ken Robinson also argues that creativity will be as critical as literacy in the workplace.  We all know that schools need to change dramatically to meet the needs of society.  Change always begins with you..... 

What creative ideas do you have for leaders?  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who's In Your Starting Five?

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

I read this quote recently and begin to think about the people I spend the most time with as a leader.  I believe that you should always surround yourself with people who make you better.  I also believe in surrounding yourself with people who think differently and push you to stretch your thinking.  

As a leader you can only lead people as far as you have gone yourself.  That's why it is critical to continually re-evaluate your "starting five" to determine if they are helping to develop you as a leader.  

The book The Wisdom of Crowds touches on some of these key points.  These are four factors that make up a wise crowd or an all star starting five.

Diversity of opinionEach person should be an independent thinker 
IndependencePeople's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
DecentralizationPeople are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
AggregationSome mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

I actually think about the five people quote in two different ways.  First, there are the five people that I have the most face to face time with.  These are the people who are on your leadership team, executive team, etc.  These are the key decision makers who you rely on to get a project done.  Are you surrounded by the right people?  

The second way involves the importance of a Personal Learning Network (PLN).  The five people I spend the most time with really depends on the project, area of interest, topic discussed, etc.  The best thing about having a PLN is that you have unparalleled access to experts in all educational fields.  In this way I become infinitely smarter with my starting five.  I am able to garner resources, ask questions, discuss obstacles, and take advantage of opportunities.  I often wonder how I ever operated without the benefit of my PLN.

Who is in your starting five?  Take a look at those five people.  Are you okay with your average?  Is it enough to move your organization forward?  How can you leverage the collective wisdom of this group to transform learning?

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Are You Doing For Others?

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' 

Many of Dr. King's quotes resonate with me.  I often use them in speeches, presentations, and meetings.  This particular quote defines a large aspect of what we should be doing as educational leaders.    

Many leadership articles will encourage you to find a mentor.  I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for my friend and mentor.  I am encouraging you in this post is to become a mentor.  

One of my guiding leadership principles is the belief in leading, mentoring and developing aspiring leaders.  As a building principal, I always recruited and worked with people that were aspiring leaders.  Not all of these people wanted to run their own schools.  Many became teacher leaders or went into curriculum development, technology integration, etc.  This belief in mentoring allowed me to build capacity in the organization, distribute leadership, and develop talented leaders.

It doesn't matter how much experience you have in the field.  Someone out there has less! You will never know everything there is to know about leadership but you do have a lot to share with aspiring leaders.  We have all made great decisions and terrible mistakes that people can learn from.  Why not share that knowledge while providing a valuable service to the individual and the organization?

Here are some mentoring keys that I have used with aspiring leaders:
  1. Set aside time to talk to your mentee.  I often did this in 20-30 minute blocks.
  2. Provide your mentee with a leadership project.  I often would tie a school need to something the individual was passionate about.
  3. Talk out loud about decisions, events, meetings, etc.  This provides a good sounding board for you but also allows the individual to hear your thinking.
  4. Transparency is key.  Aspiring leaders need to see all sides of the profession. They need to know that:  
    • Not every decision is a good one.  
    • Not every project ends in success.  
    • Not every parent is in love with your program
I believe that everything comes down to leadership.  Everything great is about leadership and everything bad is about leadership.  It is our responsibility to mentor the aspiring leaders that will lead future schools and future students.  This is just one response to Dr. King's question "What are you doing for others?"