Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Special Guest Author on Winning!

A POST on leadership evolved into a guest contribution on winning!

 Just to try and get a pulse on our status, growth and progress, this article by @Leadershipfreak was sent to the staff at our school!
 Organizations fail because leaders fail and leaders fail because they:
  1. Stop learning.
  2. Don’t build the team.
  3. Can’t collaborate.
  4. Won’t adapt.
  5. Won’t delegate.
  6. Assume.
  7. Blame.
  8. Lack focus.
  9. Don’t communicate.
  10. Don’t plan.
The reply was…

“We won't fail because as a faculty:

We love learning; we are passionate about our subject matter, and care whether or not our students are learning.
We rely on our team mates to build us up and support one another regularly.
We collaborate as a building and as a district.
We change and adapt constantly to understand and teach new Common Core Standards and prepare our students for life after "the test".
We delegate when necessary and share responsibilities on committees and with extra-curricular duties.
We don't assume things will just happen. We make them happen. We're trained and equipped with new knowledge after each PD day.
We don't blame the community, parents, or students for what we lack. We do our best to prepare for the time at school we can control what our students do and learn.
We focus on our mission and vision to ensure student success.
We communicate all of the time!
We plan together, as a team, across subjects, and create engaging lessons worth teaching!”
Carrie Gracey
6th grade Math and Reading Teacher,
Middle School PLC Coach
&Assistant Varsity Cheerleading Coach

Nothing needs to be added.  Thank you, Carrie.
 Special thanks to: Carrie Gracey, @Leadershipfreak, and Adam Wurtzel http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/tag/alan-wurtzel/

Thursday, October 25, 2012

3 things required to develop community...

Community needs...

Where are these cliff dwellings located?
So how do we go about building a community or culture of success?  Are there things we can actively "do" that will improve our lot? 
A friend @JesseQuiroz talked about what it might look like if we were to improve our community.  How we might improve our comm"unity" and become a closer knit team.  He mentioned 3 characteristics that we can aspire to that increase the bond between the members.   Cooperation    Encouragement     Confidence  Those behaviors permeate the building here and evidence of the improved community is everywhere.  Those behaviors also exist among those dedicated individuals that have sacrificed to much or all for our country.
Working together and being part of a team adds to a project and allows greater things. Synergy and a clear division of duties, where delegation, trust and follow up are all part of the culture, or way of doing things.  The tribe living here obviously had to cooperate to exist, get along and thrive over their tenure in this setting.  Just like at school, working together, sharing and collaborating is vital for real success.
The first thing brought out when looking at this word is "courage" is the root!  Yes, it takes courage to share something positive with another.  Motives may come into question. Validity of the statement and even convincing the recipient that the approbation is accurate can sometime lead to doubt and additional insecurity.  Any group that could raise a family and form a society that would find their security in a dwelling folded into a cliff would need encouragement and admonishments for safety and basic needs.  At school, the lack of encouragement or positive words of affirmation limit the depth of relationships and keep most connections distance.
Finally, the lack of confidence or insecurity leads to many other characteristics harder to identify and pinpoint.  For instance, insecurity may prevent folks from trying for fear of failure.  Insecurity prevents authentic effort and leads to the common practice of just doing "enough to get by."  Insecurity also forms the mortar that folks use to build walls of "protection," boundaries of isolation and tends to keep things shallow for fear of sharing the real person, lest rejection occur.  (Is it better to love and lose, or never love at all?)  Folks living among the cliffs need confidence just to get around. Dealing with students also takes confidence and the portrayal of assurance that things are not too great a challenge! 
How do these attributes translate into action, steps or behaviors?  What does it look like to cooperate, encourage or be confident? 
Challenge:  Practice cooperation, encouragement and confidence and see if it works!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Effective Communication is...

How effective are our communication skills?
Failed Communication is when… what others “get” is not what we “intended.”
What can we do to improve our communication?  What are the considerations to measure successful communication?  What are the results of good communication? Or poor communication?  What are some indicators of effective communication?
After seeing a photo of this same tree on a teachers bulletin board in our building (thanks AH), I began to wonder how easy is it to follow the growth path of the cypress tree?
Does the tree grow up, or down or across or? 
The scrambled nature of this tree reminds us of the way our communication sometimes reaches those around us.
Our district has established a set of 7 “C” terms for us to rally behind this year.  This is the last “C” term discussed in this blog but the one that permeates and facilitates the success of all the other terms.  Like a catalyst or enzyme that aids another reaction, good communication is key to reaching common goals and achieving the other six traits.   Let’s consider:
The Message (Content)
As educators, we are considered professional communicators.  Our predominate task or job description is to convey a body of knowledge into the minds of our wards and then verify, measure and assess the level of success.  Data transmission is only a portion of this continuum.  A delivery of facts and knowledge, without a relationship evolves into a dry and shallow presentation with little motive to retain and truly change the hearers internal perspective.  On the other hand, a connection with the presenter and topic seems to make the ideas and message more memorable.  This begins the key to effective communication.  A relationship is necessary between the audience and the presenter to actually provide the conduit of listening and hearing.  Communication is the tool we apply to deliver our Content.
The Tone (Culture)
"It’s not what you say but how you say it.” This adage addresses the culture of the environment, whether it is positive, neutral or negative.  A negative setting where criticism is delivered with equal amounts of positive encouragement will be perceived as critical by the hearers.  PBIS research claims we need to administer at least four positive comments to every negative or critical comment continuously if we want our negative comment to fall on receptive ears.  If we give exclusive negative comments, our audience will think there is no way to obtain or earn approval. The stifling affect of this method paralyzes many talented students and handcuffs them to prevent and avoid the possibility of the negative response. If the positive comments and negative suggestions are delivered intermingled with a 4:1 ratio of good and bad together, a hearer may realize their actions do not determine the success of the relationship and there is a relationship, regardless of the behavior.  The insecure perfectionist may learn to make an attempt, take a risk and fail, and then try again.  Proportioned communication becomes the method of improving a Culture to encourage risk, persistence, resiliency and trying again, even after failure and missed marks. 
The Method (Collaborative Teaching)
As adults, we fail in our communication when we assume what we say is perceived literally, exactly and how we intended.  Failed communication is when our intent is not achieved.  What method is best?  There is no perfect and best way to communicate every time.  We must vary our approach, vary the style, mode and even technique often enough to reach every member of our audience.  Technology allows us to add a few other methods, like fb, twitter, IM, txt msg and email, as well as telephone, cell phone and even blogs.  Using all these, as much as possible allows us to permeate deeper into our potential audience to connect.  Consistently repeating and sharing the same message across all mediums tends to assure others of our true and authentic intent.  Collaborative Teaching is truly achieved when as professional educators, we communicate together appropriately for each member of our audience, regardless of their understanding but according to their ability.  Adults and students each receive what serves their needs best.
The Timing (Collective Decisions)
As leaders, we spend a fair portion laying out the plan with our team.  We discuss the issues, talk about what really matters and work to articulate the real problem and steer to an accurate and effective solution.  To share the problem before everyone is able to admit or recognize there is a concern prevents enough people from supporting the need for a solution.  Examining data together is effective at helping define the issue and letting the team understand the depth and breadth of the problem.  Pre-mature solutions offered up without complete understanding often evolve into ineffective or inaccurate measures becoming temporary directives that last as long as the leader. Collective Decisions based on data and agreed on together after thorough communication often times outlast the leader and become part of the culture because the everyone took part.
The Audience (Critical Thinking)
“They don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care.”  This adage applies to our craft in more ways than one.  Our efforts must consider the audience, their interests, their passions and their strengths. Only after preparing our message to impact the team can our influence reach into their lives.  Here is where two way communication between the guide and the participants is necessary. If participants can share without fear of repercussion, their authentic identity may come through and if they are truly accepted, the likelihood of educational risks improves dramatically.  On the other hand, a leader that does not listen to the group or individuals in the group but blindly considers his singular position as perfect is destined to repeat the same mistakes, again and again.  True Critical Thinking occurs after we listen to the other possible points of view, consider them plausible and base our behavior on authentic self-reflection or communication regardless of the source of these alternatives.
The Intent (Creative Thinking)
Consider the term “Professional Educator.”  Current perceptions or application of this term imply the professional is educating others, but what if it means the professional is educating themselves?  They earn their living by educating others as well as themselves? What if it means their craft is improving anyone?  What if it means they adapt to the culture around them?  Consider any other trade, skill, ability or craft.  Teams are working to improve their skills.  Mechanics are keeping up with the technology in their industry.  New understanding, knowledge and experience forces every other trade to adapt and keep up with their customers wants and needs.  Does this sound like an educational platform?  How can we expect to be the only profession that allows us to remain static in method, presentation and even documentation?  Is it ok to teach the same way we taught 12 years ago? We do not change for the sake of change but after communicating about the current plight, collaborating together and introspection,  we may need to adjust. Creative Thinking about our intent and purpose is foundational.
Communication is the social lubricant that moves a group to their next level.  The effectiveness is challenging to measure objectively but folks know when it is good and know when it is broken. 

How effective is our communication?  Very!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Green Eggs and Ham is about...

Green Eggs. Ham?
So we progress through this quarter and things seem better in many regards.  Dr Seuss claims deliberate and intentional relationships are the best way top make an impact on the lives of others.  In green eggs and ham, Sam must intentionally and deliberately build a bridge through connections and shared activities with the grouchy guy.  This is especially challenging since we already know the grouchy guy does not like Sam.  In fact, the first thing he says is "That Sam-I-Am, I do not like that Sam I Am."  Then, after all those adventures, none of which brought any harm, the two developed an authentic relationship based on shared activities.  This is the effective model of influence and teaching children.  
Why would students  actually go to school?  Being made to go.  Forced to go?  Maybe they want to go!?  At our school,  the teachers make class so fun that students want to come to class.  They don't want to miss anything.  Their teachers have made their classrooms safe for educational risks, like Sam.
Students are focused on what they are supposed to know. By using standards based grading, teachers measure what the students know and not all the extra things like tissue or extra credit.  Grades reflect learning and actual understanding.  Like Sam asking his buddy to try green eggs, our teachers ask students to take an educational risk instead of a culinary chance.
Behavior is surprisingly subjective and measuring attitudes in the classroom is not a simple tally.  It's done by counting write ups and how many students miss class time.  Missing class time can add up quickly when students are out of class for extended periods.  Having fewer incidents means students are in learning opportunities more often and the with opportunities like SBG, success is more likely!  Like Sam gathers allies to help convince his crony to play along, teachers collaborate to help students achieve as well as behave.
Finally, the staff works as a team, all with the same vision of student success, cooperating together. We saw Sam had gathered folks from the train, the fox, and all the other adventures.  Sam assembled this team to assure the grouch it would be ok to take a risk.  Similarly,  all the adults in the building strive to find student success.

These are some of my favorite Dr Seuss lessons:
Relationships, intentional and deliberate connection building and how to face somebody that says "no."


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Motivate w Fear or Hope?

Any ideas where this tee box might be located?  (Hint:  Think $600 a round)

What is a better motivator?
In education, there are as many ways to teach and motivate as there are teachers.  We all have ideas on grading, homework, technology, tardy policies and even disrespect.  Today, let’s consider the difference between using fear and hope as tools for motivating students.
Remember the phrase "don't smile till Christmas?"  My first year, back in 19XX, I actually made it till Thanksgiving!  A student, Rachael looked up one day during that short week of Thanksgiving and noted, "Mr. McCracken, I didn't know you had dimples."  Of course it was the first time I had actually smiled. I don't remember much else about that middle school or student achievements but that use of fear was a tough way to break into the business.  I do remember I let up a bit on them later but that quote stuck.  I was using fear as a tactic to manage their behavior, keep them in line and prevent anyone from acting up.  Punishment and not consequences was my method of classroom management. 
Fear comes through intimidation, coercion and force.  Hope comes from an expectation that things could get better.  Hope is internal and comes through relationship.  Hope grows from a thought that things might get better.  Hope is intrinsic but is painted, articulated and planted along with the nourishment of others.   When consequences are applied with justice, fairness and student input, a hope for a better future is fostered in the student.   Students begin to see their actions leading to consequences.  They learn to adjust their own behavior.  On the other hand, punishment administered grows fear, fight or an idea of revenge.  The best discipline does not diminish hope.
Typically a caring adult walking alongside a youth begins to draw an image of a better tomorrow through a process (not an event) involving the student:
Step 1-Relationship 
Any cursory glance at earlier posts would lead a reader to expect this.  The adult must pursue the relationship knowingly and expectedly looking for the better future. (Green eggs and ham)
Step 2-Confidence in Self
The teacher must display confidence and security lending credence to the situation knowing they can handle anything.  Knowing they can actually manage and control the situation, even if the students cannot.  Students are more likely to put trust in someone that demonstrates the ability to address challenges, and models how to handle things that are too big!
Step 3-Confidence in Others
After a teacher or leader has demonstrated the ability to address challenges before his wards he gains credibility in the eyes of the student.  To capitalize on this position of strength and power, leaders that trusts and delegates to others are really adding value and esteem and confidence to the student beyond the usual test or assignment, both building the student in his own eyes as well as others observing this quick little “test.”  Passing this off the cuff “test” really raises self-worth and creates an environment where everyone is comfortable taking risks and stretching their limits.
Step 4-Sharing a vision of hope
After this success is reached, the master teacher can begin to lay the seeds of accomplishing anything, reaching any goals and sharing personal as well as professional success inside the minds of students.  Big, hairy, audacious goals!  Often times, there is no one else that can or is able to share or articulate this shift in locus of control.  The student begins to have a direct impact on his own future.
Step 5 Persisting while the student learns
FAILURE IS VITAL HERE, but (quitting is not) failure is not the end.  To teach resiliency, persistence and “ stick to itness” a student must be secure enough to fail and realize that just because he missed the mark, he is not a failure.  This confidence is only demonstrated after the prior 4 steps are displayed and observed and part of the new Champion paradigm.  We must teach students to continue, after they miss their goal, then realign goals and try again.  Think basketball, free throws, layups, 3 point shots and half court shots!  We start small, fail, try again, get better and adjust our boundaries till we know the go to person on the team for the outside shot!  In golf we start with the short irons, then learn longer and longer clubs till we master the driver.
#onthemap  #winwar

Friday, October 5, 2012

Creativity around us happens...

Freebie:  That is quite a water tower there. Sort of cool the way it just stays there and stores water!
(no question today) October 2nd, 2012, looking west into the Troy skyline about 6:43 pm.
What does it take for a teacher to get a lesson into a students' head, get it to bounce around and get the student to want to keep it there?  If we teach it but the students don't get it, we might not have really taught it.  We have presented it but that doesn't mean they understand.  Maybe we consider another approach!  That's when we must think creatively and reach our students on a different level.  Today, we will examine some of those angles.
Any regular readers (if any exist) may remember the value we place on relationship.  A key to adolescent success is them finding an authentic and healthy connection with an adult that shares the struggles and reserves judgement yet still admonishes the youngster regarding the impending adjustments in their lives.  This relationship can be a parent, teacher, or any adult willing to establish a connection with the teen or pre-teen.   As a young person matures, he or she naturally look to others for leadership, confidence and assurance that it can be done; almost like a quest for a real life hero, somebody that will prove that it can be done and done well. These modeling and caring adults exert energy locating events, activities, or even topics of discussion testing creativity, ingenuity and old fashion resiliency while assuring our youngsters that things are going to be OK and it can be done!
We all like a bit a variety in our lives.  A rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out.  If we are bored, we can rest assured the students will also be distracted easily while they try to stay focused but inadvertently daydream or loose track.  Something original is going to be worth watching.  Technology, animation or even inflection in voice, tone and modulation holds attention spans longer than simple monotone presentations.
Less of the Same
Change is not for the sake of change but for the sake of the children.  The world is changing and our wards must be ready to follow and eventually lead those changes.  One reader contributed that babies were "the only people that like change."  The intent or purpose behind change, variety and doing things differently is improved student engagement and not trying to make things tougher for teachers.  Making every day different keeps adults as well as children interested and looking forward to returning.  Professional development, collaboration and teachers working together exploring what does and does not work allows artists/teachers to express themselves according to the language of the audience.
Intrinsic or extrinsic motivation
As a student engages in their own education and receives authentic positive feedback from adults, they begin to understand they are the masters of their destiny and the locus of control begins to shift.  They gain hope that their efforts have an effect on their lives and they begin to take responsibility. A creative environment, where risk is encouraged, endorsed and even rewarded becomes the best motivator, better than money, prestige or power.  Students own their learning and it becomes real to them.  This hope for a better future comes over time, through tests of determination and while iron sharpens iron as adults pass the future to the children.  This is when candy, money and tricks no longer motivate but learning, exploring and successes motivate.

The last blog post asked about the wolves.  In each of us, there is a good wolf and a bad wolf.  Which wolf wins?  THE WOLF WE FEED.  To feed the good wolf, think of good things, not bad; say nice things and see how others respond; refrain from worry and choose the right attitude.

Ok, here's the question regarding the opening photo:  How long does it take for the sun to clear the horizon, measuring from when the edge first touches to when it is fully hidden?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In a cooking contest, what does it take to win?


 Competition Cook-off Contests are pretty elaborate.  Note the rectangular tray, the square serving plates, the triangular pie, the spherical ice cream, the random swirls of syrup and the rectangular almond brittle.  This chocolate pecan dessert was presented to appeal to many senses. 
There were 8 categories total, including things such as pork, chili, chicken, brisket, and ribs.

So this weekend during a bbq cook off, while competing with a bunch of other teams, guests (@bbqasap) were touring our competition tent, where all our trade secrets are practiced, our food prepared and the details attended to, and we started talking shop!  School and personal experiences are readily shared at almost any setting, especially a cook off!  The thought was that we don't hear about the good that is done in education these days but the bad.  As a principal, I get the pleasure of knowing about so many good things but I understand that my reach and influence is limited. But our discussion mentioned quite a few possibilities regarding this lack or reduction of good news any more, namely the speed of information.  

Does anybody remember the weekly rag?  A paper that came out every week!  That paper of course had both the good and the bad news.  The good seemed to strive to temper the bad.  At night Walter Cronkite even told us with a distinct reassuring voice, "that's the way it is" and we knew we could go another day.  Today, technology allows us to track news regarding a specific topics, like Tim Teabow, or the price of oil futures.  It also allows us to get news from around the world, nearly instantly.  This feature or characteristic of the news today tends to push the good news father down the page and away from the front.  Didn't Glenn Frey say something about dirty laundry?

There are reports of poor and struggling schools but there are also reports of schools that beg for publication.  At Winfield, we are on a quest to be #onthemap by reaching benchmarks in behavior, academics and student engagement by creating a culture of achievement.  Our methods are a PBIS model for behavior, a PLC framework for teacher collaboration and improved student performance and an RTI model for responding to students that don't get it the first time, as well as those that may already understand!  Our tools are faculty and staff that establish relationships with students, building on positive experiences and making connections, even in the face of tests of authenticity.  Students see through artificial praise and empty accolades.  It really is about the people and not the programs.

Here's just a few other things that are going on that are goods these days.   Big City SchoolsBlue Ribbon Schools, schools improving from 8/14 to 13/14 like Winfield School District, better grades, improved behavior indicated by the number of write-ups, but these don't sell any news, unless they're you're school!

Lesson:  Inside each of us, there are two wolves, a good wolf and a bad wolf.  Legend asks, which wolf wins? The Good Wolf or Bad Wolf?  What do you think?

ps.  @bbqasap won the bbq contest by performing as a team, lots of practice and a commitment to keeping the main thing, the main thing.  This overnight success took 10,00 hours of practice, plenty of failed attempts but persistence and resiliency.  Follow us this weekend as we head to Kemper Arena in KCMO for the World Series of BBQ!