Category Archives: john quincy adams

Fanning the Flame

I never wanted to be a teacher.

I loved school and enjoyed my time there, but my passion was always in sports and coaching. Teaching was a pathway to that love.  In fact, in one of my interviews, I was reluctantly hired because the principal thought I was more interested in coaching than I was teaching.

He was right.

And although I stopped coaching soon after, I started to referee basketball and that became a love for me.  Teaching was my job, but sports were my passion.

In my career now, I connect with people that had known they wanted to be a teacher early on in their childhood.  Their fire was sparked at an early age, but I was never that person.

But then you cross paths people that change your perspective, and some of the leaders that I have encountered in the last ten years or so, saw something in me that I never did.  They found a spark and fanned it into a flame, and gave me the tools to continue to let it burn.  This is why the topic of “leadership” is so important to me.  Those leaders are the reason I am writing today and more passionate about education than I have been any other field in my life.

Yet some of those same people that had that passion from an early age have lost it, and to be honest, it is because of leadership (or lack there of).  I never think that people intentionally try to kill a fire inside of us, but little things that they become unaware of, turn teaching into a “job” for some people, and it no longer becomes a “calling”.  Bottom line, it is a job.  But great leadership can make a job seem like something so much bigger.

So many blog posts and articles talk about “what’s missing” from education, and I rarely see this as an educator problem, but a lack of leadership.  Now if you are reading this and you are thinking “Yeah…my leaders have sucked my love of teaching away”, you need to understand that leadership is about influence, not position.  You can have that same influence on your colleagues, no matter what your job is.

The beautiful think about teaching is that our legacy is defined in what we give and empower others to do, not only in what we do ourselves.  If leadership is truly about how you influence others, isn’t every person in education, in some way, a leader?  Whether you influence kindergarten students, principals, or teachers, you could be the person that sparks and flames that fire in others.  You could also be the person that douses the flame.

As many educators in North America, look to recharge and learn over the summer, remember that you are, and can continue to be, the one that fans that flame in others.  Legacy as an educator and leader, will always be in what you give and empower in others.

fanning the flame

Empowerment Does Not Happen Without Ownership

“If your actions inspire others to dream more...-

Seth Godin shares a nice little story about a bookshop that focuses selling only children’s books, and is surprised when he asks for a popular book and the clerk has never heard of it.  Godin shares his thoughts on whether the clerk sees this as simply a job, or do we look for people that see their work as their passion?

It’s possible that he thinks his job is to be a clerk, to keep people from stealing things, to type letters into a computer and to read the results out loud as he stands at the cash register.

If that’s the case, this store, like all stores staffed by clerks who are taught to be merely clerks, is doomed.

On the other hand, it’s possible that his job is to take it personally, to be interested, to notice, to care, to add more value than a website can.

Who gets hired, how are they trained, where is the magic?

What happens when the boss cares enough to only hire, train and work with people who take it personally?

This story has a lot of connection to schools, and makes me think about the notion of “engagement versus empowerment”.

Let’s start off by looking at administration.

There is a great story I heard when I first did Covey leadership training years ago about a school that had struggled for years and just hired a new principal.  She looked around the school and noticed that it was not taken care of, so she had focused on simply making the place look a lot better so that people would take pride in where they worked.  Inspecting the place, she had looked into the boy’s bathroom and noticed that the floors were not very clean at all, and the custodian had remarked that it was from years of urine being soaked into the floor and that it couldn’t be cleaned up.  So what did she do?  She gets cleaning materials and gets on the floor and scrubs the whole thing by hand, until it is sparkling like new.  This story spread across the school and it showed leadership by example, and that she was willing to do the hard work and took ownership not only of the school, but what it was going to take to change the culture.  I am reminded of this little story every time I am in school with teachers and I notice there is garbage on the ground either inside or outside.  The educators that are very proud of their school that pick up the garbage themselves show that this is more than just a job, but a place that they take pride in and part of who they are.

Leaders don’t only model this, but they create a culture where their staff see themselves as part of a larger picture.  When I used to hire teachers, I would look at hiring staff that saw themselves as “school teachers” as opposed to “classroom teachers”. and one of the questions that I would ask is, “In what areas do you see yourself leading in the school community with other staff?”  Before people were hired, I wanted to show that their contributions were needed to make the school great beyond the classroom.  This is not just simply listening to their voice, but creating situations where people saw that their contributions were crucial to the success of the school as a whole.  If the principal would pick up the garbage in the school, would any teacher?  Is this where they work, or is this their school?  A lot of times people are hired that want to be more than a “clerk”, but leadership doesn’t provide the opportunities that encourage people to go above and beyond the job description.

Now let’s look at students.  Here is a question I ask educators all of the time.  How many times do you see the keys popped off a keyboard on a device that kid either owns or takes home every night?  This is such a little thing, but it shows the difference between giving a device to learn, as opposed to giving ownership of the device.  It is the same thing about when I shared how if we spend the majority of our time before school designing a room based on a theme that we like, before we even meet our students, it says that this is more about us than it is them. We can say “our classroom” as much as we like, but if you have a Harry Potter theme and there are students who have no interest in the book (and might not ever no matter how much you like it), it is yours, not “ours”.

If we want people to feel empowered, then releasing control and giving ownership is the only way this can truly happen.  If our culture says, “you can easily be replaced”, then why would someone go beyond the description of their role?  Finding and tapping into the genius of others, and giving them the space and freedom to be a major contributor to the environment is necessary if we want others to go above and beyond what is expected.