“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