Category Archives: education

The Message and the Messenger

With March Madness upon us, I have been really think about how much I miss being a part of the sport of basketball. Probably from the age of nine until only a few years ago, I either played, coached, or refereed, and loved every aspect. I still watch games all of the time, but being a part of the game was something that I loved and I learned a great deal from each opportunity that I apply in my life to this day.

One of the things that I was reminded of recently was how, as a referee, we would prepare for games.  We often talk about any concerns, but also the personalities of the coaches that we would be working with during the game.  I remember specifically one game where my partner had said, “The coach doesn’t say much, but if they do, they probably have a very valid concern.”  It kind of stopped me and I still think about that comment to this day in our every day dealings in education and leadership.  Each time I refereed that same coach and he said something, I listened intently, and to be honest, he was most often right.  He picked the times that it was appropriate to say something, and probably let the little things slide because he saw a bigger picture.

Yet on the opposite end of the spectrum were the coaches that would yell or try to talk to you the entire game. Eventually, their voice became like background noise, and it was hard to pick out when their concern was valid, or to think that they were just yelling again.

I think about the comparisons a lot between these two different types of coaches. The first one that would pick and choose those moments, was also someone you enjoyed talking to because you knew they weren’t looking for every advantage the entire game, and if they said something, you should have listened intently.  I think about this in my work when I try to create an environment where we can challenge one another to be better for our students, yet if all we do is challenge, and show no appreciation for the work that is happening, when does my voice simply become noise?  If we constantly talk about issues but never focus on the great things happen, I truly believe we either tune those people out, or become tuned out ourselves.

It is not only the “message” that we need to think about, but how we are as the messenger.  Both elements are important.

-The basic building block of good communications is the feeling that every human being is unique and of value.-

Why Your Best People Leave and Why That Can Be Okay

The best boss I had ever had was one that truly empowered me. That being said, no matter what she asked of me, I would not only do, but I would try to do well.  She was great at helping me not only become a leader, but also a loyal follower.  It is not about being one or another, but going back and forth between the roles.  This is for any position, whether you are a superintendent, or a student.  The best people in their jobs no when to get in front, of push from behind.

Yet I only stayed in that school for one year.  Why would I leave a position with an amazing boss after only one year?  Because she suggested and recommended me for a leadership position.

The old adage of “leaders develop leaders” was so true in her case.  So many people that worked on that same staff, have went on to other positions of leadership.  They developed these skills because of her leadership and left also, because of her leadership.

Yet the school was always great.  How can great people continuously and quickly leave a position, while the organization continues to grow?

If you truly think about it, would you want someone that is awesome for two years, or someone who is average for ten?  People gravitated towards her leadership because she knew (and knows) how to get the best out of people.  This in turns develops leaders that do the same thing.  Some people are still in that school not because they aren’t capable of going somewhere else, but because they choose to stay.  The nice thing is that there are options for each individual.

There are great people that leave bad bosses every day, but there are great people that leave great bosses as well. Do we get the best out of people that if they stay they will be great, but if they leave, you will see the same?

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How do you tell your story?

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This is something that I have heard several times in education…

“Standardized tests do not tell the story of what we do in education.”

But here are two things I think about that.

  1. If it isn’t the story, why do some schools that do really well on standardized tests really focus on making sure everyone knows that?  (This is not a statement but a legitimate question because I have noticed this more and more lately.)
  2. If that isn’t your story, then what is?  What are the ways that you share student learning in your school that goes beyond a number or letter?

I really believe that no standardized test could ever tell the story of what happens in a school, so it is more important than ever to make sure that we share that story with people around the world.  We should not only focus on bringing expertise into our schools, but sharing our expertise (of both educators and students) with the world. We have more ways to tell that compelling story but it is up to us to do so.

It can’t just be new…it has to be significantly better.

I have done presentations for years, and the ONLY software that I have used to design them is Keynote.  Google Presentations and PowerPoint both are used by many, but in my mind, they have some serious flaws in the design.  No matter how they are updated, I will not use them.

Yet, I do not use the latest version of Keynote. I use version 5.3, which is last dated to 2012.  Although I am sure the newest version of Keynote has some great aspects, I weigh the time I need to spend learning a new interface, versus what I will get in return.  No one has been able to show me why it is so much better.

The same thing with my iPhone.  I need someone to show why I need to go through the hassle of updating my latest iOs when I am pretty happy with what I have right now.  As someone who advocates for change, there are many ways that I am reluctant to it in my own life.

What I do understand is that change for the sake of change is not good enough.  There has to be proof on why it is better.  There has to be something that compels me to see that the change I am partaking in creates something that I could not do before without it.

All change takes time, and since time is the most valuable asset in the world, we need to prove that change will be an investment, not an expenditure.

This is why it is important to focus on why we do something, not just jump right in.  I am always reluctant to just show people stuff, unless I can make a compelling case on why their investment of their time is crucial.  If we can’t explain that, then why are we doing it in the first place?

The Relentless Pursuit of What Is Possible

“Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

“We need to move slow to go fast.”

These sayings and others like it, although well intentioned, sometimes are a disguise for own reluctance to move forward. I have heard these sayings coming from leaders that actions truly say, “we are not moving forward”.  This also relieves pressure on those that are reluctant to change.  We often choose to hear what works best for us at this moment.

Sometimes, relieving ourselves and others of pressure, also alleviates the need to embrace something new.  Pressure is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, when applied, it can sometimes create results that were not possible without it.

Whether you are a basketball fan or not, the success of the Golden State Warriors over the past few years has been amazing.  They came out of nowhere, and became a very strong team. Not satisfied with this and feeling stagnation, they actually relieved coach Mark Jackson of his coaching duties, and took another step forward to win the NBA championship last season. This year, they seemingly have created a narrative for themselves that people do not appreciate how good their team was, and they still have not lost a game.  They are playing better than ever yet they have seemingly created their own pressure.  Great organizations constantly set the bar out of their own reach.

If schools are true learning organizations, we need to embrace this constant push forward. This does not mean that we get rid of something we have done for a couple of years for what is new. Sometimes it means going deeper.  But if we do not have this relentless pursuit of what is possible, we will be stuck in the narrative of what was.

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Did we do that?

Talking to a group of students (probably around high school level), they shared that they believed “grades” in education were important.  Some of their thoughts were that it was an accurate assessment of where they were (and in some ways better than comments) and that it showed how they compared to others.

To be honest, these comments surprised me, so I asked them to dig deeper.  One student chose to share her voice, and courageously shared a story of how when she was younger, she struggled a great deal with literacy and numeracy, and that it bothered her.  Visibly upset, she continued by telling how seeing the grades that others had, motivated her to improve in those areas herself.  Her bravery and honesty were so commendable, that many thanked her for sharing her story.

After that moment, I could not stop thinking about her story. In some way, it made me feel that in some way because she wasn’t able to do the same thing as others at the same time, it might not have only motivated her, but could have also demoralized her.  Sometimes competition is something that drives people (I definitely have that side in myself), but at an early age, do we teach kids that if they are not good at the same things in school, they are less than others?  I have refrained from saying “our smartest students”, and have chosen to say, “our most academically successful students”, because there is a difference.  There are many of my peers that went to school that I may have done better than in school, but it doesn’t mean that I was smarter than them.

Student Erica Goldson shared this same thinking in her 2010 valedictorian speech:

I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

There are times when you are a kid, that you just wish you were an adult, and then you become an adult, and miss the days of being a kid.  What is scary is that the pressures of being a kid now, seem to be a lot different from when I grew up.  I hope that as educators, we can learn to communicate and convey to our students that although they might not have the same strengths or abilities as someone else, it doesn’t make them less.