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…

 

 

EduQuote of the Week: November 7 – November 13, 2016

Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

Thomas Jefferson

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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

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Teach & Serve II, No. 12 – Don’t Shut the Door on the Library

Teach & Serve II, No. 12 – Don’t Shut the Door on the Library

October 26, 2016

My concern is … simple: will people develop a love of reading without the physicality of the activity and without its accompanying shrines?

I am so proud of my sister. She has been a children’s librarian for almost 20 years. I’ve seen what she does for kids: she inspires them to read. Through crafts and displays and public readings and activities, she seduces kids to the word. She brings them into the library. She is part of a long tradition of educators who inspire.

I love libraries. I love what they mean. What they are. What they can become. Reading has been something of a religion for me and libraries have been the churches in which I’ve practiced.

What got me hooked on the word? What got me started?

Batman made me read.

This is likely a true statement. I use the word “likely” because who really remembers exactly the moment they turned on to reading. How really recalls the day and time that reading became as important as anything else in life?

I don’t recall the exact second on which my life turned – that second I decided I would be a reader – by I know Batman was the reason.

I was in first grade. I could already read – pretty well, in fact. It was the mid-1970s and teachers were still dividing kids into ability groups. I was in the Dinosaurs with other good readers. I was not in the Lions. I got it. I could read and I liked it. I didn’t love it.

No, I didn’t love reading until the day that I ran headlong into the corner of a brick wall. On the way home from the hospital (6 stitches, don’t you know?), my father bought for me two comic books: Batman Family and Superman Family.

I fell in love with comics on the spot and I fell in love with superheroes. I couldn’t get enough of them.

While comic books were relatively cheap, my parents (wisely knowing the collecting hoarder I might one day become) didn’t always indulge my desire to buy them. Rather, we would hop in the car on many a weekend and head to the Arvada Public Library. There, as I recall, I could check out 3 items a week – whatever I wanted.

That what I wanted were more stories of superheroes was fine by my folks. I checked out comic books (which you could do back then… can you do it now?). I checked out books and records featuring stories of DC and Marvel superheroes. I checked out Little Big Books starring… wait for it… superheroes. The library fed my growing desire for comic book characters all the while powering my growing ability to read and comprehend.

I am not alone in owing libraries for this. Generation after generation learned to love language in just this fashion.

storytime
Not my sister… storytime in the 1970s

Libraries find themselves (as they ever have, by-the-way) at something of a crossroads, especially the ones in our schools. There is pressure to move them into the 21st Century (whatever that means), to make them media centers, iPad labs, moveable spaces, to take out books.

Hey, let’s draw the line a bit here.

I love me my iPad. I read most books and comics on it now. It’s convenient to be sure. That’s a good thing. But, I have to ask, are kids falling in love with reading using their computers, phones and iPads? Is the same connection to the word developed with a tablet?

Professor Andrew Dillon has done some work on the subject. He’s concerned about the tactile differences and how we are being conditioned. Professor Anne Mangen worries about the recall ability of those using e-readers rather than books. There are concerns.

My concern is much more simple: will people develop a love of reading without the physicality of the activity and without its accompanying shrines?

We have to be careful when we talk about modernizing our libraries. We have to pay attention to what’s come before those thoughts. We have to realize the stakes and they are high. Let’s have high tech rooms, makers’ spaces, robotics labs and technology dens.

But, for education’s sake, let’s have libraries. Let’s have books.

Batman made me read. Libraries fed my habit. I am an educator now who reveres the word.

Is there a through line?

You better believe it.

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

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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

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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

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