Category Archives: Developing and Facilitating Leadership

Higher Expectations

I asked this question earlier on Twitter:

(Click on the tweet to see the responses as there are a lot!)

First of all, I do not think a sign will significantly prevent bullying, no matter the school. Do we really think a kid will see the sign and say, “I was totally going to bully today but because of that sign, I no longer will!”

I doubt it.

But that being said, it is the the thinking behind putting that sign up in the first place.  Do we seek kids to be complicit to the rules of school, or to empower them to do something amazing? This is not to say that any school that has signs similar to this are looking to stifle kids.  What I am saying is that in a system that has traditionally looked at compliance as a good thing, we have to be very explicit in our thinking in how we empower our students and look at them through the eyes of the positive, as opposed to assuming the negative.

Now people will say that this might be leading to the “babying” of our society, and make our kids soft.  I actually think it the opposite; the expectations are higher.  It is a lot easier to not bully, than it is to lead.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Shelley Wright:

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Are you asking kids to do something important, or simply not do something?

Higher Expectations

I asked this question earlier on Twitter:

(Click on the tweet to see the responses as there are a lot!)

First of all, I do not think a sign will significantly prevent bullying, no matter the school. Do we really think a kid will see the sign and say, “I was totally going to bully today but because of that sign, I no longer will!”

I doubt it.

But that being said, it is the the thinking behind putting that sign up in the first place.  Do we seek kids to be complicit to the rules of school, or to empower them to do something amazing? This is not to say that any school that has signs similar to this are looking to stifle kids.  What I am saying is that in a system that has traditionally looked at compliance as a good thing, we have to be very explicit in our thinking in how we empower our students and look at them through the eyes of the positive, as opposed to assuming the negative.

Now people will say that this might be leading to the “babying” of our society, and make our kids soft.  I actually think it the opposite; the expectations are higher.  It is a lot easier to not bully, than it is to lead.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Shelley Wright:

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.29.21 PM

Are you asking kids to do something important, or simply not do something?

Redefine the Role

pleasurePeople often say to me, “I don’t want to be a principal…The things you have to do are just not for me.”

My response immediately is, “You don’t have to do what the principal does now…you have the ability to create something new.”

I was reminded of this when I had a conversation with a good friend of mine going into a central office position.  Knowing that he is extremely driven by “what is best for kids”, I know the transition can be tough moving to a place where kids are not around all of the time. My advice was, “go to schools more often and spend more time with students.”

Redefine the role.

One of our biggest dilemmas in moving education forward is that we are creatures of experience. We often teach the way we taught, or recreate what our colleagues do.  Bruce Dixon said to a group that I was in once, “There is no other profession in the world that you watch someone do your job for 16 years before you go do it.”  This really shifted my thinking.

It is awesome to be inspired by the ideas of others, but you are not tied to them. No matter what you role is. focus on what is best for kids, and then decide how you get there. Don’t focus solely on what others do or have done.

It is your legacy, not theirs.

 

Learning is the Job

I encourage people to challenge me in my workshops, and share their frustrations and hurdles that they have to jump to get to the next level.

This one amazing lady shared this with me.

She said, “You know every time I learn something new in my work as a teacher, all of a sudden there is something else new. I get so frustrated because I feel I am always starting over again.”

First thing I said to her, was that I loved her for being so honest. A lot of people feel this, but not all people were open enough to say it.  After that, I told her that I wanted her to think about something.

“What would you say if a grade 2 student said, ‘you want me to learn all this grade 2 stuff just after I learned all of that grade 1 stuff last year?!?!?’  Would you let them off the hook?”

Her and I (and others) both laughed, yet she totally got the point.  A student moving from grade 2 to grade 3 is often excited, yet a teacher making the same transition does not always share the same enthusiasm.

What was amazing was that she openly acknowledged that the thing holding her back was her thinking. A beautiful first step to growth in my humble opinion.

If we think about, learning is the job. How can you effectively teach, if you can’t effectively learn? Yes we will always be inundated with information, and there will always be something new to learn, but let’s expect the same growth from our students that we would from ourselves.

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Leading Digital Innovation – A Podcast

This summer, I had the opportunity to speak to Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, and was lucky enough to get to do a podcast with Kerissa Bearce.  Take a listen below:

Here is one of the elements from the podcast that I talked about and hopefully it resonates.  Enjoy the podcast!

Fear

Somebody, somewhere, is doing the same thing you say you can’t do.

“This doesn’t fit within our infrastructure.”

Have you ever heard that from your IT department? This is a longer way of saying “no”.

Yet in our world today, with shifts happening faster than we can keep up with, this seems to be a response that is no longer acceptable.

For example, let’s say your IT department follows these four questions for making decisions for your organization:

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If we deem this learning as crucial for our students, the “won’t work for infrastructure” comment does not help us move forward. It is a dead end.

The best IT leaders provide options, not obstacles.  Sometimes it will cost you more money, more time, and an adjustment in our thinking and the way we do “business”, but it can always be done.  Again, it is our thinking that will help us move forward, not the technology.

As I always say, somebody, somewhere, is doing the same thing you say you can’t do; they are just finding a way.

Is a “Growth Mindset” Enough?

The world only cares about—and pays off on—what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). (2)

The quote above from a Thomas Friedman article on what Google looks for employees is one that has stuck with me.  It was a huge reason why I wrote “The Innovator’s Mindset” in the first place.

Yet this post was sparked by some conversations as well as this blog post by Adam Schoenbart comparing my book to E.D. Hirsch’s book from 1987, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know”.  Here is one of the passages from Adam’s blog:

Couros argues that “We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do” (p. 7), to which Hirsh would counter: “Our children can learn this information only by being taught it” (p. 14). What and how seem to be at odds in this dynamic. Hirsh’s views on the limited potential of students are definitely problematic, writing, “Left to itself, a child will not grow into a thriving creature” (p. 31). Really!?!

While Hirsh wants students to simply memorize 150-pages-or-so of definitive knowledge and ideas, Corous seeks to expand worldviews: “Innovation demands that our students learn the basics, but how we go about teaching them may look different than in years past. The basics are crucial, but they cannot be the only things we teach our students” (p. 163). What we teach our students is crucial to both authors as information is key in both texts.

Adam goes on to wonder what Hirsch’s viewpoints would be almost 30 years after this book where information is abundant:

Again for Hirsh, it’s about information first and foremost. With limited flexibility, he wants to tell America what to learn, to which Couros would likely respond: “You’ll learn that to truly empower people, there must be a shift from telling to listening” (p. 7). One can’t help but wonder how Hirsh’s views may have evolved in the new reality of technology and access to information.

Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” is one book that really pushed my thinking over the past few years.  The language we use when working with our students is crucial in how we help them develop.  In this post sharing 25 quotes from the book, here are some that stuck out to me:

Test scores and measures of achievement tell you where a student is, but they don’t tell you where a student could end up. – Carol Dweck

Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training. – Carol Dweck

Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard. – Carol Dweck

What did you learn today? What mistake did you make that taught you something? What did you try hard at today? – Carol Dweck

Although I am just sharing a bit of the book, these quotes scream “SCHOOL!” to me, not necessarily empowered learning.

Take the last quote shared in the group above.

What did you learn today? What mistake did you make that taught you something? What did you try hard at today? – Carol Dweck

What if it was changed to this?

What did you learn today? What ideas do you have moving forward because of what you learned? What will you create from this?

Both quotes are focused on learning, but in one case, the learning is extended.  This quote from “The Center for Accelerated Learning” shares the importance of creation for learning:

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So let’s go back to the title of this post; Is a “Growth Mindset” Enough?

My short answer (obviously) is no.  That doesn’t mean it is irrelevant, but I see it as more of a continuum.  Knowledge and information are crucial to creation; they are not separated.  But my hope is to go beyond kids being “good at school” and the learning that we decide is important for them.

It is about going further with learning, to help kids (and ourselves) become creators, inventors, and innovators.

A simple analogy to explain mindset from my book:

Let’s take the simple example of playing the piano to compare the two ideas. With a fixed mindset, the learner doesn’t believe he or she has the ability to play the piano. With a growth mindset, the learner believes that, with hard work and practice, the opportunity to play the piano is within the realm of his or her ability. That belief leads the learner to try and, ultimately, grow.

The innovator’s mindset takes the growth mindset a step further by focusing on using one’s ability to learn to play the piano to create music.

As I go to many sessions at conferences, I often wonder if the focus is on how to help student’s become strong at “school”, or to truly empower them as learners and creators.  Do we want students to learn math or be able to do things with the math they have learned?  As Friedman states, what we do with what we know is what will separate us today in a world where information is abundant.

Turning the Spotlight on the Audience

“So often our power lies not in ourselves, but in how we help others find their own strength.”

I happened across this article titled, “11 Ways To Instantly Connect With Anyone“, and although it is meant for more one-on-one interactions, there is a lot of wisdom in it that would tie into speaking or presentations.

The first point in the article was the following:

1. Leave a strong first impression. Most people decide whether or not they like you within the first seven seconds of meeting you. They then spend the rest of the conversation internally justifying their initial reaction. This may sound terrifying, but by knowing this, you can take advantage of it to connect with anyone.

Now from the perspective of a speaker, this is one piece of advice that I give to all presenters.  When you start your talk and all eyes are on you, turn the focus back onto the audience.  Simple things like acknowledging where you are and what you know about the area, or sharing something that you heard earlier at the conference or happened in the room.  Showing an awareness of who you are speaking to shows that you care that you are there.

Too often people jump right into the “talk” or presentation, where there first focus should be on building rapport.  This is no different than what you would do within the classroom, you just have a MUCH shorter time to do it.

Think about it…You are letting people know that you listen and care about them. Isn’t that a great start to any conversation?

(If you are interested in learning more on “becoming a better speaker”, I have been contemplating delivering a self-directed course on the topic over a 5 to 8 week period. If you are interested in this topic, I can send you more information when it is ready for release. Please feel free to share your contact details in this Google Form.)

“EdTech” is a Leadership Position

Spending a lot of time at technology conferences, one thing is evident; there are a ton of sessions on “stuff”.  As I write this post, people are scurrying around to find ways to connect “Pokemon Go” to the classroom.

Sessions like “100 tech tools in 60 minutes”, often dominate these conferences.  So many choices, yet so little time to implement.  We quickly move from one thing to the next, waiting for the next big thing.

Yet many of the participants in these same conferences have positions that are purposely meant to extend past the classroom.  “Tech leads” or “Director of Innovation”, etc., are common titles.

So when you look at those positions…they are much more than the “stuff”. They are about how to help other people move forward.

For every blog post or book you read on technology, you should (at minimum) read an equivalent amount on leadership.  “Cool tools” stay as “cool tools” if we do not think deeply about “why” we use them, and how others will see meaning in them.

So some quick thoughts on how to help others move forward with educational technology:

  1. Don’t just show people tools…discuss the thinking and learn to make a direct connection to deeper learning.
  2. Ask questions more than you give answers. Great leadership starts from where people are at, not where they want them to go.
  3. If you go to a conference, take time to reflect on any tools that you learn and think about where they fit into the bigger picture of your school’s mission or vision.  If you spend 60 minutes in a session learning about a tool, take 60 minutes in that day to think about how to get others to implement.
  4. Streamline…do less, better.  Don’t turn a teacher’s full plate into a full platter.

This quote is relevant.

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If you embrace the above, you will understand this is about a lot more than the “stuff”.

 

“Threshold Model of Collective Behaviour”

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As a basketball fan, I was fascinated listening to this podcast by Malcolm Gladwell (you can read the whole transcript here as well), discussing Wilt Chamberlain and his poor free throw shooting.  Wilt Chamberlain is known as one of the best players in NBA history, yet is also considered one of the worst free throw shooters to ever play the game.

Rick Barry though, a great player in his own right, was one of the best free throw shooters of all time.  The reason why Rick Barry is brought up though is not only because of how good of a free throw shooter he was, but because he was so good, doing it in a way that is so unique.  His technique was to throw the ball between his legs (which he says is a much more natural motion).  This is otherwise known as the “granny shot”.

Rick Barry shooting between the legs, or known in many basketball circles as "the granny shot".

Rick Barry shooting between the legs, or known in many basketball circles as “the granny shot”.

What I found fascinating about the podcast is that even though Wilt, and so many others, would have benefitted from this technique, the stigma that came with it, made them choose a way that was actually worse.  Gladwell references sociologist Mark Granovetter, and his idea of “Threshold Model of Collective Behaviour”.  He describes it as the following:

Now, what does Granovetter mean by that word, “threshold”? A belief is an internal thing. It’s a position we’ve taken in our head or in our heart.

But unlike beliefs, thresholds are external. They’re about peer pressure. Your threshold is the number of people who have to do something before you join in.

Granovetter makes two crucial arguments. The first is that thresholds and beliefs sometimes overlap. But a lot of the time, they don’t.

When your teenage son is driving 100 miles an hour at midnight with three of his friends in your Toyota Camry, it’s not because he believes that driving 100 miles per hour is a good idea. In that moment, his beliefs are irrelevant. His behaviour is guided by his threshold.

Ultimately, someone in education with a “low threshold”, is more open to going with the group, where as someone with a “high threshold”, is more likely to do it their own way.  I found this fascinating in connection with opposite ends of the spectrum in education.  The teacher that may be reluctant to go beyond “traditional” ways of teaching, while others around them might do the same.  But on the other end, someone who is more open to being extremely forward thinking in an environment that is steeped in traditional ways of thinking, might also have a high threshold.  What is important is to recognize the culture of the group, as well as the individual.

But the one part that really fascinated me about the podcast was an assertion that Gladwell made about Rick Barry’s inability to move others to do it his way, when it has been proven to work better than what you typically see in a basketball game.  In one word, it was Barry’s “likability”, or lack thereof.

And I’d read all that stuff about him– half the players disliked him, the other half hated him. And I kind of braced myself before I met him. But I liked him.

Or maybe it makes more sense to say, that I really admired him. Because I finally understood what someone like Rick Barry stands for. It’s perfectionism.

And what is a perfectionist? Someone who puts the responsibility of mastering the task at hand ahead of all social considerations, who would rather be right than liked. And how can you be good at something complex, how can you reach your potential if you don’t have a little bit of that inside you?

This idea is so crucial in terms of leadership.  There are people that I am sure we have encountered that are absolutely brilliant in the fields of education (or elsewhere), yet their ideas seem to take a long time for others to gravitate towards, because they seem to be more concerned with being “right” than being “liked”.  You are probably thinking of someone like that at this moment.  Now, doing the right thing can be hard sometimes and could make you enemies, but we have to realize the importance of building relationships in helping move people forward.

As an example, after speaking to a group where one of my good friends was in the audience, I asked him what he thought.  He shared that he really loved what I talked about, but the first 10 minutes I spent too much time sharing my own story.  What I told him is that he knew me well, and so he didn’t need that, but with the majority of the group meeting me for the first time, I needed that time to build rapport.  Simply put, people don’t buy what you are saying, until they buy you. That made sense to him.

In our pursuit to continuously push the importance of developing something much more powerful in  today’s classroom, we have to remember that relationships are crucial in helping move people forward.    Stephen Covey talks about this so eloquently in “The Speed of Trust”:

When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operated with high trust experience the opposite of a tax—a “dividend” that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions and to move with incredible speed. A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high-trust companies outperform low-trust companies by nearly 300 percent!”

If you want to move people to places of discomfort, we must realize that the time spent building those relationships should not be seen as an expenditure, but as a necessary investment.