Honoring the Moment

by Beth Houf

As educators, we tend to take information in at breakneck speed. Our brains are constantly on overdrive and it feels as though there are at least twenty tabs open at any given moment. I had the privilege to serve as a facilitator for our state leadership academy’s outdoor leadership experience this past week. From Wednesday to Saturday, I spent my time in the Missouri woods. In 75 hours, eleven strangers became lifelong friends. Truly an amazing experience that will never be forgotten. The days were filled with team building, experiential education activities, rock climbing, rappelling, orienteering, canoeing, journal making, reflection, campfires and an eleven mile hike where participants had to use compasses and maps to find 13 markers in the forest. My co-facilitator and I were tasked to teach specific leadership tools through the experience while ensuring both physical and emotional safety of each participant.

Filling the Toolbox

  • Articulate the Plan (Does everyone know the plan?)
  • Shared Mental Model (Does everyone know what the plan looks like?)
  • Phantom Rules (Have we made up rules that could hold us back?)
  • Rule of Three (Trying a plan three times before changing often increases likeliness of success)
  • Rule of Thumbs (Building consensus-thumbs up means fully support, thumbs sideways means I can live with it, but not completely on board, thumbs down means I do not support the idea and have questions that need to be answered before moving on. Any thumbs down means we continue working on the plan/idea)
  • Failing Forward (Do we learn from our mistakes to propel us forward?)

Each initiative was brought back to parallel the work we do each day in our buildings. The connections were definitely powerful. Although I’ve facilitated for several years, I’m always amazed at how much I learn with each group. Our participants developed norms for our time together. Most of these were the traditional norms we see in education, but one was developed that stuck with me…Honoring the Moment. WOW! How often do I forget to do this?!? While this was specific to our time together in the woods, this norm hit home for me. How often do I honor the moments that are happening around me? How often do I instead race from moment to moment until they each become a blur?

As educators, it seems as though we work to honor the moments for so many others. But can we say the same for ourselves? More often than not, I spend more time taking care of everything but myself. This experience reminded me of several things:

  • Slow down, breathe, smile
  • Feed the body, feed the soul–be purposeful in my wellness habits
  • It’s going to be ok–spend less time worrying about what could go wrong and let people work through solving problems with your support
  • Love your people–relationships matter
  • Email can wait
  • Text messages can wait
  • Social Media can wait
  • Family and self-care can not wait.

My time in the woods also had significant connections for me to the current #IMMOOC (http://immooc.org/) that I have been participating in this month. Connecting with educational trailblazers such as George Couros, Katie Martin, Tara Martin, Jo Boaler and Alice Keeler as well as all of those that have contributed via the hashtag has helped me to reflect on my own practices and work for continual improvement. The blog prompt for this week that grabbed my attention was what is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?

I used to think I had to do it all as a leader. I used to think that anything less than that was not acceptable. Always the first to get to school and last to leave. Always accessible to everyone at anytime. Now I realize that shared leadership is a much more valuable tool. If I am the only one that can truly support and help, sustainability will never happen. Building the leadership skills in our staff and students (and parents) has to be an utmost priority, all the while still supporting each of them. When I am doing everything for everyone, I rob them of building their own self efficacy. I also rob myself of truly honoring the moments that are happening around me.

The challenge I pose in this post is to share ways you can honor those moments that can go by in a blur. What suggestions do you have for educators to slow down and close of few of those open tabs in their brains? What can you intentionally do to make this a reality for yourself? For your staff? For your students? Please share your thoughts and ideas to the #LeadLAP hashtag. Shelley and I can’t wait to see all of the amazing ideas from our PLN to help us all honor the moments that happen each day. 

CELEBRATE THEIR TWEETS & LEAVE A LITTLE TWITTER DUST

Guest Post by Mandy Ellis

You can follow Mandy Ellis at @MandyEllis as well as check out her blog here: http://www.principalsdecree.com/

When I logged into twitter for the first time, I never knew the trajectory it would take me on. The value of twitter is not in the tool, but in the relationships and connections I have developed as a result. I find daily doses of inspiration and motivation in the people I learn and connect with.

As I was scrolling through tweets at #LeadLAP, I saw an amazing idea from @BethHouf. Beth is a co-author of Lead Like a Pirate and had the idea to leave “Fairy Gotchas” to staff tweeting about her school with money attached for the soda machine. The goal is simple: recognize and reward staff for being self-motivated learners by connecting and growing their personal learning network or celebrating their classroom activities and achievements at their school hashtag 

It was one of those ideas that was quick and easy to implement and came at the perfect time! I was seeking ways to honor my staff for the added work they do to learn and grow for the benefit of our students. With a quick search through images and a Word document that I whipped up, I was ready to go. I logged onto twitter and scrolled through our hashtag, #dgsroyals and was ready to make my mark.

 

With plastic “Royal” wands left over from a previous activity and some candy, I made my rounds to leave some twitter dust in classrooms. The feedback was positive as teachers tweeted their sweet surprises!

 

With such feedback, I decided to spread some twitter dust to other buildings in my district and staff that used our district hashtag, #323learns. Baggies filled with a note of appreciation, chocolate, glitter and a wand were sent through interoffice mail to celebrate the tweets of colleagues across the district!

A little twitter dust to recognize and celebrate the staff in our district for growing, learning and connecting brought a little joy and glitter to all our days while promote the development of a PLN and sharing resources!

 

The Power of the Positive Office Referral

by Beth Houf

You are summoned to the principal’s office. No matter if you are a student, teacher or parent, you typically have the same reaction. Fear! As a school leader, I have worked hard over the past several years to help take this negative stigma away from these visits. One practice that has helped to make the shift is the implementation of the positive office referral. We started using these with our students four years ago. The goal is to recognize our students for going above and beyond with our school expectations by sending them to the office…for a good reason. We’ve found at our school when we focus on the positive happening instead of just getting hung up on the negative, amazing things happen. When positive referrals go up, negative referrals go down.


We’ve committed as a staff to writing one positive referral per day. We feel strongly that we can find at least one student going above and beyond each day. We use the following paper
form, fill it out and send the student to the assistant principal’s office. Students can also refer peers with positive referrals. Our bus drivers utilize the same practice as well. WOW! Driving a bus and finding time to celebrate students…so amazing!Our Process at FMS

  1. When the student gets to the office, they are celebrated with a high five, impromptu dancing and excitement by administrators or the office staff. Students then call or email parents or someone special to them about why they are in the office.

  2. Our students earn Hornet Bucks for positive referrals (much like a bonus for a job done above and beyond). These can be used in our school store, The Thrive Hive (items included needs and wants) as well as toward House Points for our House Cup.

  3. Students hang up referrals on our FMS Brag Board. These are displayed for a week and then sent home.

  4. We log all the positive referrals into our student information system. This helps us to check to see which students aren’t being referred as well as to monitor our goal of 4:1 positive to negative referrals.

Lessons Learned:

  • Avoid competitions between staff. This causes animosity as well as a pile up of referrals that aren’t sincere. Instead, we have individual conversations with staff that aren’t taking time to write referrals as well as shout out those that are fulfilling our collective commitment.

  • If a leader isn’t in the office, the referral is left and then the student is called down at a later time. We want to be sure that at least one administrator has the chance to celebrate with the student.

  • Take time to share the data and celebrate accomplishments!

  • There is nothing better after a stressful day in leadership land to the excitement of a student ready to showcase their amazingness! One of the best parts of the day for sure!

As learning leaders in the building we work hard to also model what we expect by committing to write positive “referrals” for staff each day. These are notes of genuine appreciation for the outstanding work done by the adults in our building. We also write student referrals as well, but we know that the first step to putting students first is to support, motivate and inspire the adults that teach them each day.  Want to get positive referrals going in your building? Feel free to reach out and we would be happy to help get you started!

Back to School…Like a PIRATE!

Beth Houf

Back to School….Like a PIRATE! The Challenge is ON!
Passion~Immersion~Rapport~Ask/Analyze~Transformation~Enthusiasm

Update: I wrote the original post below on the eve of becoming our district’s new middle school principal in the summer of 2015. Our building wanted to do something big on those first days of school to show our change in our mission to create a school that our students, staff and parents are beating the doors to get IN, not out. We wanted to get our kids so excited about learning on day one, that they couldn’t wait to come back the next day.  What I can say, without a doubt, is the first day of our first year together at Fulton Middle School was one of the favorite, most memorable days of my career. I watched our staff pour their hearts into teaching and showcase their passions for the subjects they teach. I experienced our students enjoying learning, from the first minutes of class. I experienced all of us trying new things, some successfully, some not, which laid the beginnings of a foundation of growth mindset. These first few days set the tone for our year, which truly was amazing! The original blog is as follows and then I’ve added some BONUS material to the end. Thank you so much for reading and making this year the #BestYearEver for your students, staff, parents and YOU!

What is most exciting to me is seeing this foundation alive and well two years later. We continue to push ourselves as a staff to make the first days of school more BAM and less blah. We refuse to get stagnant and are truly dedicated to creating a school that our students and staff are running to get in, not out. This year, after seeing the success other middle schools were having, we decided to start a house system in our school. (Here is the background info on house systems: https://www.smore.com/nrm2y-the-house-system-101) We started with the WHY, which is to create a school environment that is both emotionally and physically safe so that students can thrive at high levels. Of course we want our students to learn at high levels, but it is hard to do that when you do not feel safe. The summer was spent planning and organizing. We also had our students help with the foundational pieces. Seeing the excitement for the possibilities in the faces of our staff and student was truly priceless!

I CAN NOT WAIT to kick this off in our first day assembly! Big plans for another big first day assembly at Fulton Middle School! (also a special shout out to our amazing art teacher, Craig Chapman @ArtFMS for his work on this!)

Instilling a pride in our school and community is another big goal for our year. One way we have started to do this before the first days is a building makeover. After seeing a post on Twitter, our staff was inspired to do something similar for our students as well. The walls and bathrooms of our school got a big makeover focusing on empathy and empowerment…two traits that we will focus heavily on this year.

Something that Shelley and I feel that is so important is to not forget to make school amazing for our staff these first days as well! We can’t push teachers to change first day practices and continue to do the same old boring inservice. I can’t give away all my secrets yet, but here’s an example of an alternate to sit-and-get staff pd that I did with our new staff. We took a field trip with our treasure map below. This was a great way to build relationships and help our new staff navigate our large building.

(You can use this map by going to the following link: https://www.postermywall.com/index.php/poster/view/eda4885fb43d052435dbcc8388f2f37a)

Our challenge to you is to rethink the traditional back to school…for staff…for students and for parents. How can you create experiences that will keep the positive momentum going all year long? Please take a moment to share your thoughts and actions on the #leadlap hashtag. Shelley and I will be featuring all of your wonderful ideas on our blog over the next month! We can’t wait to see how you will make school amazing!

Original Post, August 2015:

Sometimes an article finds us at exactly the right moment. Moving to a new position next fall, I have been in back-to-school mode all summer. First impressions are the most important, so I’ve been constantly thinking and brainstorming about how to start the year for students AND staff with a bang. My personal mission is to collaboratively create a school that our students, staff and parents are running to get IN rather than out. I knew the traditional first day of rules and rules and more rules would not work.  Then I stumbled upon this treasure:

http://inservice.ascd.org/how-do-you-motivate-middle-school-students-by-inspiring-teachers-to-think-outside-the-box-on-the-first-day-of-school/?crlt_pid=camp.onBhIriAFhHN

I immediately shared it with my leadership team on our Voxer group as well as a few PLN members for feedback. As Dave Burgess says, the snowball began to roll. I had immediate feedback on a Friday night from everyone. An overwhelming WE MUST DO THIS came back to me loud and clear. (on a Friday night in July, I might add!) I shared the article, as well as the amazing quote by my friend Don Wettrick, author of Pure Genius to my PLN and I found there are several others ready to make this happen as well! Then I found a blog by Don on this very topic as well. http://theinnovationteacher.com/create-culture-first/ YES!! Create culture FIRST! When the right culture is cultivated, it’s amazing how the need for specific rules diminishes.

I had a conversation with my PIRATE principal pal Jay Billy about how awesome it would be get our colleagues to take this Back to School…Like a PIRATE challenge with us, not just teachers, but school leaders as well. This challenge is to not only make the first few days of school an EXPERIENCE for our students, but to extend this thinking to our staff learning. How can we minimize the mundane and maximize the excitement for our profession; for our passions in education?

Our theme for our school year at Fulton Middle School is Together, We CAN! This works perfectly for our challenge as well. Jay and I created this Google Doc to collect ideas to KICK up those first days of school. We would LOVE it if you would add your amazing ideas as well. Imagine the possibilities of a year that starts in such a positive way. That snowball will continue to roll into the BEST YEAR EVER! Together, We CAN change the way things always have been those first few days of school. The challenge is ON! Let’s make it happen!

Google Doc for sharing:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qXQJWagnbwj7CYeajg24FKmDtRDiQHa2NYosU69Zjjc/edit?usp=sharing

Opening day assembly with a principal dance off!
Mr. Kerr had a mean stanky leg!

 

My whip and nae nae was pretty sweet!
But I definitely went down in defeat!

Taking the Time to Build Trust

by Beth Houf

Ahhhh summer! Time slows down a little and I am finally making the stack of growing reading material a priority. I opened the May/June 2017 Principal magazine from NAESP and the first article immediately grabbed my attention. Worth the Investment: Trust by Sarah E. Fiarman, former principal, author and ed consultant. In Lead Like a PIRATE, Shelley and I spend a great deal of time writing about the importance of trust and strategies for both gaining and giving trust. This article resonated deeply. Fiarman did an excellent job of sharing four concrete, foundational pieces to building trust; Know How to Listen, Know When to Speak, Take the Time and Name Your Biases.

Know How to Listen

The days of the school principal, and really anyone in education, tend to move at lightening pace. It is easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and immediate decision making that we are faced with constantly. Fairman states, “Listening is one of the most powerful acts we perform. When we listen to truly understand what people mean, not just what they’re saying we build trust. This requires slowing down, checking to be sure we understand correctly, and sharing back what we hear.” YES! And this doesn’t just happen when people are happy! Listening is equally, if not more important, when faced with dissent or anger. Fiarman continues by saying, “When leaders meet anger or frustration with genuine, compassionate interest in the other person’s perspective, we earn trust.” As leaders, we are human and make mistakes. Deeply listening helps us to really analyze our actions to see if we need to rethink next steps.

Another aspect that Fiarman points out is that we need to be intentional about seeking out a wide range of voices in our stakeholders to listen to to build trust. This means taking time to seek out individuals that are typically overlooked or quiet about feedback.

Know When to Speak

Three main points jumped out to me in this section regarding when to speak:

  • We must communicate more than we think we need to. Taking time to communicate can save a lot of time in the long run.
  • Disagreement can be a great thing when done professionally and respectfully. It is our jobs as leaders to help facilitate all ideas being heard.
  • Be familiar with the work of staff members. Take time to be immersed in the day to day work. “It engenders trust when your boss can speak to the specifics of your work.”

As leaders, our voice is heard. The absence of our voice when it is needed can cause trust to erode.

Name Your Biases

Fiarman’s section on biases had me thinking deeply about potential unconscious biases that I have that I don’t realize when making decisions. This will be an area I continue to explore and get feedback from others that I work with, most importantly from our students.

  • Leaders can’t build trust without recognizing and valuing people’s full selves.
  • Own and confront your biases. These are both conscious and unconscious.
  • Acknowledging that I might make mistakes because of this bias and then actively working to counter it builds trust

Take the Time

“Trust happens through thousands of small, purposeful interactions over time.” Such powerful and true words! It isn’t something that can be rushed, each person is unique into how much time it takes but intentional effort, every day will pay off.

After reading this article and having the opportunity to write about it, I was really able to better understand some of the frustrations I have had recently as a leader. I give trust very easily to others. I forget that although I trust others, staff and parents may need more time for trust to be built with me. As we move to positions of leadership, some automatically assume we are part of “the dark side” of education. We have to work extra hard to bust that stereotype. It isn’t us against them. We truly can only be our best when we are all working as one team to provide amazing learning opportunities that last a lifetime for our students.

Challenge Time!

In true #leadlap fashion, I want to pose a challenge to our PLN. After reading the blog, which of the four areas are you going to take a deeper look at? Which area is a strength? What strategies could you share to better help other leaders? Please take a moment to share your thoughts to the #LeadLAP hashtag. Shelley and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Other Work by Sarah E. Fiarman

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov16/vol74/num03/Unconscious-Bias@-When-Good-Intentions-Aren’t-Enough.aspx

http://hepg.org/hep-home/books/becoming-a-school-principal

Other Resources on Overcoming the Principal Bias

Peter Dewitt:

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2017/06/why_shouldnt_teachers_become_principals.html?intc=main-mpsmvs

Bethany Hill:

https://bethanyshill.com/2016/11/21/recreating-the-principal-stereotype/

‘Tis The Season

Getting the Right People on the Ship

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Interviewing season! While it can be overwhelming with all of the other events happening at the end of the school year, Shelley and I feel that it is the prime opportunity for adding the right people to our crew. A frustration we both have always had with the typical interview process is the canned questions and cookie-cutter approach that most take when hiring new staff. Why do we do this? More often than not it is because that is the way it has always been done. Our next #LeadLAP challenge for you is to take time to reflect upon your current hiring process and find ways to transform practices to best meet the current needs of your building. Already PIRATEing up your hiring? Share your great ideas on the #LeadLAP hashtag so we can all learn from you.

A risk I took this year came when selecting a new assistant principal.  It was important to me that all staff had the opportunity to give feedback in selecting this new person, so I created a Google Form asking for the top three traits our school needed from our next co-captain. (sample form here: https://goo.gl/forms/JItjkvYilwRnnKOG3) Our interview committee consisted of a representative from all staff including all subject and grade levels, veteran and new staff and support staff positions. It has always been important to me to include staff as part of the interview process. When current members of the crew feel ownership in helping to make hiring decisions, they also take ownership in the success of this person when they become part of the team. This committee was given the responses to the form and asked to craft 2-3 interview questions specific to feedback given and his or her role in the building. These were shared on a Google Doc and then we took time as a committee to select our line up. The interview process was like no other. The passion was evident in each question and the answers from the candidates were real. It truly helped us to find the right fit for our school. We also revamped our interview process for our staff openings. These have become much more of a conversation instead of just a Q & A session. Each interview committee member asks questions that they are passionate about relating to the needs of our school. There is not a script, there are no canned questions, just time to get to the heart of what we need to continue to strive for greatness for our students and staff. My favorite opening question that I ask is for the candidate to share a lesson that they taught that had kids running to get in the class, or as Dave Burgess says, “A lesson you could sell tickets to.”  I always love to hear these responses! Anyone can give a definition of student engagement. I want to hear about a living example of how this worked with students. Another favorite is to ask the prospective crew member to share what they have read recently that has affected them as an educator. It is so important to our staff that we add people who are truly learning leaders to continue to propel us forward. We will continue to tweak and adjust our interviewing processes at our school. Next year, a goal is to add students to our committee and a teaching element for the prospective teacher.

What are ideas you have? Please take a moment to help us all grow and share your thoughts on the #LeadLAP hashtag. Shelley and I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Resources to help as you take this #LeadLAP Challenge:

Busy is Not a Badge

Beth and I just finished hosting #satchatwc on Twitter. The chat today focused on strategies to help us prioritize our time. This tweet exchange with Robert Abney and Sandy King resonated…

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As educators, the reality is our work is never done. There is no finish line. We add more to the “to do” list than we cross off.

We will always have more on our plates than we can tackle each day, so the real challenge is this:

How do we take control of our time?

 

Great leaders master this. They spend the majority of their time doing the work that matters most. They create systems to get the essential components of the “job” done and free up their time to do the meaningful “work”.

Like all leaders, great leaders are busy all day long, but at the end of the day…

Busy is not their badge… Making an IMPACT is!

 

From the Bottom of Our Hearts – Thank You!

A couple of weeks ago, @BethHouf and I were thrilled (and just a bit nervous) to release our book Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff. What an incredible, soul-searching journey this has been.  We have worked on and wrestled with this book for about eighteen months and had moments of both loving it and hating it.  We had times where we were excited to push forward and times where we thought about giving up. We grappled with what to keep in and what to leave out.

While we have had incredible conversations for years about our collective philosophies and leadership practices, there is something about taking those thoughts and putting them on paper that makes us vulnerable and is honestly a bit scary.  We are both passionate educators who love what we do, and we are both continuous learners, so sometimes what we believe today can shift and change as we learn and grow over time.  There is something so permanent and final, though, about putting our best thinking today on the pages of a book. Through the power of friendship, our love for this incredible work of being educators, and some continuous nudging from Dave, we finished our book. And then…

…we turned it over to you. We put it out into the world with our fingers and toes all crossed in anticipation of the reception it would receive. We  hoped people would connect with what we had to say and find relevance in the stories we wanted to share. And while we were hoping for the best, we were also gearing ourselves up to be prepared if people’s reactions went the other way.

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What has happened over the past couple of weeks has been nothing short of awesome. We can’t truly express the depth of our gratitude for all of you who have been sharing your thoughts, reflections and take-aways from Lead Like PIRATE on Twitter, Facebook,  Instagram, Amazon and so many other places, including an awesome live #IMMOOC chat with George Couros (@gcouros) and Katie Martin (@KatieMTLC) and the follow up chat w/co-host Tara Martin (@Tara MartinEDU).  Your support, your kind words, and your positive energy have far exceeded any expectations we had.

From the bottoms of our hearts – Thank you!

We hope you will continue to share and connect with us using the #LeadLAP hashtag.

And… if you are interested, Nancy Alvarez (@techwnancy) and Todd Schmidt (tsschmidty) are moderating a Voxer book study starting April, 9th. We would love to have you join us!

 

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Leading Together

by Beth Houf #LeadLAP

I had the pleasure of leading #SatchatWC (the west coast version of #Satchat) this past week. The topic was transforming the traditional interview and induction practices in our schools. So many innovative ideas were shared by the close to 150 participants that joined. One big take away for me was that I want to figure out how I can involve students in the interview process. I loved reading how other schools were making this happen. (You can check out the transcript here: https://www.participate.com/transcripts/satchatwc/cac280b5-02d9-47f1-ac15-404582251065)

 

When we do interviews in our school, we work as a team. Our leadership team is always invited, as they represent the greater staff body. We also invite specific content area staff or others that may work closely with the candidate. These include veteran staff and new staff members. As I wrote the questions for the chat, my intended audience was truly anyone…teachers, support staff, admin, etc. Once the chat started, I quickly realized that we had a problem. Several participants in the chat immediately thought that if they did not carry the title of admin in some capacity, that they couldn’t have an answer or opinion. This was a little bit of a gut punch to me.  As building leaders, we must ensure that the voices of our staff are heard. When it comes to attracting and retaining the best educators, who better to glean ideas from than our current staff? On the flip side, we must also not assume that it takes a leadership title to lead.  It takes you, it takes me, it takes we! Don’t ever forget your influence on building the positive culture in your school. It takes us all to make school amazing!

 

Last week, we found out our assistant principal will be moving into a building principal role in another district next year. I am so proud of his accomplishments and know that he will do such an amazing job in his new role, but I will miss my co-captain tremendously. We have been through so much together and at first, I was overwhelmed by the idea of his absence. This was another reminder that, more than ever, it is the time for our staff to realize it’s about WE. The rest of us that will continue our journey at FMS must guarantee that we will drive positive school culture. At times, I feel as though people look to a single person to drive culture. While the building leader can never underestimate his/her influence on culture, it’s so much more than a person. If you are not helping to build a positive school culture, you are hurting it. You can’t wait until culture is negative to improve. Again…it takes us all to make school amazing!

 

#LeadLAP Challenge:
Join me in the challenges below. Tweet out your ideas to the #LeadLAP (Lead Like a PIRATE) hashtag so that we grow together as a PLN. Thank you in advance for your ideas!

 

Part 1:
Teachers and Staff: How are you making sure that your ideas are heard? How do you lead from your positions? How do you do your part to add to the positive culture of your school? What holds you back from leading?

 

Administrators: How are you ensuring that your staff feels as though they are leaders? What specific ways are you getting feedback and involving all stakeholders to empower everyone? How could this be more effective? How are you making sure that everyone in the building (admin, staff & students) are a part of building positive school culture?

 

Part 2:
Transforming the Interview and Induction Process

 

Think about your current practices for interviewing new editions to your team and the induction program after staff is hired? What is effective in your current practice? Why? What isn’t effective? What might you do instead? Take a moment to check out the chat transcripts and try something new.

#LeadLAP Challenge

Being mindful of the words and phrases we use

It has been awhile since we have posted a #LeadLAP challenge, but I posted the blog below on my website yesterday, and it’s sparked a lot of conversation, so Beth and I decided to turn it into this week’s #LeadLAP Challenge… We hope you’ll join us!

Full disclosure before you read on… I know that what I’m about to say might rub some people the wrong way, but I hope you’ll read on and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I don’t particularly like the phrase, I’m going to do “what’s best for kids”.  I think we need to be really mindful when we throw it around in our profession.  While I understand the positive intent of the phrase and I agree whole-heartedly that meeting the needs of students should absolutely be the primary focus of what we do in our schools and districts… I think tossing the “what’s best for kids” phrase around can be harmful to our school and district cultures.  Here’s why:

  1. If I use the phrase “I’m going to do what’s best for kids”, it is incredibly easy for the person who I am talking to to reach the conclusion that I believe that they, in fact, do not have the best interest of students in mind.  While I can acknowledge that there are times when people make decisions based solely on their own best interests, I actually think that in our profession it’s pretty rare. In my experience most educators I have worked with typically make decisions based on their belief that they are doing what’s best for kids.
  2. “I’m going to do what’s best for kids” has a finality to it that makes it hard for someone to respectfully disagree with me. It’s a “last word” phrase as opposed to a phrase that invites discussion and dialogue. After all, in our business, who can argue against doing what’s best for kids?
  3. Where does that argument stop?  Let’s say that I believe we should have a 30 minute after school reading program for struggling readers because it’s “best for kids”.  If 30 minutes is good, what about an hour… is that better? What about two hours? If a couple of hours after school in a reading program is good… wouldn’t a half day Saturday program every week be better? What about a full day?  Maybe it would be best to add four weeks… six weeks… 12 weeks to the school year for all of our struggling readers.
  4. We don’t all have the same beliefs about “what’s best for kids”, and the research can be contradictory.  I could make a case for that after school reading program being what’s “best” while one of my teachers could easily make the case that it’s “best” to have small group reading interventions during the school day so that after school, kids have time to play sports, take music lessons, or to just play and be kids.
  5. What’s best for one kid isn’t always what’s best for another.  Each child is unique in their gifts, their talents, their motivations, their quirks, their needs… A “one size fits all approach” to what’s best runs the risk of merely being average for all kids as opposed to what’s best for any one of them.

So… the challenge is this: let’s just presume that all of the educators we work with have the best interests of kids at heart.  We may disagree from time to time on what those are, but not too many committed educators show up to work each day making decisions they think will be bad for kids, so why would we want to use a phrase that might convey that we are the only ones who know best?

As an educational leader, I really do want to do what’s best for kids, but presuming that only I know what’s best is a quick way to dissolve relationships, create mistrust and erode culture.  Sometimes our ability to do what’s best for kids simply lies within our ability to inspire, influence and support the adults on our team.

This week’s challenge:

Pay close attention to the words and phrases you use when you are talking to, or with, your staff.  If you are really daring, record a conversation or two or even the staff meeting or a PLC you are leading.  Maybe even enlist the help of a trusted colleague to provide you with some feedback.  Are their certain words and phrases you find yourself using often?   Write them down and reflect:

  • How and when am I using the phrases?
  • Are the phrases I’m using being received in the way I intend them to be?
  • Do the words have impact or are they becoming cliche?
  • Are the words and phrases I’m using inviting dialogue or shutting it down?
  • Are there alternative/more powerful ways to convey my message?
  • Share some of your reflections with us in a blog of your own and/or in the #LeadLAP hashtag this week

Beth and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!