Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Collaborative Effort - 5 Qualities of an Impactful Meeting



Have you ever left a meeting where you were completely and positively energized from the work that was just accomplished?

As you think back to those meetings, were there any attributes that repeat themselves?

Many times we take the structure and the success (or failure) of a meeting for granted. Often times we give credit to one or two people (deservingly so) who organized the time together or we just assume that good leaders have good meetings.

While that may account for the success of some of these times we come together, there is more. Much more. Meetings that have us leaving with excitement and eagerness have a few (very) specific qualities in common.

In the last couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to be a part of a few different collaborations that were absolute game-changers. I left these conversations ready to take on the day and the week ahead. Hard to think that a "meeting" could be this energizing and exciting and leave the lasting impact that it did. In fact, they did just that.

Here is what made all the difference in each of these conversations:

Input for the agenda. Not to be taken for granted, asking for agenda items in advance goes along way with those in attendance. Not only would this upcoming time together be about what the leader felt significant for us to discuss, they also took the time to ask us what was important to share with the group. Call it buy-in or call it input, this is the epitome of being collaborative.

Respect the time. Too often we sit in meetings wishing it would be over so we could get back to the list of items awaiting us. Just like asking for our agenda input, our time was respected and it was shared up front how long we would be away from the building. This allows for a clear ending time so that others, including ourselves, would know when we would return.

Stay on task. Personally, this can be the most difficult attribute for me in many aspects of my day. I am the master of a tangent. In meetings, however, much like the ones of these past few weeks, the group understood the task at hand and stuck to the agenda. While mini-break-offs are one thing, sticking to the agenda is another layer of respecting the process.

When it fails, own it. While we would like to think that all meetings can go off without a hitch, it is unlikely to say the least. So in the event that things do get heated or opinions begin to splinter, be the one to take charge and own any missteps along the way. The best leaders own their mistakes. The even better ones own them in front of others.

Give praise. Recently I left a meeting that I was confident went rather well. What made that crystal clear was that before I even got out of the parking lot I found myself in a group text chat of gratitude. This made the time, energy and effort that much more worthwhile. While we don't do what we do for praise, it sure feels great when we get it. So, next time you have a chance to offer praise to a colleague, do so. It feels just as awesome to give praise as it does to receive it.

While the list could go on, these 5 qualities capture a few of my takeaways from my most recent experiences. Some of these meetings I was a guest and others I co-led. It takes commitment to ensure that time together is powerful and purposeful. The challenge has been placed in front of me. Continue to grow in how I lead others.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Ready, Go. Welcome to August!


My hope is that all educators took time these past couple of months to pause, rejuvenate, find balance and give back to family and friends the time, energy and love that many devote to their schools throughout the year.

The calendar has turned, August has arrived. I truly believe that having this time away is intentionally designed into our work. We each know what we give of ourselves when students and staff are present. The weeks away are a needed period of time to reset when they are not. These months are intentional, they are purposeful, they are essential.

Today is a new month on our calendars. For many, if not most, it is the month in which we officially get our mindset on the return of school. It is the time in which we tell ourselves to get (officially) going.

The reality is, however, if you are an educator like myself, you most likely never truly took time "off". Instead, you stayed connected via social media through twitter conversations and gathering of information. Many of us dove into the latest book(s) about the world in which we work. And each of us picked up the phone on more than one occasion to meet up with a teammate or colleague that inspires us every day we walk into the school buildings we serve. Learning never took any time off these past few months. Our growth continued.

Today, however, we officially begin. Emails from administrators will begin to hit our inboxes. Invitations for professional learning events will come from the districts we serve. And our own children, if you have them, will start asking the inevitable question, "how many days of summer until school starts?" For my children, the answer is 21.

To each of you reading this - it is time. It is time to be thinking about our classroom design and how we will be purposeful in building our relationships with students and staff. It is time to be thinking about lessons and instruction and how we will reach our learners where they are knowing where they need to be. It is time to ensure we are reaching the social and emotional needs of every child, every day, to the best of our ability. Today, it begins.

Good luck in the days and weeks ahead. You are committed to what you do and how you do it. Make this school year your best of all. Take on new challenges, embrace opportunities and be inspired and motivated to be at your best. Welcome to August, friends. It is time to do the work. 

Ready, go.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Why We Tribe - The Reasons Behind It

I don't even remember when it actually started. I know I can go back and search for a first post or try to put my finger on when I first tweeted my blog through social media. However, I am not sure that gets to the bottom of why I even started on this journey to begin with. We can each answer the when but can we each answer the why?

Blogging for me has been a rocky relationship. Some weeks and months I feel like I have so much to share and grow from by putting my experiences in writing. Then there are weeks, months and even the past school year in which I hardly wrote at all. There was guilt for not writing. Disappointment at times. I was not modeling everything I had encouraged others to do. I stepped back. Stayed quiet. I was trying to redefine my place.

As the school year went by and the seasons passed, my reflection on the year unfolding was getting louder. While I had stopped writing and posting, I hadn't stopped growing. I gave myself permission to step away from blogging. It wasn't until this spring that I found some answers and realized I needed to go back to the beginning of my journey. I needed reminded of my why.

June passes and now into July. The Compelled Tribe (a group of educators from across the country) were given a task and a challenge of sorts by writing to a prompt, a shared topic. We asked them, and therefore I ask myself, "Why [do] We Tribe?"
Our suggestion for your post this month is to use the power of reflection to move forward. Simply, "Why We Tribe". Each of us has committed to this group for one reason or another. Whether we are writing and reading as suggested or fall short due to the realities of life, why are we here? The goal is to tell our story and recommit to the group. Hopefully this post will encourage just that!
Now I find myself sitting here today gearing up for a new year, new challenges and many new faces. Relationships continue to grow and knowledge continues to expand. I find myself eager, yet scared. 

It sets in. It all comes back to the question that motivated and inspired me along with so many others to get into the world of blogging to begin with years ago. It answers the question. I am re-discovering my "why". 

While simple by words, it is not always simple to see. The reality is that it is our Tribe that is at the core of our why. And it is our Tribe that reinforces our reasons for blogging, reflecting and growing. 

Our Tribe:

... gives us an open and honest platform to REFLECT in our practice. Therefore, we get better at our craft. Our PLN is transparent and does not judge. Reflecting on what we do is essential to grow forward.

... is about RELATIONSHIPS first and foremost. When we find our tribe and commit to them whole-heartedly we grow. We live the model we preach in our school districts and in our classrooms. Relationships are at the foundation of everything that follows in teaching, learning and leading. Our tribe reminds us of this daily.

... provides an opportunity for each of us to RECOGNIZE our strengths and weaknesses. It is this group of people, our community, our tribe, that helps us see what otherwise we may be unable to recognize on our own. No rose-colored lenses here. Just honest feedback and an opportunity to expand who we are.

... energizes and REENERGIZES our passion for the work that we do. We all stumble and we all have days that are harder than others. The tribe is always there. We stand with each other in our best of times and our worst of times. We feed off the stories of each other. The tribe brings the energy.

... gives each of us the opportunity to REJOICE in our work and the work of others. The power of the professional learning network is more than a passing moment. Connecting with others and sharing our story is part of our growth and our way to celebrate the work of others. We rejoice in what we see in others. 

There are thousands of bloggers in all aspects of work and life. There are hundreds of educators that take the time to write about their journey.  And many of them are better at their craft than me. I am content being a small fish in a very large pond. 

At the end of the day, being a part of a tribe and many different tribes at that, it is what allows me to grow in what I do each and every day. Whether my tribe is the building I serve and the community within, the district leadership team I am blessed to be a part of, the Compelled Tribe of educators from coast to coast, or my family at home, it is the experiences of each of these that allow me to give to others and therefore answers my why. My why is my tribe(s). And for that, I am grateful.

Why do you Tribe? Check out what Seth Godin says about finding your tribe.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Back to the Beginning


We each have our own version of what reflection is, what it looks like and what the intentions are. For me, writing about my educational experiences had been my path for so long. For years I had taken to the keyboard to share the journey I was on with the work that I do.

And then I stopped.

The passion for writing fell short. I struggled with this and internalized whether or not I could even have the word "blogger" in my online description of who I was as an educator and as a professional. Defeat set in. Failure loomed. Certain relationships went silent.

As the months passed and the lack of sharing my journey through blogging continued to have zero presence in the online world, I came to the realization that it was my own fears that had been holding me back. And most importantly, it was the fear of failure that had become the barrier to my desire to write.

Some of us are better than others at putting our thoughts, emotions and stories onto the canvas of a paper through the movement of keys on a computer. Others of us have found that sharing our journey is often done more effectively through the simple art of listening and conversing face-to-face. It is the relationships that we form through personal interactions that inspire us to do the work we do.

In the end, maybe we are one in the same. Maybe we should focus more on the "why" and less on the "how".

The reality is that we each have a story worth sharing. Our outcomes in our work are a series of responses we have made in decisions, actions and purposes of each day. Maybe it is time to rethink the vehicle in which we share our own story. Simply put - if we share, we grow.

I have always believed, and still do to this day, that written reflection can be one of the most powerful tools in our growth. Pausing, sharing, refining, editing and publishing our story can be transformational and inspirational.

It is our commitment to reflect that will guide each of us on our leadership paths.

Giving myself permission to step away from the keyboard is what has motivated me to return to it. Spending less energy on how I write and refocusing on why I write has been the difference.

My voice is back.

The story is just beginning.

Learning Through Observing


Mesmerized by the passions of others. Writing, sharing, teaching. Educators striving to make an impact with students, with colleagues and with a community. Learning does not happen in isolation. 


Learning is not a moment in time, learning is constant over time. 

Watching others contribute to ones growth in knowledge has no specific formula. There is no specific way. We stumble, we attempt and we stay firm in our belief that in the end, we are better than where we started because we believe in each other. We believe in our growth.

Our convictions are strong. Anchored through the conversations with others and built on the foundation of trust and a goal to be committed to the organization in which we serve and to learn ourselves. 

Learning occurs through observing. And, doing. We must have a willingness to let go of what we may have thought was once the only path and find the path that will make us better tomorrow than we were today. Sometimes looping back, paths are meant to be blazed through the daily challenges in life. 

Not every step has one that follows. Your path is just that, yours.

Watching, growing, breathing. Being the best version of ones self. 

Always learning. Always observing. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The End.


By now we are all heading into the home stretch of the school year with our students and staffs. Celebrations are taking shape and students and teachers alike are getting restless as the days pass by. Undoubtedly, the year is coming to an end.

Before you put all of your thought into your ending, let's reflect back to the beginning. Do you recall that first month? Do you remember what you did to kick off your year to set the tone for the teaching and learning that has happened these past 8 months?

My (obvious) guess is that you focused on the power of relationships.

Your beginning, like mine, was consumed with getting-to-know-you activities, completing learner inventories and, of course, simply learning the names of your students. You were engaged and invested. You were discovering who you would spend your year with.

Now that the year is almost over, how will you finish? Will you remain as engaged and invested until that final bell on that final day?

Personally, I am fully entrenched in our year-end celebrations. We have planned out those special moments in which we acknowledge the accomplishments of the year. Change is around the corner and we are nervously excited for the next adventure in our journey.

Whether graduation for our kindergarten classes all the way through our graduates of the class of 2018, we must end as strong (if not stronger) than how we started. We must bring the pomp and circumstance and celebrate each milestone of our year.

Build your ending as strong as you built your beginning. This is the end of our year. Remember, your ending is their ending.

Laugh, cry, reflect, share and take note of all that is that you accomplished this year. Find ways to stay connected and stay engaged. There will never be another ending to the one you are about to embark on.

Enjoy, the End.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Growing Differently


This year I haven't taken to the pages. And, the guilt of this has picked away at me over time. I take great pride in growing through writing. Therefore, when not writing, there has been a sense of disappointment. Until today.

As I was listening and learning today from George Coursos, it hit me. While I have had a sense of being at a loss these past few months for not modeling a platform of reflection (blogging) that I take great pride in, I was reminded (via George's comments) that quite possibly my growth this year has happened in other ways, equally as powerful, just not nearly as noticeable. 

Mr. Couros reminded me/us that while we need to find ways in which to share out our story, the way in which we do can change over time just like our students change the way in which they learn over time. And even though we may become accustomed to one particular way of doing so, we must constantly be evolving ourselves as learners. And therefore, as teachers.

The reality is that this past year I have found other ways to grow personally and professionally. And finally after months of "guilt" (and with the help of today's conversation), I feel a sense of understanding in my journey. 

This year, maybe more than others in years past, I have been more intentional and purposeful with:
  • Engaging with face-to-fact conversations and having deeper conversations about being impactful and effective in teaching and learning/leading.
  • Sharing our/my school story of successes and failures in teaching and learning through both my personal twitter account and our school (@wmscats) account and most importantly our school hashtag, #WeaverWay.
  • Helping others grow by encouraging and modeling multiple platforms of social media to reflect and grow as educators.
  • Reading some amazing books about my current role as an administrator and future role next year. (Message me if you would like my list!)
  • Growing others through intentional professional development as a community of learners.
  • Focusing on relationships first and foremost with students, staff, colleagues and community.
  • Building leadership capacity in those I work with day in and day out.
Reflecting today, and hearing the message of the morning, I am letting myself "off the hook" for not writing/blogging as much. Because in the end, I have grown just as much (if not more) but just in other ways and while using other tools. 

Mr. Couros also reminded me that if we ask our students to change in the ways in which they learn, then I too can change the way in which I am taught. The goal is growth. And for me, I have done just that this year.

Friday, February 2, 2018

4 Ways to Start Your Friday and Tie Up the Week


The week is wrapping up. Lessons taught, lessons learned. You have enjoyed the week and now it is time to tie it all together. Until Monday, that is.

As you start your day today, consider these four tips to ensure you maxed the week coming to an end and you can get your students thinking about the week coming up.

1. Turn and Talk (with the Teacher). Find time today to connect with as many of your students for a brief interaction of a take-away from the week of instruction. Think of all the material you covered, the goals of each day and strive to have that exchange with your learners. Teach 150 students throughout the day? No worries. Create a google spread sheet and each Friday have a plan get to a new bunch of students to connect with. By the end of the month you will have reached all of them.

2. Target Time. Speaking of goals, what lies ahead? Create a space in your course so that before students head off for the weekend they can make a quick note of a goal for the week ahead. It could be something as straight forward as being prepared for class, studying for an assessment or even paying better attention. Again, have that space for students to jot down what they are thinking. By the end of the quarter, share with them their goals for the nine weeks and encourage them to reflect on whether or not they attained the mark they set.

3. Share a Story. Working in the middle school I have a true appreciation for the ups and downs of the interactions of todays student. They are pulled in a thousand directions and asked to do a thousand different things. And many of those "things" are at once. At the end of the week, and throughout the week, take just a moment and have your students connect with a classmate. Share a story, a piece of work, a success. Kindness prevails - always.

4. Be the Planner. Whether the teacher in the classroom or the leader of the building, be prepared for Monday. It is a great feeling to walk out of the of building Friday afternoon and having your plans ready for the week ahead. Before you walk out those doors this afternoon, make sure you are excited to come back Monday. Because if you are not excited, they won't be either.  Have your lessons ready and enjoy the next two days for family, friends and time for you.

As educators we have the opportunity to set our day and week how we want it it to go and how we want our students to receive it. We have the standards in front of us but it is our own creativity and passion that will drive what each moment looks like. Fridays are as powerful as Mondays. So, make it count.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

4 Ways to Get a Pulse on Your Leadership


As leaders, much of the pulse of our work is done through the simple observation of our organization. We look for obvious signs of what is working and what may not. Often due to the lack time, we find ourselves asking surface level questions of our parents, staff and students to get an idea of the good or not so good. Hurrying to begin the day of tasks, we try to conduct random walkthroughs that can give us general sense that the organization is sailing relatively smoothly. While the attempt may genuine the results are obvious.
As an educational leader in todays schools, we can not settle on being average. 
The achilles heal of a leader can be the inability to look deeper into the organization and have intentional and purposeful conversations of the community they serve. While the lack of time can often be an excuse to getting some of the essential work done, leaders can also get comfortable, complacent and even flippant if they aren't careful and consistently (not to be confused with constantly) checking the pulse of their community.
As an educational leader we must commit ourselves to our own professional growth to support the growth of those we serve.
Here are four ways to get a pulse your leadership and ensure that you are not settling on average:

1. Leaders ask for and get feedback towards growth. When you ask for tough feedback from your staff about your leadership and they don't hesitate to give it to you, you are growing. When you ask the right questions and have the commitment to your culture, the feedback you get will be genuine and productive. Feedback can come through face-to-face conversations, staff surveys and from walking the halls and engaging the community. We know how walls can talk. We just have to be intentionally listening to them.

2. Leaders know the importance of active listening. Tim Kight of Focus3Culture recently tweeted this, "Listening is hard, real listening is real hard". As leaders, we need to spend more time actively listening rather than actively speaking/directing. More often than not, teachers approach leaders and the leaders take over the conversation. Instead, press pause and listen. An effective leader will be able to find balance. Don't get caught up in your response if you are not taking the time to hear what is being said.

3.  Leaders know how to facilitate to promote growth. Instead of directing traffic (managing teachers), effective leaders will lead by facilitating staff collaboration without the need to give an agenda or direction. A defining moment in your role as leader is when your leadership has transformed to one of facilitator. When you become a part of the conversations and are not expected to lead the conversations, you are leading. Leaders build leaders. Are you?

4. Leaders value and lead with relationships first. When leaders have teachers that know the importance of relationships and therefore lead their classroom environments in the same way, you have a healthy pulse on the culture of your building. When we build trust and we believe in our staff, we will excel as leaders and can focus on the work that really matters. Creating an environment with relationships at the core is easier said than done. Stay focused, stay driven.

As you work through the remainder of the year, check the pulse of your leadership. The actions of those you serve are a direct response to how you lead. Make sure that you ask for feedback, listen to your community, facilitate conversations and put your people first. And, stay connected. When you stay connected you provide yourself ongoing conversations about effective leadership and others can support the journey with you.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Pivot.


A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit the Philadelphia 76's corporate office and learn about their culture and their way of doing business. Getting a guided tour filled with an intense amounts of information I was quickly and powerfully engulfed in the atmosphere and collegiality of the organization. It became apparent rather quickly why and how they are leading the way in how a professional sports organization can thrive regardless of wins and losses. 

Scott O'Neil, president and CEO, has a clear vision for his organization and has an intense passion for being successful on the ice (New Jersey Devils) and on the court (76'ers). However, being the leader that he is, he has meticulously dedicated himself to the power of relationships, knowing his people and driving the collective culture of the teams he oversees by being present in all that he does. He defines leadership.

Reflecting back on that unique experience, there was a word shared that day that has remained in mind and has been ingrained through my thoughts of leadership ever since. That word is PIVOT. Shared in that meeting by a young executive, he described pivot this way:
Decision making. Make decisions that impact the organization to make us better, adjust and adapt quickly, fail forward, we need to pivot, don't keep doing things that are not working, PIVOT right then. 
Thinking through this description and having had the experience, I reflected on how this could translate and possible evolve into my One Word for 2018. 

My words have been: Finish, Purpose, Intentional and Push these past four years. All powerful and timely in their respective way, this year will be different for me professionally. It will be full of different experiences and new opportunities. A job change, new colleagues, creating a culture in a new space. Leading, organizing and guiding others I will be in a constant state of change. I will need to PIVOT day in and day out throughout the year ahead. 


My adaptation of PIVOT is this:
Remaining grounded to what is at the core of what is most important in teaching, learning and leading (culture) while recognizing the need to pivot to take your organization to "the edge" and strive to become ELITE. I will need to be present and be prepared at any given moment as I guide the organization in the work ahead. PIVOT as I, and we, fail forward and always be ready to pass, dribble or even drive the lane. To pivot is to embrace all that is around you. 
And with that, my OneWord for 2108 is PIVOT. My gratitude goes to Mr. O'Neil for his model of leadership of an impressive organization filled with passionate and loyal stakeholders. Thank you Michael for sharing what may have seemed to be a simple lesson in culture and climate and since then has morphed into much more. And, with equal gratitude, to the colleagues I see each day that have helped me thrive and succeed in what I get to do day in and day out. I serve. And I do so with great pride.

In the end, pivot throughout your journey in leading and learning. It is a game-changer and success will come on and off the court.