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!