Teach & Serve II, No. 21 – A Few Highlighted Posts

Teach & Serve II, No. 21 A Few Highlighted Posts

December 28, 2016

Reaching back for the last ten posts of the year…

 

EduQuote of the Week: December 26, 2016 – January 1, 2017

The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and dissemination of the truth.

John F. Kennedy

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Teach & Serve II, No. 20 – The Gift of Our Work

Teach & Serve II, No. 20 – The Gift of Our Work

December 21, 2016

Our work reaches beyond us. It reaches through time. It reaches into the future.

This post will be published on the Wednesday prior to Christmas. Most likely, most teachers and administrators are done with their work today. Schools are about to shut down for Christmas – as much as schools ever shut down – and faculty, staff and students have time to spend with family and friends, away from the work for a few days, perhaps even a few weeks.

On many desks and in many inboxes this time of year, teachers and administrators find all manner of remembrances – cards and notes and gifts, tokens of affection and appreciation. Typically, these trinkets and notes do not fully express the gratitude of the students we serve. They are lovely to receive. They are not always reflective of the appreciation our communities feel for us.

But, while It is an appropriate time of year for students to thank us, it is an equally appropriate time of year for us to be thankful.

As many of us finish our last minute tasks, our baking and decorating and preparing, this is a great time of year to think about another great gift we in education are given: the gift of doing work that influences the future.

Our work reaches beyond us. It reaches through time. It reaches into the future.

We most often do not see ready results. While some of us have been in this work for an extended period of time and we have been able to watch some of the seeds we have planted grow in the lives our students lead after they have left us, we are typically immersed in the day-to-day, the checklist of the moment, the class to come, the next paper to grade.

It is challenging, then, to remember that our reach exceeds our grasp, ever and always. The work we do influences the world to come. It shapes society. It changes the world.

Changes. The. World.

That’s a gift worth receiving. It’s a gift worth sharing.

Teach & Serve II, No. 19 – Optimism Is a Choice

Teach & Serve II, No. 19 – Optimism Is a Choice

December 14, 2016

If we, as teachers and leaders, do not project optimism about the work, do not project positivism about the road ahead, do not push ourselves to be our best selves, who else will?

The days are short. The nights are long. For the last few weeks, many of us have been up before the sun breaks the velvet cover of night, have been on the road with the first slivers of light shine and have still been at our desks or in our classrooms as darkness begins to fall. The push to Christmas Break can be a challenging one and, though the promise at the end of the push is days off, celebrations of hope with family and friends and a few moments of re-creation, the payoff of these days can seem distant.

So can our own hope and optimism. It can be difficult to maintain a joyous and optimistic outlook when we are as drained as the teachers and students with whom we are journeying. It can be especially difficult this time of year.

Let’s look, then, at the other times of the year – the times when we are not at the end of the semester, the times when we are not buried by our fatigue, the length of the semester, the culmination of days without breaks. On the typical day during the typical week, as teachers and administrators, how conscious are we of maintaining our optimism and our joy? Do we make an effort to project an optimistic and outlook? Do we challenge ourselves to be the most positive person in the room?

We should. We really, really should.

If we, as teachers and leaders, do not project optimism about the work, do not project positivism about the road ahead, do not push ourselves to be our best selves, who else will?

I pose that question wanting you to reflect on it. If we are not positive, who else will be?

As leaders, are we not, in a very real way, responsible for the spirit of our work? Are we not responsible for trying to positively influence the mood of the school? Are we not responsible for how the place feels?

Optimism is a choice and it is a significant one.

As leaders, one of our goals should be to be the person our students and staffs point to and say “she’s so positive. He looks at everything optimistically. I feel better when I am with her.” We should be the “life of the party.” We should be the foundation around which people gather. We should develop the habit of looking on the bright side, of seeing the glass as half full, of always seeking out new and better possibilities. If we inculcate this mindset during the good times, the typical times, the normal times, how much easier will it be for us to be positive when we’re tired, when we’re low, when we are at the end of semesters?

We should be optimistic.

If we are not, can we truly expect others to be?

EduQuote of the Week: December 12 – 18, 2016

No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure. 

Emma Goldman

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Teach & Serve II, No. 18 – Disagreement and Dialogue

Teach & Serve II, No. 18 – Disagreement and Dialogue

December 7, 2016

It’s just so much easier to only consult yourself and it feels good. You are the leader. You have all the answers. Cue the swelling violins.

Picture the scene if you will: it’s towards the end of a long day at the end of a long week at the end of a long month. An extended break lies minutes away, if you can just get out of your classroom or your office. You have a few things to do, but the end is near. You can feel it. You can sense it.

You want it.

As you reach to unplug your device and switch off your light, someone is in your space. This person just wants a few minutes. Just a few.

You’re a good teacher. You’re a good leader. You settle back in.

“What’s up?” You ask.

“I really disagree with that decision you made.” You are told.

What happens next?

Does our body language stiffen? Do our eyes roll? Do we get defensive? Do we evade?

What happens next has a lot to say about what kind of leader you are.

Far too often when decisions are questioned, leaders tend to immediately defend. Leaders tend to immediately explain. Leaders tend to immediately justify.

disagreeIt makes sense (assuming decisions are thought out, thought through and thought about) to defend them. They have been arrived at with consideration. They have been put in place. They have been enacted. Why are they being questioned? It makes sense that we are ready to explain when our decisions are challenged. But is that the right course?

What if we asked questions, instead? What if our approach to disagreement invited dialogue? What if we validated the question of our decision by validating the person asking the question?

“What part of this don’t you like?” we might ask. “Why is this troubling?” we might ask. “What else should we consider?” we might ask.

Often, we don’t ask these questions. We are sometimes more invested in the decision than in the people it affects. We are sometimes worried about what engaging on questions like these says about us as strong leaders. We are sometimes too stubborn to listen.

We should listen. We should engage. We should be less invested.

Hey, some decisions must be made, made quickly and adhered to, but not all. On those decisions where we can talk, where these is give and take, we’d be well advised to do some giving, to encourage some taking. Our leadership is stronger when we can be questioned. Our decisions better when they can be explained.

Those we lead will trust us and our decisions more when we talk through them and engage in healthy dialogue and disagreement about them. They will trust us more when we trust them and illustrate that trust by our openness to this kind of talk.

Imagine if we modeled this. Imagine in our mode of engagement with disagreement became the standard way our schools operated. Imagine what it would be like if constructive conversation was the result of question and if disagreement was not feared and avoided. We know that avoiding small disagreements is the first ingredient in the recipe to create larger ones…

Clearly, the above scene is a set up. You’re tired. You’re looking to leave. You’re ready for a break. However, if we can present our best selves when we are not at our best, how much better can we be when we are? If we are practiced at respecting disagreement and encouraging dialogue as a matter of course, it should not matter if we are at the end of the day or the beginning, at the end of the semester or the start.

When we encourage healthy dissent and constructive dialogue, we shape a collaborative environment. That’s the kind of environment we should desire to build.

EduQuote of the Week: December 5 – 11, 2016

Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.

Daniel Boorstin

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Teach & Serve II, No. 17 – Questions, Answers and Gaps

Teach & Serve II, No. 17 – Questions, Answers and Gaps

November 30, 2016

It’s just so much easier to only consult yourself and it feels good. You are the leader. You have all the answers. Cue the swelling violins.

As educational leaders – classroom teachers or administrators or counselors or staff members – we sometimes believe our job is to make everyone happy. We sometimes think that, to be successful, we must be all things to all people. We want to have all the answers. We often strive to fill every gap, reasoning that, if we fail in doing so, we fail in being good leaders.

This is a mindset that we ought to question. It is foolish. It is self-defeating. It is dangerous.

Operating from it will inevitably damage one’s credibility and hamstring one’s leadership.

Leaders find themselves clinging to this philosophy by reading their own press and listening too much to the own voices. Frequently, leaders feel responsible for not only the success of the endeavors being led, but also for how people feel as they are being led. And that’s okay. It’s what leaders do with those impulses that can define them.

gapLeaders sometimes think they must have every answer, pull every correct lever, do it all on their own. Leadership can be lonely, sure, but leaders who isolate themselves from those they lead – and this is as true of administrators as it is of classroom teachers – can quickly find themselves in an echo chamber that reverberates with one message: “Yours is the most important voice.”

When we feel as though we, alone, have all the answers, we already have one foot down the rabbit hole. Very effective leaders who believe this become less effective very quickly. And less effective leaders fall into this trap all too readily.

It’s just so much easier to only consult yourself and it feels good. You are the leader. You have all the answers. Cue the swelling violins.

Here’s the thing: real leaders understand they don’t have all the answers. They know that they cannot have all the answers.

Real leaders embrace the idea that there are gaps all around them that they cannot and should not try to fill on their own. They revel in the fact that only together, working with colleagues, with students, with families, can challenges be negotiated, hurdles overcome and gaps filled. Real leaders look for the gaps and then empower people to fill them in. And, when necessary, the allow themselves to be directed to pick up a shovel and move dirt.

Weak leaders do the opposite. They fear an environment where they don’t have all the answers – where there are gaps – and, when gaps are pointed out to them, they rush to fill them with whatever materials they have on hand. They need to fill them because gaps indicate to them that they are not doing the job, that there are unhappy people, that they don’t have all the answers.

Strong leaders know they do not have all the answers. They create an environment that recognizes that gaps are normal. Gaps are natural. Gaps are opportunities.

Strong leaders look for opportunities to ask questions that unite. Weak leaders look to answer all questions before they are even asked.

EduQuote of the Week: November 28 – December 4, 2016

Learning is not by chance. It must be sought with ardor and diligence.

Abigail Adams

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