Everyone has a story….and what you can learn from it

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If you have ever listened to a podcast involving educators they typically invite the guest to share at the beginning a little about themselves. In short, the guest tells their story or journey.  Recently, as I was listening to a podcast and heard the guest share their story that involved challenges and how they worked to get to their current status. This reminded me that everyone has a story. However, most of us have never either had the chance to share our story or even thought about what you would share if we were asked to share it with others.

There is great value when you stop, reflect upon your past and share the joys, challenges and learning experiences of your journey. It is your story. When you have the opportunity to do this you remember the precious moments that became memories and the people that you have had the chance to learn and work with.  Furthermore, it helps to keep you grounded, stay true to your core beliefs and focused on what matters most.  

When I stopped and thought about what is my story, the following were my takeaways that resonated with me that have impacted my life as an educator and my journey.

My Story and the learning experiences from it…….

  • Who I am as a person is more important than the title of my position.
  • How I treat others makes a more significant impact than any email I will send or PD that I can ever lead.
  • My greatest successes were the result of collaborative teamwork with others. It was through our collective hard work and desire that we achieved great success.
  • There have been many setbacks, but with each one I learned the value of staying true to my core beliefs.
  • Growth has occurred because my passion to strive for excellence overcame setbacks and I was willing to give a little more, work a little harder. Growth has had as much to do with my attitude than my aptitude.
  •  Despite the long work hours and overwhelming amount of tasks, it is fairly simple – it is all about supporting others and helping them find success.
  • We all make mistakes despite our best efforts. Don’t be hard on yourself but rather use each day as a reset and focus on being the best version of yourself.
  • If you want to grow as a leader, don’t wait for others to come to you. Instead, recognize you can add value to any setting and if you want to grow then focus on intentional tasks to get you there. Your growth is your responsibility.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others but rather focus on you and are growing in your current role. If you maximize your opportunities in your current role then others will notice you.
  • Reflecting upon your experience is the key to growth. This allows you to stretch yourself, formalize your thinking and allows you to be open to new ideas that stimulate further opportunities.
  • Your legacy is more important than your resume. In other words, how you help develop others is more important than the accomplishments you put on paper. It is about people – always.

A single person can make a significant difference.  Everyone has the same opportunities in life. However, some people are content with the status quo, don’t take the time to reflect and are not willing to continually learn.  When you analyze your story, it helps you to remember the things you have accomplished, your setbacks and what you need to do to continue to grow as a leader.   It helps to make you humble and stay hungry for growth.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to growth. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your story. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards building excellence. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

Words to remember for Leaders

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During complex times keeping things simple and focused on the right work is most important. This is easier said than done.  There is no easy way, no secret but simply a focus and intentional efforts to stay true to your core beliefs.  How this is achieved may vary from one leader to another, but I have found that keeping in mind simple but powerful statements, quotes  and ideas resonate with me.  I think it is because they stir up emotion. Emotion drives my passion and keeps me humble to recognize I can always get better and hungry to learn.  Here are my perspective on Words to remember for Leaders and the key areas of leadership they represent.

Culture

  • Be the thermostat not the thermometer
  • It’s people, not programs, that make school great
  • “Confidence” is the most powerful thing a principal can give a teacher and a teacher can give a student
  • Shout praise, whisper criticism

Working with others

  • Better to Under promise and then over deliver
  • Raise the praise – minimize the criticize
  • 1 person cannot make a team, but 1 person can break a team
  • The conversation is the relationship

Leadership Growth

  • Don’t focus on change as much as you focus on growth
  • Leadership isn’t about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge – Simon Sinek
  • Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts – Einstein
  • You don’t have to be great to serve others, but you do have to serve others to be great
  • We shouldn’t expect kids to learn the way we teach, we should strive to teach the way they learn – David Geurin
  • Go slow to go fast
  • The difference between today and tomorrow is us
  • Never lose sense of passion, purpose or pride
  • Leaders train people well enough so they can leave but leaders treat them well so they don’t want to – Richard Branson

Core Beliefs

  • Be firm with your principles but flexible with your practices – David Geurin
  • You can never go wrong by doing the right thing – Mark Twain 
  • Educators are not in it for the income, they are in it for the outcome 
  • Lead from your feet, not your seat

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. How leaders maximize positive momentum for their work and their teams is through consistency and a focus.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. I am curious what statements or ideas resonate with you and help you to stay focused with intentional efforts.  This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

Creating a Culture of Collaborative Leadership

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Leading the work within a school is a significant opportunity and responsibility. It is a great opportunity as you can impact the lives of so many students and help set them up for success. Likewise, it is a big responsibility as you determine their current experience and impact potentially 3 generations including their parents, student themselves and potential children. The experience you provide for others as far as the skills, attitudes and beliefs and how that will lead them throughout life is the purpose of our work. When you reflect upon these words, it may seem daunting and overwhelming.  However, I believe this helps one to recognize the importance of Collaborative Leadership.  It is vital that leaders continually grow with their skill set, but to maximize their impact, leaders understand developing others through a culture of Collaborative Leadership has much greater return and stronger foundation over time.

Through my experiences of leading others and learning from other leaders, here are key components to creating a Culture of Collaborative Leadership and some practical examples of this in action in our school.

Create a culture of Trust to set the Vision

All work starts with people and ends with people.  It really is that simple. But the work of schools is most complex as we strive to create a forward thinking vision of teaching and learning for the school. This is best accomplished when leaders create trusting relationships.  Leaders create trust over time through their Character  (how we interact with others) and through their Competence (how well we do our job). Specifically, we must find ways to have consistent 1:1 interactions with our school community. I recognize the more opportunities I can interact with students, staff and families in small settings then I have a greater chance to help them feel cared for and valued.  Currently, our admin team creates “Motivational Monday videos” which are 1-2 minute video reflections that we share weekly with our students and families. We reflect upon our lives and share reflections that revolve around character but demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity. We developed this idea from the work of @Joe_Sanfelippo and his “1 minute walk to work”. We have found that our videos create regular opportunities for human interaction and help build relationships. Ultimately, we strive to create the conditions where people feel cared for, supported and nurtured. As the principal, I believe I can work on this daily and it starts by modeling the behaviors we want from others in my words, actions and attitudes. A Vision statement or mission statement truly are just words, but it is through how people interact with each other and treat each other that models the culture and vision of your school.

A focus on equity – how do you help ALL students, staff and families

Collaborative leadership at the heart means the “collective working together to get desired results”. For schools, the collective means ALL staff, ALL students and ALl families have opportunities to be heard, share ideas and be part of the work of the school community.  We have found the following ways most efficient and successful as a way to support this work:

  • Have feedback mechanisms in place on consistent basis

For our students, our admin team meets with students frequently through “feedback loops” where we have 3-4 questions and listen to our students. We then share the themes back with our staff to help plan our next steps of our school purpose.  For our staff, we strive to provide several points of feedback throughout the year either through 1:1 listening sessions, google forms or simply stopping by their rooms to chat.  Listening to those we serve is a priority for us.  For our parents/guardians, we use quarterly “Coffee with Principals” where anyone can come and share ideas, concerns and be part of our work.  Currently, we are getting ready to launch with our families a Book Study where staff and families will together read and discuss strategies and skills middle school students need to thrive.

  •  Set a vision for your school and reflect upon the work frequently

Our vision is focused on being student driven and centered on the needs of our learners.  Schools must constantly adapt to changing times and the COVID-19 Pandemic has resulted in even greater feedback from our school community to best meet their needs.

Build Capacity in Others to lead

As we lead the work of our school community, we have always focused on the importance of “growth”. In other words, as professionals we recognize that in order to strive for excellence we cannot focus on being perfect but rather being intentional with our efforts and try to get a little better each day.  Building the capacity of our people through a culture of collaboration and providing opportunities for them to be empowered is the most important work I can lead for our school.

For our teachers, we strive to have our Professional Learning teacher designed and teacher led as much as possible. We also incorporate a Genius Hour where they have choice upon their learning.  In recent years,we have shifted towards each staff member having a Personal Growth Plan which is simply where they describe the areas they want to grow in, the strategies they will work on and how that will impact our students and school goals.  This poster is displayed within their classrooms as we believe that being visible and intentional is a driving motivation for many.

We also recognized the importance of empowering our students so they develop as leaders and they can determine the type of school we have.  We do this through several student groups including  Eagle Ambassadors, Sources of Strength and Student Council. The work they lead includes running a Welcome 6th grade Eagle Camp, leading school tours, hosting parent events, working with elementary schools, leading SEL work with our students and providing input on administrative decisions.

As Principal, one of my core beliefs, is developing others and this also includes partnering with our parents.  We are so proud of the work our parents/guardians support our school with including our Parent Ed Camps that focus on SEL topics and mental health.  This allows our families to have a much greater understanding of how to support their child’s needs.  Each year we strive to meet the needs of our families at deeper levels, so this year we have created “Parent Liaison for new families” where our own parents work with new families to help them be connected and answer questions.

Evidence of impact

As we work with our school community, it is most essential to determine if our efforts are providing the growth towards the results we need.  We call this “evidence of impact”.  To determine if your strategies are working, you must use data and feedback from others and analyze this at regular intervals.  It is important  to use the right data. As Albert Einstein has said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, not everything that counts can be counted”.  We can collect lots of data but it is vital to analyze the quantitative and qualitative data to determine if the school is making progress. We do this through analyzing the academic skills of our students, how connected we are as a school community and listening to the needs of all stakeholders so we can pivot, adjust and be flexible with our practices. In our current pandemic with COVID, our work with our staff in the academic area has solely focused on enhancing our feedback to our students. We believe that feedback is the key to deeper learning and we measure this by how well our students demonstrate, create, and articulate the processes and skills of their classes.

A single person can make a significant difference.  But one person doesn’t make a team but one person can break a team.  Leaders must create the conditions of their school where collaborative leadership is the central point that all work revolves around.  The focus and work of the leaders do make a difference as they set the tone and influence a school’s culture.  As a leader I must adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon how you build Collaborative Leadership within your school. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards building excellence. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

Re-Imagining Leadership

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Each school year inevitably gets very busy in the fall as academics are in full swing, professional learning is occurring and there is an insurmountable amount of logistics to take care of.  Most important is building culture within the school environment and engaging families.  This year, despite my best efforts to stay positive and organized, it has seemed like the workload has increased to a level that I can no longer keep up with.  In fact, the stress of the job has had a significant impact upon my work life balance.  

As I strived to get back to a better version of myself, I recognized how I was leading had changed. Change in the sense of what my focus had been had shifted and this had allowed me to find time for professional growth, personal well being  and positional growth.  Here is how I re-imagined leadership:

  1. Focus on the things that I can control  

As a leader, we must prioritize our work and know what must be done now and what can wait (and what may not get done and that is ok).  This prioritization allowed me to focus on things  I can control and those that truly  make a difference …..supporting its people. In other words, I blocked out the negative posts and naysayers who constantly found what was wrong instead of trying to help find solutions.  Furthermore, when we think of “focusing on things we can control” that specifically includes the following:

  • Put others first and focus on the best in people
  • Empower others to help make a difference
  • Celebrate the successes of our work and embrace our failures
  • Make decisions on what is best for kids
  1. Communication must be adapted to meet the needs of all stakeholders.  This means the information I  share with students, staff and families must  be adapted to each group. For example, for our staff I have strived to build in many positive feedback methods or ways to help them feel valued. Specifically, I have tried to find more time for 1:1 conversation, written notes and ways to build them up. They need it and deserve it.  For Families, it includes providing listening sessions to hear their struggles and suggestions on how we can improve. For our students, the communication included making video clips to connect with our students while they were distance learning. Overall the adapted communication should be:
  • Concise 
  • Consistent and authentic
  • Connect back to the work of the school 
  • Provide platforms for feedback 
  1. School Community Engagement 

As leaders innovate ways to move schools forward, sometimes we forget one of the most essential ways is to involve the people outside of the building. In other words, it is important to build partnerships with the parents/school community and strive to make meaningful, trusting connections with the parents that you can partner with on behalf of the students.  To create this climate, leaders must provide the platform for parents and reasons for them to work/learn with you.  This rapport is developed one conversation at a time when you get the chance to listen to the parent and share your beliefs on how you want to help support their child.  Does this take time – most definitely; but creating trusting relationships with the parents is one of the most important things leaders can do.  This year I have incorporated many daily 1:1 Zoom calls with a parent and their child in an effort to help a struggling student.  It also has included Zoom sessions with all parents as a way to be transparent about our work. I have reminded myself the best way to develop parent engagement is by listening and then supporting them to help be part of the solution.

  1. Create Trust with those you serve 

Trust is developed by small interactions….relationships are built 1:1. The more opportunities I can interact with students, staff and families in small settings then I have a greater chance to help them feel valued. I have strived to create regular opportunities for human interaction that builds relationships by being more visible in classrooms, in car line and at student events.  I have also strived to create the conditions or environment where people feel cared for, supported and nurtured. This simply means to put people first – always.  Modeling the behaviors we want from others is the best way to set the tone in a school environment. How I respond with words, actions and my attitudes will reflect the mindset we set in our building.This will influence others in their actions and their actions will become habits over time.  Habits will become the culture of a building and this is how you build trust 

Leaders remove barriers and find ways to turn problems into opportunities. They set the tone and have the single greatest influence upon a school’s culture.  As a leader I tried to adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community during this pandemic.  This year is one where my leadership approach has had a”pivot”. I hope this adaptation will allow not only stronger leadership for those I serve but also for me to find a better work life balance and put people at the center of my decisions and time. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your prior experiences and recognize how you have adapted your work. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards building trust. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

Your Leadership “True North”

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I remembered the day before I began my first day as a Principal.  While I was excited, I was also very nervous and unsure about the journey I was about to begin.  I thought I was prepared but the more I thought about the “what if’s”, the more I recognized I was not entirely sure I had all the answers.  I wanted to help impact others and support their work on a broader scale beyond my single classroom that I had as a teacher. I knew that also meant my responsibilities were also much greater too. Those memories seem very distant now…but at the same time I feel similar emotions as we embark further into this school year.   The impact of COVID-19, social justice, budget shortfalls, staffing challenges all make this year similar in many ways.  Despite my best efforts to be ready for this year, I know I will not have all the answers. I also know that as a building leader, there is an immense amount of responsibility upon my shoulders as we must keep our students and staff safe while providing high quality learning experiences – all during a pandemic.  The expectations from those outside our building are in many cases unrealistic due to the many challenges and new practices that must be implemented this year.  As I was thinking about this year, I was reminded of the importance of Blazing my own trail as a leader as there is no principal manual for COVID so I will do my best to lead our school community through this year and grow in the process.

The areas below are 5 areas from my perspective that I must incorporate into our work and keep as my “True North” to help keep my purpose right in front of me.  These 5 areas are what all leaders consistently do within their work. These include:

Challenge the status Quo – It is important to remember that teachers will only take risks when the principal takes risks.  From my perspective, challenging the status quo means simply you “try new strategies in a pursuit of an unknown better”. In other words, you are not striving for perfection but rather learning through the process as the focus is on growth. This year is different and if schools will be successful it is because they had teachers who were willing to adapt, pivot and try something new. This can be best achieved as leaders keep the following in mind:

  • Importance of having “worthy rivals”.  This is not referring to other leaders who you try to beat our outdo, but rather your professional learning network (PLN) that supports you, helps motivate and provides honest feedback. They can be a springboard for new ideas.
  • People outside of your school rely upon communication for their perspectives, so consider what within communication can you innovate this year to connect with families and showcase the positives from your school.  
  • Don’t settle for “it’s working” when it can become what attracts great teacher leaders to your community and motivates them to stay and grow within their profession.  At the same time, what makes students excited to come to school?
  • As a starting point, help your staff remember their “why” as that will give them the courage to lead and try new things.

Inspire a shared Vision – This year has so many variables and so much new information.  Teachers and your staff may get overwhelmed. It is important that leaders help their staff members remember their purpose and that together we can accomplish anything.  This can be achieved by:

  • Always focusing on relationships first.
  • Build culture every minute, every day.  This is done through simple conversations and in many cases, listening and being empathetic.
  • Use stories as a way to connect staff together so there is a common shared understanding of the work.  
  • Bring it back to the kids.  
  • Leaders must be a filter. There is so much information thrown at leaders that then is supposed to be shared with teachers. Their key is to only share with staff the key information they must know so their plates don’t get too full.  Keep it simple for teachers so they recognize it is about making connections to students and making learning personal and authentic.
  • Communicate to your school community in an authentic way, effectively and efficiently. This is achieved by using consistent messaging , being simple and straightforward. It is also important to be genuine and use multi modal means of communication.

Empower others to act – Leaders must recognize our key role is to help Influence others and develop your team.   This is achieved by investing time with them so you get to know each person and what motivates them.  This allows you to Inspire them to try new approaches and rekindle their “why” they became an educator.  It is also important to seek their input as not only will that allow you greater perspective but also to avoid your own personal blindspots.  It is also important not to rely on the same teacher leaders for everything – find ways to incorporate different people and give them opportunities to contribute.  As leaders, find ways to get your staff excited about what they can accomplish if they work together and then get out of their way and let them do their magic.  

Model the Change – The greatest factor that causes change within a school is when a leader models the change.  People respect a leader by their Competence (which is how well they do their job) and their Character (which is how they do their job).  It takes more than 1 conversation to influence change, it takes repeated efforts that demonstrate consistency, common purpose and resilience. Leaders must remember their words and actions can inspire others and we should never forget that a 30 second hallway conversation may be the important part of a teacher’s day.  In addition, when leaders take responsibility for their professional growth, the teachers notice and that inspires them to also take advantage of opportunities to grow and learn together. Learning becomes the culture of a staff where the principal is a lead learner.

Enlarge the Heart – Culture is the most important thing in a school. This is true every year but this year – the culture of great schools is the factor that will allow schools to find success in the most challenging of times. Leaders must focus more on experiences for staff and help them to remember why they do what they do. Educators don’t get burned out because they don’t want to work hard, they get burned out because they forget why they do the work. We cannot just tell our staff we value them – we must show them. The little things (ex. Handwritten notes, stopping by their room during their plan to check in on them, giving them grace when they make mistakes) go a long way to strengthening a culture. 

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. Leaders must keep common principles in front of them so they can focus on their worth daily.  The areas mentioned above will help leaders navigate through the storm of COVID-19 impact to help their school have a great year.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth by keeping your “True North” as your focal point. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

Navigating through the storm

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Years ago we were on a family vacation driving late at night on a remote highway in an unfamiliar area.  To make matters worse, a driving rainstorm occurred that made driving hazardous.  There were many times we considered pulling over on the side of the road but the shoulders of the road were too narrow and there was traffic behind us that made us keep going.  The drive that night ended safely as we reached our destination but it was very stressful and we had many different emotions.

As I think about this school year, there are some comparisons to that night that I remember that give me similar emotions as we encounter COVID-19 and the impact as we planned to start school. Our school year has finally begun and despite some challenges, we collectively pulled together for a great start to our school year. But we started in Distance Learning and now we prepare to switch to a new format of Hybrid Learning.  This new format will bring a new wave of emotions and challenges that we will need to navigate through to find success.  This blog post highlights how leadership responds to challenges and allows schools to navigate through the storm to find success for students, staff and families.  Here are some areas leaders can use to “Navigate through the storm.”

Remember your “WHY”

I have learned not to get caught up in the never ending workload, stress, external demands upon our time and frustrations that dominate our thoughts. Yes, hard work is needed and there are times I get frustrated. However, I strive to focus on the right work which is helping others feel valued and supporting their work.   It’s important to continue to make positive connections, challenge the status quo and communicate effectively to all stakeholders.  If you make decisions from your “why” and use your core principles to guide your behaviors, then you will be supporting efforts to help others which is our purpose.

Firm with your Principles, Flexible with your Practices

For educators this year is constant change. We are not used to that but due to ever changing health guidance, COVID cases changing and supporting teachers for various types of learning formats, many of our “normal” methods may not serve our staff and students the best.  Leaders must know what their principles are and what they stand for. We must also be willing to adjust how those principles are carried out to best serve the school community. My principles for our school community are relationships and communication. Both of these principles are still a focus this year. However, I must be willing to innovate ways to make connections with students/staff and effectively communicate to staff and parents that is clear, consistent and use multimodal formats. The phrase “Be Firm with your Principles, but Flexible with your Practices” is from education leader @DavidGeurin and it helps me to remember our purpose can remain the same but can be carried out differently for a situation. 

Mindset 

As a leader, you must be comfortable with criticism that others will launch at you.  The key is to focus on your “mindset” and continue to be positive and build  your school’s culture. During turbulent times, people will look to their leaders for guidance, how to respond and reassurance that everything will be okay. Leaders recognize the importance of being authentic with staff and students but also being the calm, steady leader at the helm of the school ship.

Reflection 

When you are in tough moments not all plans will work. Some plans will need to be adjusted and others will fail. What won’t fail are people. Leaders must remember the value of working with their stakeholders to help make decisions and when things are most challenging, seek feedback and reflect upon the work so necessary adjustments can happen if needed.  When you reflect with others, it allows you to see your blindspots and potential areas that may mis-guide the important work of your school.

Serve – Lead – Inspire

As a leader, we must transfer our passion, optimism and beliefs to those we work with.  It is so important to show your team how much you care, even more so during challenging times. Smile – have fun- show kindness and positivity you want in your school.  View challenges that do arise as opportunities to grow and make a positive impact in that situation.  As educators, we went into teaching and working with kids to make a difference.  The true difference is not made when things are easy but rather when there is a difficult situation. A person’s enthusiasm attracts more leaders and energizes them to perform their best for students.  

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. However, like any year I will make mistakes. You cannot lead without making mistakes.  The importance is not that you make mistakes but what you learn from your mistakes. The areas mentioned above will help leaders navigate through the storm of COVID-19 impact to help their school have a great year.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

The Power of Momentum

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The initial focus for school leaders and educators this year is on “starting the first 4 weeks successfully”. This could be in Remote learning, Hybrid or In person as educators deal with technology platforms, safety measures and much more.  But as schools move past the initial start of the year, the question becomes how do schools build on initial success and pave the way for a successful school year.  This blog post focuses on how educators and leaders must understand the importance of momentum and how that form of energy and emotion can not only sustain a school community but propel it forward for an outstanding school year.

Momentum is a complex process. Here are some conceptual ideas that provide a deeper understanding of what educators can do so their leadership maximizes momentum within their work.

  • Leaders build momentum because they have a clear focus. This focus allows the many decisions leaders must make to align with their core values and principles.  When we get busy or stressed is when this focus is most important. Without a clear picture of your purpose and focus , your actions may not align with the right work.  Keep in mind that  “We don’t get tired because of our work – we get burned out because we forget why we do it”
  • When you focus on the past, it breaks momentum; when you focus on your future it builds momentum. All schools will have setbacks but they will also have many more successes.  Leaders must help their staff, who in turn will help students, to keep the  work moving forward on “how can we work together” and “collectively what can be accomplished”.  If you think about a sports analogy, people who lose yearn for the past get stuck there. However, people who improve are those who learn from the past and let go of it so they can focus on what they can become.
  • You build momentum by getting people to work together. Educators go into this field of work for human interaction and the opportunities to help others. Leaders must capitalize upon this by finding ways to connect with each staff member and unite that mindset to accomplish common tasks.  When people work together, they can accomplish anything and overcome any obstacle.  Keep in mind that Momentum is broken when people work separately in isolation.  Collective efficacy is when educators are at their best.
  • During a change process, a leader’s effort and attitudes by how they model their work is the tipping point.  Leading schools is complex work and stressful work.  This puts any individual in situations where complex decisions must be made.   If the leader is critical of others they break momentum. But if the leader is authentic, shares vulnerability then it connects with others and unites the team.  Leaders can be positive and caring while still being respected. Leaders can also be demanding without demeaning others, lead with optimism and inspire others by connecting to the “why”for people through stories and experiences 

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. However, like any year I will make mistakes. You cannot lead without making mistakes.  The importance is not that you make mistakes but what you learn from your mistakes in the form of growth experiences.  How leaders maximize positive momentum for their work and teams then it puts their schools in a position of success.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

How do you create trust in uncertain times

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Has there ever been a more challenging time in schools?  Or even our country?  As I thought about those questions I recognize that not only are educators unsure about the upcoming year, so are the students and families we serve. So how do leaders put plans in place that allow educators to feel supported and safe, families to feel comforted and students a sense of normalcy. I believe it is the trust that leaders must have within their school community. 

Trust is an interesting concept. It is hard to develop trust from others as it takes time and involves many components. However,  you can quickly lose trust from others by poor decisions or practices that don’t put priorities at the center point.  As I reflected upon how can I continue to build trust in the staff I serve, the parents I partner with and the students I strive to empower – the following actionable steps came to mind:

  • Trust is developed by small interactions….relationships are built 1:1. The more opportunities I can develop to interact with students, staff and families in small settings then I have a greater chance to help them feel genuine and valued.
  • Create regular opportunities for human interaction that builds relationships. During this COVID-19 challenge, those interactions may be through virtual means like Zoom, Flipgrid but also by phone calls.  The chance to dialogue and help people feel listened to is a priority.
  • Create the conditions or environment where people feel cared for, supported and nurtured. This simply means to put people first – always.
  • Modeling the behaviors we want from others is the best way to set the tone in a school environment. How I respond with words, actions and my attitudes will reflect the mindset we set in our building.This will influence others in their actions and their actions will become habits over time.  Habits will become the culture of a building and this is how you build trust 
  • Develop a common vision and purpose with your school community.  This allows everyone to focus on the same work, support each other in their efforts and focus more as a team compared to a collection of individuals.
  • Be Vulnerable and Authentic with staff and families.  There are times that our school community forgets that leaders are people too. We have our own personal families, we need feedback, we strive for improvement yet desire validation too.  When we admit mistakes to others but confirm our purpose is to help their kids; staff and families will understand and give us grace.  Leaders recognize that our mistakes don’t define us but rather refine us.

Leaders remove barriers and find ways to turn problems into opportunities. They set the tone and have the single greatest influence upon a school’s culture.  As a leader I must adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your prior experiences as you planned for the coming school year. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards building trust. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

The Variable that separates Good vs. Great schools

The 2020-21 school year has started for some educators and will start soon for others. Make no doubt about it, the 20-21 school year is one that we will all remember. But HOW we remember it and for what reasons may be much different based upon every educator and the school community they work with.  From my perspective, the variable that is different in any school and the one that will determine how schools navigate through this year are the PEOPLE.  

The foundation of a great school are the people;  the key is how do leaders galvanize staff to come together to create amazing experiences during this school year. Together educators can accomplish anything. While there may be things we cannot predict that will happen this year, we do know that our collective resolve, resilience and focus on supporting each other is what matters most. It will be important to focus on what we can control which is our mindset, attitudes, actions and behaviors.

How can leaders create these conditions? From my perspective there are 3 areas to focus on for the right work which will lead to a high quality culture that can overcome any obstacle to provide great experiences for kids.  These are

  1. Safety and well being
  2. Share vulnerability 
  3. Purpose 

Safety and well being

There are many individuals who have concerns or anxiety about their work in the upcoming school year. This does not have to do with their passion for helping kids but rather getting to the point where they feel like their health is the top priority of school leaders and they are cared for.  Until that happens, unfortunately very few people could perform at a high level where they could solely focus on supporting others. Leaders must place safety and well being for staff and students at the top of priority list every year.  If staff feel like they are cared for then they will be valued and have a sense of belonging. This year that means leaders being transparent with staff about what decisions ultimately need to be made, giving staff a voice and feedback in the reopening plans and then listening to them along the way so adjustments can be implemented as needed. It is probably true that some of the plans for any school will fail or have to be adjusted. What won’t fail are people who share a common vested interest.

Share Vulnerability

Leaders can connect with their staff by being honest, authentic and displaying vulnerability. “It is okay not to be okay”.  That phrase is one that symbolizes how I feel but I recognize that our district has its people at the top of its needs so I recognize that I must focus on ensuring I know what I and everyone must do to be safe by our district standards.  Sharing with staff that I will need them to help me and likewise, that I need to be there to help them, places a high value on collective efficacy. Leaders must admit that they don’t have all the answers, but “the smartest person in the room is the room”. In other words, leaders that involve others in their decision making process empowers everyone to be rowing the boat in the same direction. When leaders share this type of message with staff, it helps everyone to know that we will not only get through this but actually develop a stronger sense of culture as a result.

Purpose 

The first 4-6 weeks of this year should solely focus on safe return to school for staff/students and connecting with each other to create strong relationships.  This will lay the foundation for the rest of the year.  Leaders may want to remind staff of the school goals at different points in the year and the work that revolves around it, but if people don’t feel connected and safe the amount of growth will be limited.  Leaders must place a consistent and high value on helping others feel supported, cared for and value their contributions to their school. This involves feedback mechanisms and strategies to support individual needs.  If this is achieved by leaders then any school goal can be met as staff and students feel connected and a shared purpose.

The  best way to improve a school is to improve its people. Typically I would say this is done by quality PD, empowering staff and hiring the best people who enhance your culture when there is an opening. This is still true. However, for this year leaders must focus first on safety and well being, be vulnerable as a leader and help everyone find their purpose as an individual and as a school community.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

How failures help build success

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Several years ago when I first started listening to education podcasts, I remember George Couros sharing the importance of learning from our mistakes.  That message resonated with me and drove my thinking to a different level. At that time, I had been a teacher leader and just finished several years as an assistant principal. In fact, I was about to begin  as a principal of a building that needed an infusion of culture, a realigned focus on relationships and a deeper meaning of teaching/learning.  I used that podcast to help me think of my failures as an educator.  First I must share that when I think of the word “failures” I think of experiences that provided an opportunity for growth that at the time was not met with full success but later provided a reflection opportunity. I also decided it wasn’t enough just to reflect upon “failures'” but to also write them down on paper. But why would I record the mistakes or failures?  First note that an individual can only recognize one’s actions as mistakes or failures if they are doing deep reflection. As a result, I wanted this reflection to be more impactful so I recorded a learning lesson from each failure so that experience would help refine my leadership skills and journey over time. I came to recognize that my failures “didn’t define me but would refine me.” I hope that over my 14 years now as an administrator that I am a better leader, more well rounded person and operate from a core set of beliefs. In the end, I believe this allows me to better serve the students and staff that I work with.

Below a few examples of “my failures” and the lessons that I learned from those experiences.

  1. Failure – Early in my administrative career I thought I had to act and behave a certain way as an administrator.  At times, I tried to be someone that I was not. As a result, the deep connections and relationships were limited as I was not my true self.

Lesson Learned – Be you and your authentic self and just focus each day on being your best version of yourself.  Believe in yourself and the attributes that you have to make a difference.

  1. Failure – As an administrator in my first job I strived to help the teachers and staff that I served. This included notes of praise, professional development, feedback and overall support. As a result, I thought I would receive similar PD  for me as a building administrator. I learned over time that despite the best efforts of others, the quality and quantity of PD, feedback and professional drive that I was seeking was different than I expected. 

Lesson Learned – If you want to grow as a leader, don’t wait for others to help you.  Your growth is your responsibility.  This helped me to form my PLN and eventually led to my SM use and blogging as a way to connect with other educators.

  1. Failure – I am fortunate that I work in a wonderful district with good people who focus on the right things.  There are many talented leaders and educators. There have been times when other administrators or leaders have received recognition and praise for the same work that I have done. I would not be honest if I didn’t share that I felt a sense of disappointment and frustration as I too wanted to be valued for my contributions. I thought I had worked hard too and so I also had hoped for a sense of accomplishment or validation.

Lesson Learned – I recognized that I cannot compare myself to others as I am not aware of all the factors in their journey. I should be happy for them and their accomplishments and at the same time, stay focused on doing the right work and that will lead to the real award – influencing and developing others as leaders. Over time I have learned that the most impactful and level 5 leaders are the quiet ones. They don’t seek applause or recognition as their focus is on helping others to grow and develop as leaders.  They focus on their legacy not building their resume.

  1. Failure –  During my years as a teacher leader I was excited about what administrative areas I would have if I had the chance to be an administrator. Early in my administrative journey one of the areas I was in charge of was Maintenance. When I was told Maintenance was one of my key areas, I was disappointed beyond words. Looking back, I missed the mark as every part of the school is important and plays a role upon teaching and learning. I was just never told the “why” it was so important so I did not see the value in it.

Lesson Learned – I recognized there is value in every opportunity for growth and impact.  When you work with people, take advantage of each experience to treat them with respect, value their efforts and do the best you can with what you have.  Everything plays a role within a school that can lead to an improved culture and the importance is how can you innovate or find ways to make it better.

  1. Failure – As an administrator I have had multiple opportunities to interact with families and parents regarding their children. Some of these conversations have been tense and tough conversations. At first I tried to find ways to lessen this interaction as I would send an email rather than make a phone call or invite them in for a conversation.  While the end result was achieved, I now recognized I missed some chances to make a deeper impact.

Lesson Learned – I now recognize the families and parents/guardians I serve as a leader are a true partner in our school experience. I should try to work with them, not against them, when it comes to tough conversations.  It is never easy to tell a parent their child is in trouble or made mistakes. However, when you take the time to share the purpose, listen, validate their feelings and share how I care for their child to develop as a leader with strong character then greater trust can be developed.  I now recognize these tough conversations are the relationships that truly make schools great.

The journal of my failures and learned leadership lessons has taught me great lessons on how to be an effective leader.  It comes by taking time to reflect and think at deep levels using your core beliefs to help guide your growth.  I now recognize these themes from my failures help build success by the following:

  • I can be a leader and still ask for help
  • I can be confident and still have doubt
  • I can expect excellence and still be empathetic
  • I can be direct and still be kind
  • I can work with urgency and still be patient
  • I can be strong and still be vulnerable
  • I can lead but let other take the ownership of the work 
  • I can make a greater impact by working together and going slow instead of working alone and going fase.

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. However, like any year I will make mistakes. You cannot lead without making mistakes.  The importance is not that you make mistakes but what you learn from your mistakes in the form of growth experiences.  The journal that I keep on my failures has been pivotal upon my growth as it allows me to sharpen my skills and focus as a leader. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve