EduQuote of the Week: November 14 – November 20, 2016

Education is what allows you to stand out.

Ellen Ochoa

Office Door Quotes 2

Teach & Serve II, No. 14 – Negative/Positive

Teach & Serve II, No. 14 – Negative/Positive

November 9, 2016

Part of leadership is to put the positive in perspective while confronting the negative and sorting through it for truth.

A good friend of mine said something very interesting to me a few weeks back: “The negative opinion can seem to be the more informed opinion. Be careful with that.” I’ve considered this comment more than once in the subsequent weeks since he said it and I have not only come to believe that is it true, I also believe that how a leader thinks about this statement says much about how that leader leads overall.

Certainly, leadership gathers reaction. Leadership inspires reaction. Leadership ignites reaction.

And, yes, leaders must contend with the reactions of those being lead – both the positive and the negative reactions. Part of leadership is to put the positive in perspective while confronting the negative and sorting through it for truth. Upon which kind of reaction does a leader spend the most time? Upon which should a leader spend the most time?

positive-negativeThere is a reason – and it is a bad one – that the old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is shared with such regularity: because it is true. Those who complain often and loudly get audience, get recognition, get traction. Those who make arguments find themselves in principals’ offices, whether to be heard or to be reprimanded. Those who express the negative are too frequently regarded among the intelligentsia of faculties and staffs.

Remember, negative opinions are not the most informed, but they often seem that way.

Why is that? Whose responsibility is that?

I believe the responsibility, while it is shared, falls far more on the leader than the complainer. How the leader addresses and repairs the squeaky wheel is critical. And how the leader proceeds in the face of negativity and complaints says far more about the leader than the constituents.

If the leader gives equal weight to each complaint with limited ability to discern what is actually central and informed and what is not, the doesn’t speak well of her leadership. If the leader gives too little weight or cannot distinguish what should be handled and what should be turfed, that, too, is a significant problem.

But the leaders who feel that every negative opinion must be addressed, countered, taken on and confronted because there is a sneaking suspicion that the rationale behind complaints is somehow better reasoned and, therefore, has more validity that other thoughts is just wrong minded.

It can feel as though negativity is sharper, smarter, better developed than positivity, but that simply is not the case. How a leader deals with the predilection in himself and others to jump to this conclusion can make or break the leader in critical moments and at critical times because complaints can underscore crisis. The leaders’ response to them can promote crisis.

Watch leaders you admire handle negativity. Watch leaders around you address complaint. They will be confronted by both. What they do when confronted tells a story.

Of course, so do responses to praise, but that’s a post for another day…

 

 

Teach & Serve II, No. 13 – Have a Mission

Teach & Serve II, No. 13 – Have a Mission

November 2, 2016

There’s a good question for the day: why are you in education?

Let’s bracket something we (hopefully!) know: our jobs working with students, their families, our colleagues and fellow teachers in education are really wonderful. We are lucky to have them; blessed to do the work. In many instances – more often than not, I trust – our work is life supporting and life giving. Being in education is a good gig.

However, those of us in the work know that these jobs we do can also be challenging. They can be frustrating. They can be hard.

When the work gets to us and when those with whom we work drive us down (yes, it happens), where do we turn? What keeps us going? How do we recharge?

startwithwhyCertainly we can turn to colleagues. We can rely on family. We can touch base with students. We can center ourselves with friends. All of these people can be sources of great support and can help carry us through the more difficult moments in the work.

But I am not sure they are enough. I am not sure our support structures are enough to rely upon when challenges mount.

To do the work, to do it well, to weather the storms, it would be best if we believed. It would be best if we had faith. It would be best if we embraced the work as our mission.

Our support systems can help us through moments. They can explain and contextualize and assist. But can they tell us why we have chosen this work? Can they tell us why we do what we do?

There’s a good question for the day: why are you in education?

It’s a simple question. Is the answer simple?

My argument? The answer should be simple. Your answer should be direct. Concise. Simple.

Why do you teach? Why do you administrate? Why are you in education?

Can you answer it? Can you do so succinctly?

Your answer is your mission.

Simon Sinek about whom I’ve written before is an author and consultant on leadership. He has written an entire book called Start with Why. I highly recommend it. Though it’s perhaps weighted too much towards business for our purposes as educators, it does reveal a significant truth: those who know why they do what they do tend to be happier, more fulfilled and more successful.

Do you have a mission in your work? Do you have a mission as an educator? Can you state it clearly and simply?

Do you have a mission?

EduQuote of the Week: October 31 – November 6, 2016

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Albert Einstein

Office Door Quotes 2

EduQuote of the Week: October 24 – October 30, 2016

You are always a student, never the master. You have to keep moving forward.

Conrad Hall

Office Door Quotes 2

Teach & Serve II, No. 11 – Failure Is an Option

Teach & Serve II, No. 11 – Failure Is an Option

October 19, 2016

Failure, under the right circumstances, is good for us and good for our students.

Apollo 13 is a wonderful movie. It has everything I love in film. It’s beautifully directed by Ron Howard, has a great cast featuring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinese, the Oscar nominated Kathleen Quinlan and Kevin Bacon and, those of us with minds for such things, remember Ed Harris (also nominated for an Academy Award) and his performance as NASA stalwart Gene Krantz. In fact, after “Houston, we have a problem” his line “Failure is not an option” is the most quoted bit of dialogue from the film.

apollo-13Remember the moment: the astronauts running out of oxygen, their ship seemingly irreparably damaged and the earth-bound engineers have to find a way to get them home. Certainly, in that moment, failure was absolutely not an option and fail the brainiacs at NASA did not. Astronaut Jim Lovell and his crew were brought safely back to Earth.

In our work as educators with our students and, perhaps, more pressingly, their families, do we sometimes err too much towards the idea that failure is not an option?

I am not talking about failing grades. We all understand the high stakes involved when we “fail” our students. The ramifications are tremendous and can have disastrous consequences for our students. Surely, some will receive these grades and will have to do what they can to recoup their losses. But this is not the failure of which I write.

If one is coming from the perspective that an educator does all she can to ensure that a student does not fail, I am in almost complete agreement. I almost completely support that perspective. I respond very, very well to teachers and administrators who believe no one should fail on their respective watches and put in place all the machinations to try to keep failure at bay. I hope we all do all we can to help our students succeed.

Do you read some hesitation here?

I am hesitant. I am hesitant to wholly endorse the idea that part of the role of educators is to eradicate failure.

When we fail at something – something about which we care and this is an important distinction (this entire post is predicated on the idea that good educators inspire students to care about their subjects and their work) – can we not learn from the process? Does our failure not often compel better effort and harder work in the future?

I would argue that it does. Our failure, in the hands of the right teacher, does inspire us to be better. It does inspire us to do better. Again, if the teacher has the trust of the student and has made the material relevant to the students’ life, failure is an option.

We know that our society mocks participation ribbons and critiques the “everyone is special” culture. We know that there is a line of thought that suggests that this sort of treatment of kids is making entire generations soft and is leaving them unprepared to face the “Real.” “World.”

I don’t know that I would go that far. But I do know that some failure, some striving, some reaching for that which has alluded our grasp and is difficult to attain is good for us.

Failure, under the right circumstances, is good for us and good for our students.

Though, I grant it would not have been good for those fellas on Apollo 13. For them, I am glad failure was not an option. For the rest of us, let’s create an environment in which it is.

EduQuote of the Week: October 17 – October 23, 2016

We cannot teach people anything. We can only help them discover it within themselves.

Galileo

Office Door Quotes 2

Teach & Serve II, No. 10 – Leaders Should Hold Themselves to the Highest Standards

Teach & Serve II, No. 10 – Leaders Should Hold Themselves to the Highest Standards

October 12, 2016

… we don’t meet these standards because we are being watched. We meet them because we know that meeting them makes us better leaders, more integrated leaders, more authentic leaders.

I, like many, am fatigued by our current political season. I am fatigued by the rhetoric. I am fatigued by the tone. I am fatigued by the analysis.

I am fatigued.

I am not an historian and my experience teaching history is limited to the terrific experience I had as part of a team taught American Literature/American History class. I leaned heavily upon my co-teachers for the history portion of the curriculum. My time instructing American Studies was spent, primarily, in the literature part of the course – for good reason. However, one does not need to be an historian to recognize that, of the many things lost in the current political climate, one thing that is certainly rarely discussed in any kind of real fashion is personal responsibility.

This is a damn shame. Truly. In a presidential election, our thoughts can be inspired. We ought to consider those who strive for the office of President leaders. If they have gotten far enough in their professions and in their lives to be “in the conversation,” then they should be leaders. Whether we agree with their platforms and outlooks, those we consider for this office ought to be, at the very least, leaders. They ought to hold themselves to the highest standards of professional conduct, to be sure. Some would argue that they ought to hold themselves to the highest standards of personal conduct as well.

I know. There is much to say about that this election cycle and those embroiled in it.

That’s not the purpose of this post. Better, smarter people than I can take this on.

Instead of placing our focus on our upcoming choice, let us focus more close to home.

We are teachers, administrators, educators. We are, in a very real sense, leaders.

To what standards do we hold ourselves?

We are watched. Our roles are public. Our students and our colleagues notice us. They pay attention to what we do.

standardsDo we in timeliness to and from appointments, in our structuring of the starts and stops of our meetings, in dismissing students from our classes, in our connections with our parents and students and staff hold ourselves accountable to schedules? Do we meet deadlines in the manner we expect deadlines to be met? Do we answer emails in a timely fashion? Voicemails? Do we sign in and out of our buildings as we expect others to? Do we take attendance? Do we enforce dress codes? Do we dress as we should?

This list could go on.

The reality of our lives – our lives in the spotlight – is that we are watched. What we do and how we do it influences our ability to lead.

The “higher” on the ladder we climb, the less we are “watched.” There are fewer people sharing the rungs with each step we ascend. Therefore, there are fewer people in supervisory roles of us. And that’s as it should be. As we progress in our leadership journeys, we are trusted more fully.

Commensurately, there are fewer holding us to high standards.

Therefore, we have to pay all the more attention to holding ourselves to them.

And we should. We should hold ourselves to the highest standards. If we are administrators and our teachers have to attend an in service, so should we. If we are department chairs and members of our departments have turn in written lesson plans, we should, too. If we are coaches and we demand our players be dressed out on the field at a certain time, we should be there to meet them. If we are teachers and we demand work turned in on time with no exceptions, we must hold ourselves to that same standard in our grading of student work.

And we don’t meet these standards because we are being watched. We meet them because we know that meeting them makes us better leaders, more integrated leaders, more authentic leaders.

We meet them because it’s the right things to do.

Think of the leaders you admire. My guess is you don’t admire them because they cut corners. You admire them because they don’t.

EduQuote of the Week: October 10 – October 16, 2016

What the teacher is, is more important than what the teacher teaches.

Karl Menninger

Office Door Quotes 2

Teach & Serve II, No. 9 – You Don’t Get to Choose When the Crisis Hits

Teach & Serve II, No. 9 – You Don’t Get to Choose When the Crisis Hits

October 5, 2016

As teachers and administrators we exist to do many things, one of those things is to provide stability in the face of crisis.

I read comic books. I’ve read them since I was in the first grade and, though I tried to give them up my freshman year of college, the effort to “grow up” didn’t take. I have moved into the 21st century in my collecting and no longer buy physical issues, but purchase my comics electronically and access them via my iPad. Pretty cool stuff.

batmansketchOne of the major tropes in traditional, superhero comic books is villains do bad things that heroes have to address. What works out great for the heroes is that these bad things villains do normally happen in sequences. The Joker causes Batman trouble for a few issues, then Two-Face, then the Riddler. Rarely do they overlap in their assaults.

How kind of them. It gives good old Batman a chance to recover from one crisis and plan for the next.

I have found in my career that rarely are the circumstances of crisis so kind. I never got to choose when the crisis hit.

When the waters are troubled, when things challenge our institutions, when tragedy comes or bad things happen, inevitably our students, families and colleagues look around them for stability. They look around them for leadership.

They look to us.

As teachers and administrators we exist to do many things, one of those things is to provide stability in the face of crisis.

It’s not just about having crisis plans though, if you don’t have them, you’d better get them put together quickly and, if you don’t have an ongoing process of review, you’d better develop one. Crisis plans are important, without question. However, they are steps in processes. They are ladders to climb and guidelines to follow. They help center and routinize and react.

They don’t help lead.

Bracketing the debate about whether leaders are born, not made, there is little doubt that most good leaders share similar qualities and one of those is preparation. Most good leaders are prepared and they are ready.

But how can we be prepared for what we don’t know is coming?

There are ways.

Leaders anticipate events. They anticipate the good but, perhaps more importantly, they anticipate the bad, the challenging, the tragic. When good comes, it’s smiles all around. Good is an easy place from which to lead. Bad, on the other hand, is not. It is a challenging place from which to lead – perhaps the most challenging. Teachers who anticipate the cheating, the loss of their own cool, the bad behaviors in their classrooms are not surprised when these things (and others) occur. They are ready because they knew they were coming. Administrators who know they will have to dismiss employees, confront their own errors in judgement, handle difficult parents and other negative scenarios do not collapse from their shock at having to address these kinds of events because they anticipated them.

In order to be ready for crisis, excellent leaders visualize what’s coming. What will it feel like when a student directs their negative energy at me? What will it feel like when a teacher has such a terrific lapse in judgement that they have to be dismissed? What will it feel like when there is a death in our community? We can think through specific events before they happen. And we should.

Athletes and actors rehearse. They learn their parts and, through the exercise, they improve. Why do we not emphasize this sort of activity for ourselves? We can role play events before they happen. In schools, we are going to confront terrible events and we can name the scenarios: discipline issues in our classrooms, irrational staff members, irate parents, suicidal students. The list is significant. How much better might we be at handling these issues if we brought together other leaders in the schools and played out these scenes. Have someone play the role of the teacher whose lapses in judgement require probation or dismal or have them play the unhinged parent or the grieving family. Have them take on the character of a social worker coming to the school to interview a kid or of a kid who’s reporting a sexual assault. Do what you can to make it seem real. Don’t let the crisis be the first time you’ve considered what you will say and how you will be effected – how you will react. Role play the challenges of which you can think. In this way, you face the issues before they come and work through them.

I wish the crises I face were more like the Joker, Two Face and the Riddler. I wish they came on predictable schedules and were heralded by maniacal proclamations. My crises are not like this and I am not like Batman.

What I can be and hope, more often than not, I am is prepared. If we anticipate, visualize and game plan, we can lead through crisis even though we don’t get to choose when it hits.