The Problem with Passion

(This post was originally posted on leadupnow.com/passion)

I absolutely love what I do! As the principal of Sigler Elementary I lead with passion. In fact, I have written about my leadership style before and I encourage you to read more about it here.

According to Clifton’s Strengthsfinder my top strength is competition followed closely by being a relator. Partner that with my “orange” personality and you have an extremely passionate, competitive principal who wants to make everyone happy. Anyone relate with me? Some of you are laughing, “A principal who wants to please everyone! Good Luck.” I agree…

I count on my passion to carry me through the parts of my job I do not get excited about. You know…the items that are farthest removed from leading and connecting with students and teachers. As passionate as I am, I want to share the problem with passion.

Recently within the halls of #SiglerNation extreme student behavior has been a topic of conversation. Specifically, how we “as a campus” respond to said extreme behavior. (My personality strengths, equate this concern to, “How Mr. Arend responds to extreme behavior.”)

This concern is not necessarily a new one. We are charged with educating students who have some legitimate obstacles to overcome. We love them. We want to educate and empower students to be better tomorrow than they were the day before, but that can be easier said than done.

Knowing the current practices were not addressing the most immediate needs, I posed a question last month to our leadership group. “How do we utilize reflections without them being a punitive resource?” (Feel free to click on “reflections” to see what they look like)

While my question had the best of intentions and was meant to help us solve a problem I was witnessing, hindsight tells me my intentions were misguided. What helped me realize this was the group of amazing leaders who expressed their sincere concerns regarding the extreme behavior in their classrooms and my perceived inability to help them. The concerns kept coming. My passion kept burning. In my best attempt to solve their problems, I could not help but feel each of their concerns was aimed at me.

The problem with passion in this case was I was too invested in the process. My personality and philosophy on behavior was prohibiting me from seeing things through the teacher’s eyes. I needed a different approach, knowing in one month’s time this conversation was going to continue. I could not endure another meeting in which I felt as if each critique and concern was aimed directly at me and my inability to solve the problems.

I needed a protocol.

Protocols are still fairly new to me and it was through my experience with the Principal Visioning Institute that I truly experienced the power of protocols. I am not sure what took me so long to find protocols, but it’s like we say in Texas, “I am not from Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. When I found out about protocols is not important. What is important is that I have a resource and I need to use it more often.

I spent the next several weeks and days reflecting on my previous experience and carried my School Reform Initiative protocol book with me wherever I went, including one evening at my local Jimmy Johns.

 

With a protocol picked out and rehearsed more times than I could count I was ready for my next meeting. This time I was ready to facilitate a conversation not lead by asking my question.

I am now a week removed from our leadership meeting where I used the “Ping-Pong Protocol” and I wanted to share what I learned about using protocols and about myself.

Protocols Allowed My Passion to Be Removed

Utilizing the Ping Pong Protocol allowed me to take a step back. In doing so, my level of involvement declined because I was not so emotionally invested. I was able to listen. I was able to understand. What I had previously taken on as personal failure, I was now able to hear objectively and as a true concern shared from a group of leaders who shared my passion.

Protocols Allowed the Voices to Be Heard

I had previously been the one to ask the question and it was not my question to ask. The first step in the Ping Pong Protocol was to have teacher share out their most pressing concerns. As teachers shared out, it became evident what “our” focus question needed to be. Not “my” focus question, but “our” focus question. By having an “our” instead of a “my” the me versus them potential was void and we were all working towards a common need. While we were not able to address all the questions that were raised, they were voiced, recorded and heard.

Protocols Allowed Conversation

Prior to using the protocol, the conversation was one way. I posed the question and the responses all came to me or what I felt was “at” me.  Using the Ping Pong Protocol, the responses were shared with one another and this was after teachers had the opportunity to reflect on how the question we were addressing specifically impacted them and their teams. It was through listening to the conversation my empathy increased, my level of understanding deepened and my emotional investment felt safe because the conversation was not “at me”. Rather it was with me.

The protocol did not end as I desired, but the time we spent discussing a shared concern was exponentially more productive than the previous month’s time together. More importantly, the feedback I received from some of the leaders who experienced the protocol was very positive. They expressed some reservations entering the meeting after the first conversation, but were pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the second meeting and the process they were able to go through.

You can only imagine how that feedback made this “principal who wants to everyone happy” feel.

I am in my seventh year as a principal and while there are things I know I do well, there are so many more I know I can improve upon. While my passion for serving our students and teachers continues to burn hot, I now know how to avoid the problem with passion. Utilizing protocols helps remove “my” passion or preconceived agenda from the conversation and allows “our” voices to unify and work together to find solutions to concerns “we” have.

Here is to continued growth in my passionate leadership.

 

Matt Arend is the principal of #SiglerNation or Sigler Elementary in Plano ISD. You can follow Sigler Elementary on Facebook and Twitter and follow Matt on Twitter @matthew_arend.

The “I” is for Innovation #IMMOOC

As an education leader, I recognize I am strengthened by the folks I choose to surround myself with. One of the folks that supports me as a person, friend, and colleague is the fabulous Assistant Principal of #SiglerNation, Mrs. Carrie Tracy. Below is the first of what I hope is many more collaborative posts. 

The month of October is here and that means two things; #IMMOOC is back and the campus improvement plan for Sigler Elementary is due soon. As the deadline draws near we find ourselves struggling to articulate the exact steps we will take as a staff to improve. It is not because we do not know what we need, rather we find the system of school improvement focused around a bottom line that is dictated by state testing and the improvement of a score. We are not naive. We get it. Ultimately the bottom line is what drives public school systems. We may not like it. We may not agree with it, but we better find a way to make it work for us, our staff and the students of #SiglerNation.

My first experience with a Site Based Improvement Committee was as an assistant principal seventeen years ago.  Back in the day it was called a Local School Council but the makeup of the committee and my perception toward it had not changed. Schools search high & low asking people to serve on the committee (we are still looking for two more parents to serve…you interested?).  Administrators try to create time to analyze multiple surveys/assessments & craft  goals aligned with the data while simultaneously doing school day in and day out. Teachers are asked to serve on a committee after  already giving an inordinate amount of hours towards instruction(thank you to all who said yes).  In my experience, what should have been a meaningful exchange between schools and the community ends up becoming  a task to check off the list.

Recently during a conversation with a Ashley Helms, a colleague of mine, I shared some of my thoughts with the campus improvement process and our up coming Site Based Improvement Committee (SBIC) Meeting. Ashley made one simple statement that changed my mindset and my approach to the improvement process. She said, “At #SiglerNation the “I” stands for Innovation.”

When Matt “voxered” me his conversation with Ashley….my initial internal response was,  “How can we possibly make an SBIC committee innovative? Does he remember the meeting is in 5 days and we are still writing out our plan?”  My response to Matt was, of course, much more optimistic! Having only worked with him a year, I already know once an idea gets percolating in his mind, we are moving forward full steam ahead….

Ashley’s statement stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a complete ah-ha moment. Our SBIC members are really members of our Site Based Innovation Committee. Simply saying it out loud and seeing it in writing infuses energy into wanting to make meaningful change we can all believe in. Replacing the word “improvement” with “innovation” reminds me of the following question George challenges us to understand, “How do we start to innovate inside the box?” If improvement plans are going to be required, how do we make them work for us? How do we find new and better ways to articulate our change within the confines of our requirements?

“A way of thinking that creates something new and better”

George uses this to definition to define innovation. If you think of this in terms of school improvement, it’s what we are seeking, right? We want to create new and better ways for educators to plan, collaborate, intervene and reflect on student learning. Sometimes the word, innovation, intimidates me. I think about  what something looks like at it’s very best and most perfect state and I want  to time travel to that space immediately.  But, maybe sometimes innovation is the  process of making something new and better. How can we innovate within the scope of our improvement plan to create something new and better? This question has stuck with me as I aim to complete ours and host our first meeting of the year later this week.

Updated Following our 1st SBIC Meeting…

For our first upcoming meeting we made some small changes in that direction.

Starbucks

All good thinking happens at Starbucks right? Matt and I created time on a Sunday afternoon where we could fully focus on the task at hand instead of carving out 10 minutes here and there within the school day. It allowed time for him to fully guide me through the process as it has changed substantially since I last wrote a plan in my past admin life. It also allowed us time to talk through what we were envisioning for the campus over the next couple of years.

 

 

 

Paperless

Guess what? We didn’t print out the plan.  We shared it ahead of time and asked everyone to bring their own devices.  We also had computers available but in full disclosure, I wasn’t able to figure out how to download the plan to the Chromebooks without staying logged in…sooo need to work through that little kink or have a few copies printed out.  I also would like to utilize the “comments” option within google docs to allow for an elevated level of participation.

 

 

Collaborative

We asked for 1 teacher, 1 parent, 1 parent/community member, 1 campus/district professional to sit together to ensure we had a diverse group at each table. We had some “getting to know you questions” at each table to help break the ice as each shared an elementary school memory.  Each group was asked to read through a specific goal which they would then share out to the larger group. My hope was the smaller groups would allow for more dialogue and investment in the action plan.

 

As I reflect on our first meeting, I feel good about making those small steps. In the past, we would have had teachers take turns sharing out components of the plan to the large group while stakeholders sat quietly listening but not engaging.  It was nice to look around the room and see community members asking questions and parents sharing their perspective based on their own experiences. There was a level of intimacy and energy in the room that I had not observed in past meetings.

As I think about our next meeting where we share how we are progressing on our goals, I have visions of taking the committee on a tour of the campus where they can experience some of the action steps we are working on or maybe having students come to the committee and share what the action steps look like from their perspective.  

This experience has taught me to never accept the status quo and assume there is no better way.  We must always push for innovation and sometimes that may be in small steps.  Matt & I work at very different speeds but I’m thankful for it.  I tend to have lots of ideas in my head but freeze at the action step in fear that it will fail or – if I’m completely honest – will be a lot of hard work.  Matt pushes me to take ideas and give them life.

We do not have all the answers yet. As we work through this school year with our plan to improve  innovate, We know if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got and “ain’t nobody got time for that”.

“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”.

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.

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