How do you respond to Challenges?

As we enter spring, the workload for educators seems to increase and for good reason.  The spring season is full of standardized testing and year-end activities within schools.  Many educators are also busy planning for the upcoming school year (ex. budgets, master schedule, events etc..)while still working in the current year.  In addition, it seems that spring is when everyone is just a little more tired, less willing to be patient and kindness is less apparent in our daily world.  This all leads to the question……..”How do you respond to challenges”?

As I reflect upon my work through the years, the springtime in schools has its own pace.  I have also 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 choose to focus on different thoughts that allow me to focus on students, continue to make positive connections with staff, challenge the status quo to make the school better and help others end their year in the best way possible.  What are these thoughts you may wonder.  I cannot take credit for them, as they simply are a collection of ideas I have learned from others.  However, for me, they have been so important and allow me to respond to challenges in the following ways:

 

  • 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 challenge the status quo as it relates to building your school’s culture and moving it forward for students.
  • Reflection – Find some moments and analyze what has worked this past year and what has not worked. This reflection will re-energize your mind/body and allow you to remember “your why” as you realize that there are so many more positives than negatives that occurred during the school year.
  • Seize the Moment – 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. Working through the difficult situations provides greater insight into your work and stimulates ideas about what is working and what needs to be adjusted.
  • 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.
  • Be the Model – As Jon Gordon shared in his book “The Energy Bus”, it is important to fuel your ride with positive energy; so in other words leaders are responsible for creating the positive, fun and welcoming environment that so many educators seek in spring. A person’s enthusiasm attracts more leaders and energizes them to perform their best for students.

 

In summary, during this busy spring season, I hope you find time to discover they ways you not only survive during the spring season, but thrive as a leader.  How we work with others needs to have enthusiasm, empathy for others and empower others to take part in developing the culture.  As a leader, I remind myself that I must:

 

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

 

I look forward to hearing from you about your thoughts related to how you thrive during the busy spring season.  Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

What is the most important thing?

 

Through my years as an educator, I have always enjoyed learning about new trends and ideas/strategies to help me improve. Over this time, I have asked myself this important question – “What is the most important thing a leader should do to impart positive change within a school”.  As an administrator, I have researched this topic so much as I strongly want to learn what I should be doing to help my school, staff, students and parent community.  The various books, blogs, twitter chats have shared different perspectives. While all are valuable, they all have some differences but they also come back to one common theme – CULTURE.  As a result, here is my lead learner perspective on the ways a leader can develop culture within their learning environment

It is all about people

As an educator, I have been in many different buildings during my time and have always strived to build strong connections and relationships. After some success but also failed attempts to create relationships to impact culture, I have come to realize that it is important to focus not on “changing someone” to fit a certain desired culture but focusing on the “growth” of the staff member. This simply means that instead of focusing on what someone “didn’t have” as far as strengths, I now focus on “what skills they do have” and help them to excel in those areas. This has led me to the concept of finding value in each staff member and finding ways how that person can contribute to our culture.  I believe that single greatest indicator about the health of a school is the quality of the relationships of the people within it.

 

How to create that relationship

It is a true challenge to find the time to get around to every staff member and create these relationships.  I have learned that it is not the quantity of interactions with staff members that create the relationship but rather the quality of those interactions.  As Susan Scott wrote in her book “Fierce Conversations”, the

“The conversation is the relationship”. I admit when I first read that idea I was unsure of how relatable that would be to culture. However, I have found that when I have been visiting with staff members about an issue that the conversation (done correctly) does lead to greater understanding from everyone involved which in turn creates a stronger relationship. This requires during these conversations I must:

  • Be present in the conversation (ex. do not look at the clock) and keep my eye and attention on that person and topic.
  • See the topic from their perspective.
  • Provide praise (if appropriate) to the staff member in an authentic way with specific examples and give immediate feedback.

As I have transitioned into more than one building, I have reminded myself that when we are talking about building relationships, “It is better to go slow and build relationships built on trust then go faster towards creating a culture without the relationships in place.” It takes time to get to know people, but we must “know people to grow people” as it relates to our culture.

 

Leaders set the tone

I do believe that leaders include everyone within an organization, not just the administrators. However, it is also true that its human nature for people to notice what the “leaders” are doing.  As a result, I remind myself that if it is important to build culture then I should:

  • Model the behaviors that what we want in the building.
  • Show that it is okay to make mistakes and admit when I am wrong.
  • “Be the thermostat not the thermometer” – in other words it is important to be consistent, calm and purposeful with our work.
  • Empower others to lead and give them chances to grow within our culture,
  • Take care of the staff and show how much I appreciate their efforts. As Simon Sinek points out that “Yes, we want to develop leaders and from that we know that someday they may leave for greater leadership opportunities but it is also true that you should treat them so well that they do not want to leave”. Very well said!

 

Create learner centered learning environments

To help create our schools that are future focused and developing students with skills so they can be successful in any career, then as leaders we must:

  • Develop capacity within others to lead our schools (shared leadership)
  • Use the approach of “fail forward” and give teachers permission to try new strategies or lessons that create higher engagement and skill development.
  • Get parents involved in our work so they have a better understanding of our purpose.
  • Most importantly, as Jimmy Casas shares in his book Culturize the leaders must “be a merchant of hope” for students. When I read that line I thought it was so important for leaders to create meaningful ways for staff to remember the “why” they went into teaching and how they do influence kids on a daily basis.

 

Communication is the key

  • As I reflect over the years, I have been disappointed in myself at specific times, as I did not provide the correct type of communication for a particular situation. This has allowed me to remember that every action I take (ex. every interaction, every decision and every expression on my face, tone in my voice and body language) conveys my thoughts/emotions to a person. These interactions earn trust or erodes trust and it is up to me to communicate effectively.
  • When I interact with a staff member about an issue, I remind myself of the phrase “Asking good questions will inform us but asking great questions transform the relationship”. I have found that it is best to have Face/face interactions and if not possible then a phone call.

 

In summary, I try to remind myself that developing the culture is the most important thing every school leader should always be working on. Every day, Every Year. This work takes passion-persistence-patience…..”Rome was not built in a day.” How we work with others needs to have enthusiasm, empathy for others and empower others to take part in developing the culture.  As a leader, I remind myself that I must:

 

Learn

  Engage

    Adapt

       Delegate

         Empower

           Reflect

             Serve

 

I look forward to hearing from you about your thoughts related to Culture and is it the most important thing in a school.  Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

 

Lead Learner Perspectives – What is Life Long Learning ?

We continually hear the phrase “lifelong learning” but what does that really mean for educators? That is a question that I have asked myself over the course of my career on many occasions during times when I felt like I was making an impact but also when there were struggles. During these moments, I have come to some conclusions from my perspective that I want to share with you. Life Long learning – a simple phrase that I hope is more than a tag line used in conversation or interview answers. To help understand this phrase I will attempt to share what it means to me and how does that actually look in an educator’s daily and busy life.

What does it mean?

In my years in education, the landscape of teaching/learning has definitely changed, yet alone school leadership. Gone are the days when the instructional model consisted of teachers lecturing the entire hour and giving book problems and worksheets as daily homework. While there still should be some teacher lecture in classrooms and worksheets/book problems may still be effective at times, the environment has changed as well. Traditional arrangement of desks in rows have been replaced with flexible seating and use of space all throughout a school building. The changes in Professional learning challenges the people doing the work as the “sit and get” must be replaced with engaging activities where participants are actively involved and can take the topic and use the next day in their work. As a result, lifelong learning must mean that we develop consistent practices where you:

  • Learn new instructional approaches/strategies that apply to your role
  • Apply those into your role by practicing that strategy
  • Reflect upon its impact (did it serve the right purpose)
  • Gather feedback from those that were involved in the new approach
  • Revise your approach if needed for future use

In short, we must continue growing and learning as the field of teaching/learning has changed so much. When a person continues to grow you may find opportunities to change yourself in ways that you did not even realize. The challenge is “are you willing to take that step”?
How does it look in an educator’s life?

With technology, the opportunities to grow and have lifelong learning opportunities are endless. However, what does that look like as so many educators are already working long hours, have increasing demands placed upon them from external forces and strive to find the right balance between work and family/personal life. From my viewpoint, this comes back to establishing a “mindset” that supports lifelong learning. This includes understanding for each person where you are at in your growth and recognize where you can go. The important thing is you need to start and be comfortable with failing. It is a journey much like a “winding road” but with a mindset on staying positive and looking at obstacles and tough situations as learning opportunities. These opportunities allow you to grow by using the strategies mentioned above and “sharpen your saw” with development of skills for future situations.

During my time, I have attended many conferences, read so many books, taken part in twitter and social media platforms. While all of these are wonderful methods to learn, each person must recognize what “fits” for them and their lifestyle. Most importantly, it is so easy to get caught up in the “busy world” we each live in so we must keep a system where we focus on our growth as we navigate our roles and learn from the challenges that we face. There is no specific book, workshop or social media platform by itself that will change our lifelong learning. It is rather the passion to pursue growth, persistence to continue learning despite struggles and the patience to recognize that is truly a lifetime of learning.

 

I would love to hear from you on what you believe is “lifelong learning” and how it looks in your busy life. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com