“Go Hard” Leadership

I recently had the opportunity to meet with my supervisor and share the story of #SiglerNation, highlighting the work of our teachers, students and community. I have never been one to shy away from lifting up the amazing work our teachers do. With a visitor in tow, I carried on and on about how great our teachers are and how humbling it is work be able to be called the “leader” of such a fine staff. (Read more about #SiglerNation HERE)

About a week later, I received a note thanking me for my time and for sharing the work our teachers have been doing to positively impact our students. The following quote was shared inside:

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Weeks later this quote has stuck with me as we make our way through the first weeks of school. This has been a unique year in which we have many new staff members to the building with only one being in her first year of teaching. The teacher capacity we added to our staff is significant beyond measure, but what I take for granted is the way we do school at Sigler. It is different than how other campuses do school. Different is not bad nor is it different in a good way. It is just different. As I’ve witnessed some of the strongest teachers I know be humbled by the difference, this quote motivates me to want to be there for all of them. It inspires me to do everything in my power to ease the transition and allow them to focus on the very thing we brought them to #SiglerNation to do…TEACH!

This quote embodies the way in which I lead. It’s who I am.

A few years back, our staff participated in a True Colors Personality Test…my color Orange. Why? My competitive spirit, drive and ability to do many things at once.

Just last month our staff participated in the StrengthFinders Assessment via Gallup. My number one Strength…Competition.

I feel the need clarify my competition is not with other principals, schools or campuses, but merely an internal competition. A drive to be better tomorrow than I was today. The same drive fuels me outside of my work. Case in point, why else would I be training for a marathon during arguably the busiest time of the school year. (Marine Corp Marathon in Oct.).

If I take the quote and match it with my personality, I break down my leadership style into three simple words, “I go hard.”

Positives of a “go hard” mentality

I am here to serve. I am going to remember what you need and find a time to deliver. It might be a 7AM parent meeting or a 4:30 goals conference, but if you need me, I will be there. A school event on a Friday night. Yep. Visiting the the community on a Saturday to be sure our school is represented? Would not miss it. If you need my help, I am going to be sure you get it.

I am invested. Your students are my students. Your concerns are my concerns and your needs are my needs. I am only as successful as the students, teachers and parents I serve, therefore I am invested in making sure they reach their highest level of success. I say that well knowing these levels of success do not happen over night, in a day or even a month. I am invested for the duration. Let’s work together, develop a plan and see the plan through. I am not going anywhere. You do not quit on me and I will not quit on you.

I am available. Throughout a typical school day there are a million and ten reasons why I could be in my office, but I choose not to be. I choose to set up shop in classrooms, eat in the cafeteria or stand at the school store greeting hundreds of our students. When the teacher comes to me and says, “Do you have a minute?” I look at them, regardless of what is taking place and my answer is, “Yes.” Texts, Voxes, Tweets and phone calls, I receive them all. The staff knows they can reach out and they know I will respond.

Flaws of a “go hard” mentality

I naturally expect everyone else to be like me. Thankfully they are not. A teacher’s number one priority is not their job. Their number one priority should be their family, or their spouse. It should be themselves. If I can be honest, I am blessed to work in a building of folks that “go hard” but I do worry about their work life balance just as much as I worry about mine. I would like to think we hold each other accountable to ensure we are putting first things first.

I cannot shut it off. I work all day and when I come home there are times despite the best of my intentions, I am still working. While the focus should be on my family I find myself trying to do both. (See orange reference above).

There are times I am not at my best. I am tired. The old adage of burning the candle at both ends…I can burn that baby down. I need to remind myself that the school year is not a sprint, but a marathon. Not every task needs to be completed ASAP. Going home at a reasonable hour to enjoy my family is OK.

Ultimately, the very thing that makes me great at what I do can be the thing that stops me from being great. Finding the balance is the key and surrounding myself with teacher leaders who can support our students, teachers and families will ensure we are at our best.

Behind every great staff, team or company you find a great leader. Or perhaps behind every great leader you find a great staff, team or company. Regardless of which you put first, one is not more important than the other. In fact, within every great staff, team and company you have multiple leaders. Collectively it is the sum of all the parts that drives the work forward within your school, sport or business.

Thankfully for me, I am on a team with a bunch of strong parts who in their own right, know how to “go hard”.

Amplify the Voices

If you have been paying any attention to my Twitter feed or reading my recent posts, you will know Sigler Elementary is using the hashtag #SiglerNation to amplify the voices of our school community and connect with others across our great nation and the world. It’s more than lip service. In order to hold us accountable, this map is displayed in our front hallway to celebrate the connections being made! This is just the beginning! (Thanks for the idea Joe Sanfelippo) #GoCrickets

For those of you reading about #SiglerNation for the first time, you need to begin here, with my post Welcome to #SiglerNation.

As we progress through the school year we will change the lens through which we view school. It is easy to view school through the lens of the adults, but those are just a few of the voices we need to amplify. Our goal is to amplify the voices of our students. In order to do so, the lens we need to view school through is through that of our students.

A small change we have made already is how we send information home. In year’s past, I would send out a S’more newsletter highlighting what went home, what events are coming up and absolutes parents needed to know about. Each newsletter was through my lens. The lens of the campus principal.

This past Friday, we released our first issue of “The Sigler Voice”. Our new S’more newsletter. The Sigler Voice includes what takes place in the grades levels of #SiglerNation through the lens of the students. While this was just our first issue, I am excited to see how we collectively amplify the voices of our students, teachers and parents as the year goes on. I know we will look back at our first issue and marvel at how we grew in our ability to amplify the voices.

How do you amplify the voices within your school community? Are you ready to amplify your voices with ours?

Comment below.

Let’s connect!

#SiglerNation is waiting.

 

 

Eminem Was Wrong

The year was 2002. I was a senior playing football for the Peru State Bobcats. In October, Eminem dropped a hit titled, “Lose Yourself”. I can only imagine college football locker rooms across the country filled with young men getting hype listening to the chorus below…

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime…

…football players listening to the lyrics above believed each game was “the moment” and each play was the “one shot”. You didn’t dare “miss your chance” because each game and play was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. No room for mistakes. It was all or nothing.

I can’t even tell you the number of times I listened to this song throughout my senior year of football and the subsequent days, weeks, months and years to follow.

Fifteen years later, “Lose Yourself” still fires me up, but the game has changed as has the meaning I find in the song. In 2002 the game was football. Today the “game” is being the best elementary school principal I can be.

School has started or will start soon for educators around the country. Our campus (Sigler Elementary) sets to embark on week two and this song has been on repeat in my mind and admittedly on my running playlist for over a year. Each time I listen, I know “Eminem was Wrong”.

Rewind back to the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. Social emotional learning was all the rage and as the leader of Sigler Elementary, I was going to be sure we were doing our part to equip our students with the tools they needed to support their social emotional well-being. Over the summer we had meticulously planned for and created “calm-down baskets” for each teacher upon their return. The baskets included something for every type of learner; play-doh, smelling stickers, windmills, stress balls, color books, glitter bottles, pipe cleaners, bubbles, yoga cards with a variety of poses…I could keep going. These “calm-down baskets” were legit.

Like most back to school weeks the days fill up quickly and the hours slip away. We strategic filled the buckets, passed them out and welcomed the teachers back with this great surprise. Teachers were asked to use these tools and strategies with students throughout the course of the school year to help our children. There was just one problem. I spent all of two minutes explaining what was in the “calm-down baskets” and zero time explaining how each could be used effectively. I did not explicitly say this, but looking back I essentially gave our teachers a resource and expected them to use it…like “Duh”! What was I thinking?

It did not take long for me to realize the errors of my way. I had “the moment”, I took my “one shot” and I totally “missed my chance”. Thankfully in education, it is not all or nothing. There is room for mistakes and this “once in a lifetime” opportunity gets reset each August.

Clearly I do not wake up in the morning and try to make as many mistakes as I can knowing I can erase them all a year later. We are influencing the lives of students for heavens sake. The message that needs to be understood is that through reflection and intentional planning we can learn from the errors of our ways and not make the same mistakes twice. Hence my argument for why “Eminem was Wrong”.

I knew when the 2017-2018 school year started I had to redeem myself. The first step to redemption, I had to “own it”. I stood before my staff and told them I “missed my chance” but realized it and was not going to miss “the moment” again. This year teachers again will receive resources to support students with their social emotional learning, but they will not come all at once and they will not come in a basket. Instead, one by one teachers will be introduced to a simple and easy to use resource that can positively be used with students in their classrooms.

I have grown as an administrator and my outlook on being wrong has changed significantly. In fact, I was never focused on being wrong. I was focused on trying to be right. I operated from a place of “I can’t make mistakes.” Now,  I’ve come to expect mistakes on a regular basis and realize if I’m not making mistakes, I’m not doing something right. I would spend my days trying to do it right and now I spend parts of my days righting my wrongs.

If I am challenging myself to be at my best, mistakes will happen. If I remain in the comfort zone, mistakes are easy to avoid, but that is not what I want for myself. I want to challenge myself and be wrong, understand mistakes are going to happen, but most importantly realize when I make them, reflect and learn from them.

This school year I will “own it” when the mistakes come. I will “let it go” and then I will take my next “one shot” because in this awesome profession, which I get to call a job, the opportunities impact students for a lifetime!

Thank goodness “Eminem was Wrong”.

 

 

Just Say Yes

A team of phenomenal teachers and I were able to share the transformational story of #SiglerNation yesterday at #NTVC2017. We had shared this story once before (check it here) so on the eve of the presentation I was reviewing my notes for the next day. Having just wrapped up reading Student Voice: The Instrument of Change I was in full on reflection mode and I came upon a stark realization while reviewing for the following day’s presentation. Each of the areas the teachers were sharing the following day was an expression of their voice. They were sharing something they were passionate about to a room full of strangers because they were proud of their efforts. More importantly, they were proud of the way their; dare I say innovative practices, positively impacted the success of their students.

Pictured: Assistant Principal of the Year – Carrie Tracy, Desirae Rieke, Matt Arend & Melinda Hoover

I remember each of the days Melinda Hoover, Desirae Rieke and Dora Deboer came to me with individual ideas they wanted to run with. Melinda was interested in turning her classroom into an environment similar to Starbucks. (She was a 2nd grade teacher). Desirae was looking for some motivation and ways to infuse technology into her classroom. (3rd grade teacher) I recommended she read Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and join in what would be the first #IMMOOC. Dora had just experienced a taste of what real authentic learning experiences could do to empower the learning of her bilingual students and was brainstorming ways to connect with a wider audience of teachers and learners across the world. (Bilingual Title I Teacher)

I won’t get into the explicit conversations that followed, but for those of you who are reading that are building leaders, there are three words of advice I have for you when a teacher in your building stops by the office, catches you in the hallway or gives you a call out of the blue asking “If you have a minute”. JUST SAY YES!

The realization I came to while reviewing for yesterday’s presentation was that the students who benefited from three separate transformational ideas and the teachers who were ready to jump into something new with two feet who are now sharing their story with audiences across the state of Texas could have missed out on all of it, had I said no. Just like that, it could have been gone. Experiences erased. Aspirations crushed. The next time either of these teachers had an idea they wanted to try. Forget about it. There would have been no way they would come and face the hard truth of getting told “no” again. The classroom complete with couches and Starbucks coffee would simply continue to look like it had for years prior. Desks would be in rows and students in seats. A classroom with 7 laptops of which 3 would be fully functional on a good day, would not be abundantly stocked with iPads. Students who are armed and ready to collaborate and create on their recently acquired Chromebooks would be at the ready for the next worksheet. The students in a bilingual reading intervention group would have never connected with over 7 countries and students from around the world sharing how proud they are of the culture and heritage nor learn about how proud other students and their own parents are of their ethnic backgrounds.

Let’s be honest. You can ask “Why?” or you can ask “Why not?” You can trust the professionals you have hired to take risks to better themselves and their students or you can stifle the very creativity which lead you to hire them.

We all know that saying yes does not guarantee success, but saying no guarantees you will never know. It may not turn out right the first time. We will learn from what did not go as planned and try it again the next day. We will throw away the flexible seating option that was “accidently popped” by a pencil and replace it with a brand new one while revisiting the expectations. When the Google Classroom connection does not work, we will proudly own the #techfail and move on to plan B, because there is always a plan B.

The beginning of the school year is quickly approaching and you can count on at least one teacher asking you the million dollar question, “Do you have a minute?” Hear them out. Ask your questions. Take time to think about it if need be. Follow back around with additional questions or heck, even ask them why. Once you have all your questions answered, you know what to do.

Just say yes!

What will you say yes to this year that will positively change learning for the students and teachers on your campus? Include your comment below.

Welcome to #SiglerNation

Each year principals and teachers across the country strive to create themes, motto’s and yes even hashtags that will inspire their campus community throughout the upcoming school year. Sound right? Been there? Done that? Me too!

We Are Sigler, Sigler State of Mind, Bright Future Campaign, #OwnIt, #IWill are all themes or hashtags that have been introduced at Sigler Elementary to provide teachers, staff and students with a platform to carry forward the great work they will embark upon during the school year. Each theme provided an opportunity to share in detail how a few words can inspire the Sigler community to come together.

As schools become more prolific with the use of social media and sharing their stories across a variety of mediums, you will find campuses and districts have hashtags to help share learning experiences and opportunities that exist both inside and outside of the school’s walls. Our campus is no different. (Read more about our story here.) Years ago #siglerlearns was introduced as our campus hashtag. Since it’s introduction it has been used to highlight the learning of our students and teachers as well unique experiences and opportunities our students and staff have been afforded. While #siglerlearns has it’s place, our campus has transformed over the years and we are ready for the next step. Do not worry…#siglerlearns is not going away. We are just going bigger.

As time was spent coming up with a theme for the upcoming school year it was as if I had an epiphany. While each of the themes mentioned earlier in the post served a purpose and were timely in their own respect, they each only lasted a single school year. The theme became something to rally around for a year. It was a tagline on a t-shirt. It was celebrated at pep-assemblies. It was mentioned in weekly publications to staff and the community and then with the final school bell of the year, it went away leaving people to wonder what next year’s theme would be.

We are going bigger. There will be a theme, but beyond a theme, we are growing something special at Sigler Elementary and it is time for everyone to be made aware. This is not going away. We are here to stay!

Welcome to the rebirth and re-branding of Sigler Elementary. Welcome to #SiglerNation.

The Faces of #SiglerNation

While schools spend a vast amount of time telling their story and sharing their school’s message we must not forget the faces behind the story. The image you see here captures the faces of #SiglerNation

The Faces of #SiglerNation

These faces represent the voices we want to amplify. We aspire to connect these voices with the voices of other students from across the nation and across the world. We aspire to give these voices a platform and a sincere opportunity to be heard. In the book Student Voice: The Instrument of Change the authors share, “…before there is an “I,” there is a “we.”” Together as students, teachers, parents, administrators and the community we will lift up these voices to connect, grow and be heard.

 The People of #SiglerNation

The great philosopher Aristotle said it best, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The staff at Sigler Elementary was strong when I was named principal at Sigler Elementary six years ago and since that time, we have only grown stronger. We have grown together. We have lifted each other up. We have empowered one another to reach new heights. The people of #SiglerNation have established new expectations for one another. Together we look to exceed these expectations not as individuals, but as a team, as a staff and as a family.

In the upcoming year, empowered staff from #SiglerNation will look to share their transformational story with other educators in an effort to inspire others to follow in their footsteps and unlock learning opportunities for students around the world. We share this knowing with each opportunity to share comes an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to grow. Sharing, learning & growing is what embodies #SiglerNation.

The people of #SiglerNation know teaching our students is not a job, it is a calling. We are called upon to do better and be better and together we have, we can and we will.

Proud to Represent #SiglerNation

In the end, this is what it comes down to…PRIDE. #SiglerNation was built upon years of relentless work, effort and an extreme sense of pride. We take pride in our approach to educating students. We take pride in our partnerships with parents and our community. We take pride in knowing we want to do school differently…and we do!

Our goal is for parents to choose Sigler Elementary. Our goal is for parents to want to enroll their children at Sigler Elementary; to become a part of #SiglerNation…and they are!

Our goal is for teachers to choose Sigler Elementary. Our goal is for teachers to want to work at Sigler Elementary; to become part of #SiglerNation…and they are!

Our goal is for students to choose Sigler Elementary. Our goal is for students to want to succeed at Sigler Elementary; to lift up and be champions for #SiglerNation…and they are!

We are going bigger and we want you to join us! Come be a part of #SiglerNation. It may mean your children enroll with us. It may mean you come work with us. It may mean you find a way to connect with us. Regardless of what it means for you, #SiglerNation is waiting. We are waiting for you! Throughout the upcoming school year we will seek you out. We will reach out. We want to share our story with you. Our students’ voices will be amplified and shared with any and all who will want to listen.

Are you listening? Are you joining us? What are you waiting for?

Welcome to #SiglerNation

 

 

Buy-In

“Buy-in.” I have heard this term a lot of over these last two weeks.

Leaders at a conference were brainstorming leadership characteristics and many felt one’s ability to get buy-in was important to leading change. In interviews I have heard candidates mention the importance of getting buy-in from stakeholders before introducing change whether it be first or second order change. Ask me about the importance of getting buy-in 10 years ago and I would have probably agreed with those who feel buy-in is necessary before moving forward with change. Today, I think differently.

Author Douglas Reeves states, “Don’t ask us to buy into your ideas for change; challenge us to envision a future that is better than today. Challenge us to consider improvements in our educational systems that will happen only if we replace the skepticism associated with the buy-in imperative with the hope and optimism associated with new ideas, practices, and policies.”

It’s June and build leaders around the country are attending conferences, reflecting, brainstorming and are in the initial stages of preparing for their back to school professional learning. Hopefully, many of us are designing opportunities that will challenge our teachers to move forward. Challenge our teachers to move past “that’s what we have always done”. Challenge our teachers to innovate in ways they have not thought of before. Building leaders need to be challenging teachers to transform learning.

As a building leader, could you imagine having to wait to implement these challenges until you had buy-in? From everyone?

Reeves goes on to state, “It is not rhetoric that persuades us, but evidence at a personal level.”

Educators need to see evidence that the time they invest in changing will warrant success. Educators need to see other’s having success amidst the change before changing themselves.

As I myself begin to brainstorm ideas for the upcoming school year, I seek input from my stakeholders, but I am not seeking permission nor buy-in. I want to listen and then I want to make decisions. Through seeking input and listening, I can begin to discover who my people are. I know who will get in at the ground level and I know who will need to see evidence of others having success. I am reminded of the graphic below:

Your innovators help you in leading the change. They do not require buy-in. To paraphrase a quote from the movie Moneyball, the first guy through the wall get bloody. These are our innovators. Trust me…everyone else is watching. What happens when others see our innovators having success? Their disbelief becomes belief. Their buy-in increases.

I do not believe it is healthy to have a building full of innovators. Balance is key. You need people who may say no the first time. When I hear no, it makes me rethink my “why”. It challenges my thinking. If I can rethink my why and am still compelled to move forward, those who are slower to change; the late majority or the laggards, they will come.

As Amber Teamann says:

As you prepare your professional learning, brainstorm ideas for change and continue to think how you will move your building forward, I encourage you to be the change you wish to see. Do not wait for those who surround you to buy-in. Give them a reason to buy-in. Inspire them! Challenge them! Support them!

Buy-in is not where you begin. Buy-in is the ultimate destination. @matthew_arend

 

 

Tell Our Story

The last day of school was this past Friday and one tradition I have grown to love is piecing together photos from throughout the year into a video and sharing all of these memories that tell our story during the final spirit assembly. While the video reminds this principal just how hard our teachers work and how we find the balance between pushing innovative practices and teaching students that 2+2=4 and learning to read it also serves another purpose.

The video capturing the highlights and memories of the year tell our story. Check it out!

You are probably asking, how do you capture nearly 180 days of instruction into a video at the end of the year? Well…thank you for asking.

We do it as a family! The Sigler community has bought into the notion we have heard so many share about.

“If you do not tell your story, someone else will…” – Eric Sheniger

We tell our story. Each grade level/department has a twitter account and we tell our story each day. We are proud of the work our students and teachers produce and we want our parents, community and the world to see it. In addition to the Twitter accounts, our campus hashtag #siglerlearns is used building wide to share our learning and the learning of others.
We have not always been where we are now. We have grown and developed into the campus we are today. The most important step we had to take was one I took first. I, the principal of the building, had to get comfortable with not being the only one sharing. I had to let go of the control and let the teachers/staff share right along with me. Since then, we have not looked back.
We share, we tweet, we learn. Most importantly, we tell our story. As summer is upon us this video serves as a PSA for anyone and everyone interested in checking us out. It is pinned to our @SiglerStars Twitter account as well as our Sigler Stars Facebook Page . It sits on our website and let’s everyone know what we are about at Sigler Elementary.
***Fast Forward to August***
New teachers arrive. The social media culture may be new to them. They have not been a part of our lifestyle yet. What’s one of the first things we do with them? Tell our story and show them this video of course. One of the things I point out at the conclusion of the video…
Every image in the video, came directly from our social media pages and hashtags.
Who do you let tell your story?
We hope you join us in telling the story and become a part of #SiglerNation.
The following accounts are all linked to #SiglerNation

Building School Culture – #SummerSelfieBingo

Building school culture is something I am passionate about and have been focused on since I walked into the door at Sigler Elementary six years ago. Author Baruti Kafele, in his book Closing the Attitude Gap reduces culture into one word: lifestyle. I want to love the lifestyle we cultivate and I want the amazing teachers who work here to love it too. I want folks who walk into our building to recognize the culture (lifestyle) we have created.

Building school culture does not just happen while school is in session. While led by the principal, developing a lifestyle within the walls of a classroom and school is a collective group effort; including the students, staff, teachers and community. Building school culture happens all year long. Yes, building school culture even takes place over the summer.

Welcome to our 2nd annual #SummerSelfieBingo challenge.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to participate in as many of the activities listed above, capturing yourself in the moment by taking a selfie! In our second year, we have some of the traditional summer activities returning with some new opportunities added to the bingo board as well.

New Activities Include:

360 Degree Video Selfie – Inspired by the work of Dora Deboer you are challenged to commemorate just the right event and complete a 360 degree video selfie.

Neighborhood Selfie – The communities educators serve are the lifeline of the school. I hope you spend some time in your school community this summer. Take a selfie in your neighborhood and let us know where you live. If you are local & happen to see a “We Support Sigler Elementary” sign, take a selfie showing just how much you #LoveSigler.

#SiglerNation Selfie – Next fall we are rolling out a new branding hashtag for our school community and we want you to be a part of #SiglerNation. This selfie can look very different. If you are local, come find us. Take a photo outside of our wonderful school. Even better, track down a staff member (look for us on Twitter) and take a selfie with one of us. If you are a current member of #SiglerNation, take a selfie in your Sigler spirit wear. As a bonus, complete one of the other selfies in your Sigler spirit wear and knock out two birds with one stone. Bottom line…we want to grow #SiglerNation and want you to join us!

The rules are simple.
  1. Get on Twitter. (Those new to Twitter can begin here)
  2. Share how great your summer is using the #SummerSelfieChallenge hashtag while you complete the selfies above.
  3. Use the Google Doc linked here to access your own game board. (It should open up as a copy thanks to my friend Ashley Helms.
  4. You cannot double up selfies unless you are partnering your selfie w/ #SiglerNation.
  5. Get a Bingo (or two or three)
  6. Have a great summer

Yes, summer is meant to relax, unplug, reflect and recharge, but while you are doing all of those important things, do not forget you are also building school culture. You have a lifestyle to create in your building. What are you waiting for?

We look forward to seeing your selfies!

What other selfies you would like added to the #SummerSelfieBingo challenge board? Comment below and we will add them for next year. 

Want to edit your own copy of the #SummerSelfieBingo board? Here is a collaborative link to Canva where it was originally created. 

 

36 Days & Counting

Do not let the title fool you. The last thing I am doing is counting down the days of school that remain. As of today there are “36 days & counting”. For those of you who are counting them down…shame on you. Please stop.

I have been writing this post in my head for the last week or so and as I have been editing draft after draft, I have been able to read some great posts from other educators who share my sentiments for counting down the final days of school. We collectively agree. DO NOT DO IT. I appreciate the transparency Pernille demonstrates in her post below. Be honest. We have all counted down at some point in our careers. I cannot put my finger on when my mindset shifted, but it has. Has yours? Will yours?

Pernille Ripp“On Counting Down the Days”

Adopt another approach to the “36 days & counting” mindset. It starts with leadership. I do my best to model the mindset. We all know this time of year can be difficult. Students can be emotionally drained. Teachers can be emotionally drained. Leaders can be too. Amber does a great job of pointing this out in her article referenced here.

Amber Teamann“It’s Spring…How Can You Support Teacher’s When They’re Tired?

She says, “It’s OK for passionate, committed people to be tired. That doesn’t make you any less awesome. It makes you human.” She is right. Recognize when you are tired and drained and do something to fill yourself back up. In my case, as a leader, I need to check myself. I need to recognize when I am tired and refuel so I am able to help refuel others.

Ultimately we have a decision to make. With “36 days & counting” I see two options.

Option 1

Count down the days, each day drawing closer to the end. In doing so, the message delivered to staff, teachers, & students is that the year is “basically” over and what we are doing now is not as important as what we did earlier in the year. After spending the year educating students about the importance of perseverance and grit you begin to model the exact things you fought so hard to overcome. What you once valued as a learning community has diminished and collaboration has turned into busy work. The message of being a life long learner has fallen short, taking time off as the summer quickly approaches.

Option 2

Seek to build momentum as you head into the off-season or what is otherwise known as summer. As an athlete and sports nut, I view the final “36 days & counting” as the home stretch, the 4th quarter, the bell lap, or the bottom of the ninth. Continue to create lasting relationships. Keep motivating your students and colleagues, inspiring change. Teach and learn from the group of students you have poured into all year. Make your own momentum.

Building Momentum

As a sports season comes to an end you will hear coaches comment on building momentum heading into the off-season. I believe the same can be said about education.  Buildings, teacher teams and students can use the remaining days as a spring board into the next school year. Buildings can begin laying the groundwork for efforts that will carry them forward into the next school year. Teacher teams can reflect on practices and begin making positive changes that will carry over into the next school year. Students can strengthen their foundation of learning making the transition into a new grade level less of a leap and more of a skip.

There are “36 days & counting”. We have a decision to make. Which option do you choose? What mindset will you adopt? Do you show up for game 7 and look to hit the winning shot? Or do you embrace the remaining days and “make it count” as Paige Givens inspires us do to below?

Paige Givens“7 More Weeks”

I hope you choose to join me and the authors referenced above this spring. Let’s rally, lifting one another up so we may continue to inspire positive change in our schools and be the change we want to see in others. The final 36 days of school could be the best 36 days of the year. If you want them to be.

Feedback is a GIFT

“That’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.” Remember when Eddie shared this memorable quote in Christmas Vacation? Needless to say, he was not talking about feedback. As you know, he was referencing the Jelly of the Month club. As principals, leaders and teachers, we know that Feedback is a GIFT. Feedback is a GIFT that keeps giving the whole year. If you give it. @matthew_arend

This past week feedback has been on my mind. I have been getting ready for my end of year conferences with teachers. During these conferences, feedback will be very important as we lift up and celebrate what has gone well this year, review areas of refinement and set a direction for the next school year. I want to say just the right things, recognizing the efforts of teachers. I also want to provide encouragement and inspiration to keep them learning and growing.

As my week went on, it became more clear, this was a topic I was needing to write about. As I entered into a training session on Thursday, the following image was displayed midway through the morning.

Did this image speak to you like it did to me? I have never underestimated the power of feedback, but I will be honest and tell you my feedback can certainly improve. I am going to use this as a jumping off point to intentionally improve my feedback between now and the end of the year and of course for many years to come.

Regardless of the position you hold, these four statements speak truth into the relationships that exist. George Couros reminds us in the Innovator’s Mindset that it is all about “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships.” Whether you are a leader speaking with teachers or a teacher speaking with students, trusting and authentic relationships must be present for feedback to be effective. 

Given with Permission

“In through one ear and out of the other.” I vividly recall being in situations where I was providing feedback and the person who I had wished heard it, was not ready to hear it. Whether they were upset, in denial or just not ready to hear what I had to say, I did not have their permission to share. Before obtaining permission, relationships must be developed, cultivated and nurtured. Trust must be developed so when feedback is sought out or shared, it is given with permission. If someone does not come to you specifically asking for feedback, consider asking someone if you can provide feedback, before you just give it.

Intent is for Growth

Feedback needs to be articulated in a way that moves us forward. As a leader, I need to be mindful of this. I can dwell on what has occurred or I can use what has occurred to guide our next steps. Learning from our past helps us set a clearer path for the future. If success is the ultimate goal, then we must grow.

My reading this week for #IMMOOC including the following statement:

We only get better when we find those who truly elevate us. Look for mentors who will push you to come up with better and brighter ideas and be that person for your followers. Leaders are meant to unleash talent by bringing their people’s strengths to life, not ignoring them. 

The above excerpt is an excellent measuring stick for the effectiveness of my feedback. If the feedback I am giving meets what George highlighted above, my intent is for growth. The one nugget that should not be overshadowed is if you are giving feedback, you should have someone providing feedback to you also. Feedback is by no means a one way street. We all need someone to “push us to come up with better and brighter ideas.”

For the Person, Not About the Person

I cannot think of a quicker way to damage the relationships that have been established than making your feedback personal. Recently at a principal’s meeting, we shared feedback with teachers after a brief presentation they shared. Instead of beginning our sentence with the word “you” we were instructed to to specifically state the teachers name. While this seemed bizarre, speaking about someone who was clearly sitting in front of us, it removed the “personal” aspect of the feedback making the feedback more for the person than about the person.

Technology Supports Feedback

I was able to attend a professional learning session this weekend hosted by Alice Keeler. While the focus of much of the morning was on how to best use Google products to enhance learning experiences for students, we also discussed how the same tools could provide feedback to students…instantly. Whether you are using Google products to provide your feedback or using a more traditional face to face model, the graphic below serves as a terrific reminder to provide feedback promptly. Teachers need feedback from peers and leaders in a timely fashion so they can be affirmed of the decisions they are making. Timely feedback also supports teachers in reflecting on decisions should adjustments need to be made. These adjustments may warrant a higher level of success. Feedback for students needs to be timely and shared while student interest is high. While they are giving permission for feedback to be shared. As students seek feedback amidst their engagement, we must follow through. Waiting to respond when it is convenient, tells the student what they are working on is not valued equally, leading to a decrease in their interest, empowerment and engagement. Keeler’s focus on using technology to provide feedback to students also empowers students to give feedback to the teachers. Receiving specific responses, allows for individualized feedback. Just make sure it is for the student and not about the student.

When you ask question to the class and choose one student to respond, you know what one student is thinking. When you ask the question digitally, all students can respond. Instantly.

– Alice Keeler

Targeted for Success

You are on target for success when your feedback is given with permission, the intent is for growth and it is focused for the person and not about the person. The important piece to remember is that feedback is ongoing. As I head into my end of year conferences, I need to be mindful of the fact that success does not happen in one conference. Feedback needs to be on-going and followed up on. Success is a journey. Honestly, there is not a final destination. Just when you feel you have arrived, our best will find another area they want to improve upon. Thus, keeping the need for feedback to be constant and on-going.

As I look to “empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity” as the Innovator’s Mindset calls us to do, I aim to do so through modeling, but also through my feedback to teachers and our teacher’s feedback to our students. Taking risks and attempting to approaching learning with new and better ways can be trepidatious. I need to be sure I am giving the gift that will support the work, lift up teachers and keep them moving forward. I need to remember, feedback is a GIFT.