Lessons Learned Through Sports

I grew up playing sports.  My three brothers and I were always on the go.  Whether it was playing whiffle ball in the backyard or tackle football in the nearby field, we were always playing something.  We spent very little time in the house.  Our neighborhood was our playground.

I played baseball, lacrosse, football, basketball, soccer, and wrestled.  I wasn’t an athlete.  I liked to wear a uniform.  Seriously, I was lured to sports by the smell of a fresh new uniform, hat, or helmet.  We grew up in a humble home.  We had what we needed, but we were never spoiled.  Sports allowed us to be anything we wanted to be.  They were an escape to a great adventure.

As adult, when I look back on those years, I realize I learned more about leadership through sports than I ever have from a training or professional development experience.  The lessons I learned from playing sports have stayed with me through every step of my career.  They are simple lessons, yet they have provided me with a stable base in the most challenging times.

Here are a few of those lessons:

1-Preparation is important

To be successful in sports and in life, you have to be prepared.  Being prepared means you study.  You study your craft.  You read.  You consider yourself a lifelong learner.  Every destination is the starting point to the next journey.  People who think they’ve arrived get lazy and complacent.  Celebrate success, then make your next plan.

2-You have to be willing to work hard

I grew up in an era when people said, “Hard work is its own reward.”  There is great value in sweating and extending yourself beyond your comfort level.  In some ways, the results don’t always matter if you are willing to work hard.  Success happens through fixing mistakes.  Putting your head down and giving that extra effort often leads to good results.

3-Teamwork is key

It is rare for anyone to succeed without the support of others.  Teamwork isn’t always pretty.  Teammates can disagree, argue, and push your buttons.  Being on a team isn’t always a comfortable experience.  That’s a good thing.  Few great accomplishments ever come from completely harmonious efforts.  As long as everyone has the same goal and vision, the team will eventually function at a high level.

4-Your attitude matters

If you don’t find joy in your professional pursuits, consider finding another field.  Your attitude matters.  Nothing inspires others more than working with someone who has a true passion for their profession.  Are you going to have a great attitude every day? No, of course not.  Recognize those moments and do your best to protect others from your mood or find a good listener and share your worries.

5-You won’t always win

I teach chess to elementary students.  The first conversation we have before touching a piece is about winning and losing.  Everyone eventually fails at something.  Failure is a given.  It’s all about how you respond.  Resilience is becoming a scarce personal commodity.  Spend a little time mourning your loss, then make a plan to get better.

6-You learn more from losing

Winning is awesome, but we rarely learn much from it.  Winning teams are constantly examining their success.  They evaluate their individual players and make adjustments as necessary.  However, when they lose, they use the opportunity to get better.  They don’t wallow in self-pity.  They find the teachable moments from losing.

7-Continually set goals and revise

In sports and in life, we must be willing to set goals.  Say them out loud.  Tell them to other people.  Write them down.  We all have the power to reinvent ourselves.  Whether you reach a goal or not, set a new one.  When you stop setting goals, you are making a conscious decision to withdraw from the game.  That’s no fun.  Life should be fun.  Set goals that will stretch you as a person.  Those are the goals that will give you the most personal satisfaction when you reach them.

I am grateful for the opportunities my parents gave me growing up.  They gave me the support and encouragement I needed to try a variety of sports.  With four sons born close together, they spent hours driving us to practice, coaching, and cheering us on.  Sports are not life, but they certainly make life more enjoyable.  Most importantly, they teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way.

Teacher Leadership Matters

Teacher leadership was the discussion topic for #mdeschat the other night.  Many great insights were shared.  Here are a few:

“A leader helps to create more leaders and inspires. That is exactly what I want to do as a teacher.” -Michael Donnelly @mrdonnelly3

“In the collaborative culture that we build, shared leadership is needed, we can’t do it alone!” –Cheryl Cox @CoxCherylcox628

“Teaching is so complex and involves so many variables; empowering critical thinking about what matters is key.” –Walter Reap @WalterReap

“In education, change is constant. By empowering teachers as leaders, they can implement systemic goals in a way that is meaningful to students.” –Dana Wiles @nfesgr2

“Teacher leaders affect student achievement exponentially by raising the expectations among colleagues.” –Elizabeth Curley @Curley_Liz

“Opportunities to collaborate with county resource staff allows teacher leaders to enjoy learning and sharing while inspiring others.” –Vanessa Gilbert @vanlynn75

“Shared leadership allows the school to capitalize on the different talents each member of the team brings to the community.” –Zipporah Miller @zipmiller

“Teachers, when empowered, learn a lot from each other.” –Todd Stanzione @toddstanzione

“Benefits of teacher leadership: teacher retention, student achievement, positive school culture, decreased isolation, enhanced collaboration.” –Andrea Zamora @AACPS_Zamora

“Leadership is about one’s vision of him/herself. Not about title or position, it is about one’s actions.” –Jill Snell @Jill_Snell81

“To grow, teachers need to step out of the classroom and see varying perspectives; grow from the strength of others and stretch their thinking.” –Stephanie Straw @ststoney16

“Teacher leaders are innovative, have high expectations for all, and are masterful at cultivating relationships to grow students.” –Denise Faidley @DeniseFaidley

“If the teacher is a facilitator and leader, she/he will guide students to discover and build their learning by solving real life problems.” –Evylyn Quinones @evyabel

Such awesome insight from a great PLN!  If others share these views on teacher leadership our children are in good hands!

Let’s make soup!

Thursday, February 4th is National Homemade Soup Day.  To celebrate, three members of the #mdeschat PLN shared what “ingredients” make a school great.  They offer the following food for thought, which is best digested with a nice bowl of homemade soup, you decide what kind!

“I’d say the three most important ingredients that will determine if a school is great are people, relationships, and mindset.  A great school doesn’t ever reach “greatness.” The stakeholders have a growth mindset and are always looking for ways to improve and adjust their contributions to improve the school. The journey to greatness is never complete.  You need people who are working to improve themselves, each other, and to teach the students a growth mindset. This includes all stakeholders, not just school staff.  The relationships between people is what will facilitate the school stakeholders in being able to learn and grow from each other. Basically, a great school is one that is better tomorrow than it was today.” Michael Donnelly, @mrdonnelly3, 6th GradeTeacher, Monarch Global Academy                   

“I think there are a lot of components that make a school great, but the number one “ingredient” is the ability to take feedback in all aspects and create change.  Feedback from students, parents and teachers.  Teachers accepting feedback from administration, parents and students.  Administrators taking feedback from students, parents and teachers and making changes.  Accepting feedback to make positive changes leads to a positive school culture where everyone feels like they have a voice in their child’s education which ultimately leads to student success.”-Ginger Henley, @miss_gingerann, Principal, Crofton Elementary

“Ingredients needed to make a school great: a great leader, fearless teachers, support, and creative freedom.  I think that a great leader is someone with a clear vision and the ability to both support and push staff members towards, not only that vision, but also reaching their full creative and professional potentials. To make a school great, teachers need to be fearless. They need to be willing to try new things (and possibly fail), take risks, and push themselves out of their comfort zones. Teachers will only be able to do this with a leader who will stand up for his/her teachers when necessary, otherwise there is so much extra “stuff” that will hold a school back from being exceptional. There needs to be out-of-the-box thinking, learning, and teaching happening to make a school great, and there needs to be a certain level of creative freedom in order for that to occur.” -Bonita Bradway, @boncheri86, 4th Grade Teacher, Tyler Heights Elementary

Wow, great advice from three exceptional educators!  Thanks to Mike, Ginger, and Bonita for sharing their “recipes” for school success.  Do you have any advice or thoughts on what successful schools do, or should do?  Add your ideas in the comment section below to keep the conversation going!

Here’s to a satisfying year!

Well, here we are on the brink of another school year.  Every year brings a new sense of excitement and enthusiasm.  The possibilities are endless in August and September.  The challenge for all of us is keeping the momentum going throughout the year.

The same amount of planning that goes into preparing for the school year needs to be applied evenly over the course of the year.  Many schools start out with fun and motivating themes, but it is easy to lose our focus and direction once the school year gets into full gear.

It’s important for school leaders to build checkpoints into the calendar to revisit and assess the progress of school-based initiatives.  Here are some questions that might be helpful for those seeking to build lasting change:

What are your focus areas for the year? Do they encompass all areas of instruction and your school’s culture?

How many initiatives do you have going?  Too many? Too few?

Is everyone clear on what those focus areas are?  Could they give an elevator speech that explains those areas in simple terms?

How will you support, monitor, and assess the success of your focus areas?

How will you sustain your initiatives over the course of the school year?

How can your community support your efforts?

If, like Stephen Covey suggests, we begin with the end in mind, what tangible results will our efforts yield in June?

What other questions would you suggest?  Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section of this blog.  The excitement of August and September makes our profession special.  Sustaining that excitement over the course of a school year, while challenging, can make our school year satisfying.  Here’s to a satisfying year!

A “Teachers’ Principal”

I had the fortune of hearing Todd Whitaker speak this week.  Two years ago I attended his keynote at NAESP in Baltimore.  His message never gets old.  Having him at our district’s leadership conference this week was a great way to bring closure to the school year and provided motivation in planning for next year.

After listening to his words of wisdom, I am even more committed to being a “teachers’ principal.”  What is a teachers’ principal and why does it matter?  The term “players’ coach” gets used often in sports.  The term generally refers to a coach who has a good relationship with his/her players.  When making decisions about their team, players’ coaches give consideration to how their choices will impact the entire team.

The analogy connects well with teaching and leadership.  Principals who apply Todd Whitaker’s advice to “make decisions based on their best teachers” are subconsciously utilizing a teachers’ principal approach to leadership.  Being a teachers’ principal is not about delegating away responsibility.  A teachers’ principal recognizes that the whole is greater than its parts.  A teachers’ principal gives great thought to each and every initiative they foster.

Teaching is arguably the best and most challenging job there is.  Principals have an immense influence on the success of their teachers and students.  Principals who get to know the strengths and needs of their staff can tailor their professional development efforts to grow each and every teacher.

Below are four pillars for planning your school’s professional development efforts.  They are adapted from the Annenberg Foundation’s 2012 report, Designing with Teachers, Participatory Approaches to Professional Development in Education.  They illustrate how school leaders can operate from a teachers’ principal perspective.

  1. Participation, not indoctrination- everyone should have a role in the professional development efforts in a school.
  2. Exploration, not prescription- PD should be individualized for teachers and specific to their content areas.
  3. Contextualization, not abstraction- PD should be practical, meaningful, and immediately useful in the classroom.
  4. Iteration, not repetition- the choices that schools make related to PD should be examined regularly and adjusted based on their success and specifically their outcomes related to student achievement.

Principals who view themselves as a “teachers’ principal” find that adult learning flourishes in an environment that uses individual strengths to build overall teaching capacity.  Thanks to Todd Whitaker for reinvigorating my commitment to being a better principal, a teachers’ principal.  It’s still June, but I’m looking forward to August already.  Let’s go!

Summer Brings the Chance to Re-gain Your Balance

How will you spend your summer?

Summer offers us the chance to “sharpen the saw.”  Stephen Covey encouraged us to seek balance in our physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.  When all four dimensions are in balance, the result is personal and professional synergy.  The sum of synergistic living is always greater than its parts.  When all four dimensions are balanced, everything falls into place.

The modern educator can easily be overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching and leading.  If we don’t take the time to renew ourselves on a personal and professional level, we won’t be effective in supporting the growth of our students.  The greatest gift of being an educator is that every school year starts anew.

What will you do to sharpen your saw this summer?  What books will you read for personal and professional pleasure? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment or posting your ideas on Twitter.  See below for a few summer reading ideas.

The Ultimate Summer Reading List for Teachers via Scholastic:

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ultimate-summer-reading-list-teachers

The best books about educational leadership via Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Books-About-Educational-Leadership/lm/R1TJOMF4RU830V

Top Ten School Leadership Books via @AngelaMaiers:

http://www.angelamaiers.com/2010/06/top-10-school-leadership-books.html

Social Media In Schools: Why bother?

I am excited to present at the Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals conference later this month.  The focus of my session is on how social media can be used to enhance adult and student learning.  If you’re a social media regular, this is a message that you are more than likely familiar with.  However, we still have a large number of educators and leaders who are hesitant to capitalize on social media for the benefit of their schools.

I think this hesitancy comes from a lack of confidence with technology and worries about the potential negatives of social media.  If we are to harness the possibilities of social media, we are going to have to get over those feelings of inadequacy.  No one is truly a social media expert.  Technology and social media are changing and growing at such a rapid pace that no one can really keep up.

Motivation also seems to be a factor keeping educators from using social media.  Is it really worth the effort to use social media in our schools?  Will using social media improve academic achievement?  I think the answer to those questions can be found in a meta-analysis conducted by Waters, Marzano, and McNulty in 2003.  This study is often cited in journals and papers that examine the relationship between leadership behaviors and student achievement.

Waters, Marzano, and McNulty looked at 30 years of educational research and uncovered the leadership qualities that lead to improved academic achievement.  Here are a few of the qualities and behaviors they identified:

  • A willingness to actively engage the status quo
  • Quality contact and interactions with teachers and students
  • Establishment of clear goals while keeping those goals in the forefront of the school’s attention
  • Fostering of shared beliefs and a sense of community

Ultimately, school leaders are responsible for raising student achievement.  When developing school improvement plans, teachers and principals must ask whether their initiatives will lead to improved student performance.  Each school must be confident in choosing what to include and what to exclude from their plans.  Will the four behaviors above lead to improved student achievement?  The research suggests so.

Can these behaviors be enhanced by using social media?  If I am a school leader who capitalizes on social media, can I better engage the status quo?  Will social media improve my interactions with teachers, students, and parents?  Would social media be an effective way to keep my school’s goals in the forefront of everyone’s attention?  Can social media help me foster shared beliefs and a sense of community cooperation?

Educators tend to have strong feelings about where their priorities should be spent.  What if the answer to each question above is yes?  School leaders owe their students, teachers, and parents the opportunity to at least explore the potential of social media.  Perhaps George Couros said it best in his blog, The Principal of Change:

“There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.  This is not optional anymore.”

Are you a resilient educator?

Are you a resilient educator?  How do you respond when things don’t go your way?  This week was challenging for me.  I’ll spare the specifics, but I’m finishing the day wondering where things went wrong this week.  The most alarming part of having a bad day or week is the feeling of losing control.  How can you get that control back?  Here are a few suggestions that might help.  I’m going to try and take my own advice.

Put Your Day or Week in Context

Everyone has their moments.  Was this day or week an anomaly?  Unless you’ve started a new pattern of behavior, next week will be better.  It has to be.

Keep Your Sense of Humor

If you can still laugh at yourself, you’ll be okay.  Humor doesn’t fix everything, but it signals the start of turning your bad mood around.

Re-center Yourself.

Take some time to reflect on what went wrong and why, but don’t get stuck there.  Make a conscious decision to get back on track.  Think of a few strategies that you can use next week to steady the ship.

Face the Music

If your week went wrong due to relationship issues, decide if you need to directly address someone.  Nothing keeps your stomach turning more than unresolved conflict.  Pick the right moment and have a heart-to-heart with those who are connected to your stress.

Get Some Me Time

Do something for yourself.  Go shopping, go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, or just go somewhere!  Time alone helps clear your thinking.  If you’re comfortable being alone with your thoughts you will always have a way to cope with stress.

Get Back on the Horse

Start the new week believing in a fresh start.  Avoidance is a poor strategy for anyone who wants to have a better day.  Hold your head up, smile, and say something positive to the first few people you see.  You’d be surprised how quickly you can build the momentum you need to have a great week!

Educators and school leaders can and should model resilience.  If we want students to respond appropriately to stress, we should show them how.  We don’t have to discuss every detail of our personal lives, but sharing anecdotes that illustrate the times we have overcome stress can help students develop their own strategies.  It’s okay to show your humanity.  Your students will be all the better for it.

3 Tips for Building Teacher Leadership

Good schools have good leadership.  Great schools have great teacher leadership.  We can all think back to the day when the single heroic leader model was the norm.  This was the era of the authoritarian principal who ruled with a firm hand.  They were the only “expert” in the building and they used their influence in every aspect of management.  Some of those dinosaurs remain, but much like the dinosaurs, they are headed for extinction.

The postmodern principal recognizes that schools have no chance of success unless leadership is a shared commodity.  The job is just too big.  The need to develop teachers as leaders is a generally accepted premise in most school districts.  The challenge, of course, is how to do it.  How can school systems and individual schools harness the skills of their teachers to improve instruction and raise student achievement?

Here are three thoughts that school leaders may want to consider when developing teacher leaders:

Include Everyone

School leaders who select the teacher leaders in their building automatically limit the potential for success.  Everyone can lead in some way.  If teachers aren’t considered part of the leadership team, then they are unlikely to be a part of a school’s success.  Principals who are perceived as having “their people” create a climate of acrimony that leaves many on the outside looking in.  Leadership opportunities must be given to everyone.

Identify and Capitalize on Strengths

We expect teachers to know the strengths and challenges of their students.  School leaders must do the same with their teachers.  This can be done formally (surveys) or informally (conversations/observations).  Either way, school leaders can capitalize on that knowledge when developing their school improvement plans.  Every teacher should be offered and encouraged to have their moment to shine.

Trust

School leaders must take a leap of faith and trust teachers.  Sometimes, that trust must be given before it is earned.  Most principals want control over the sharing of information in their buildings.  They want to make sure that instruction is consistent and focused.  Trusting teachers and their expertise will actually enhance quality instruction.  Teachers want to be included in the important decisions related to instruction.  When school leaders exclude teachers, they eliminate the potential for innovation.  Innovative teaching comes from a school climate that fosters risk-taking.  If principals are willing to trust their teachers, the ideas will come pouring out.

Building teacher leadership is one way that school leaders may be able to ensure long-term success.  School leaders come and go.  Turnover and change are inevitable.  When leadership is shared, the transition to new leadership is much smoother.  We owe it to our students and their families to utilize the knowledge of our teachers.  Let’s replace those dinosaurs with a new generation of resilient and inclusive leaders.

Are you a dynamic leader?

What is dynamic leadership?  How do you know if you have it or not? Why is it important?  School leaders continue to take on a range of daily responsibilities. Dynamic leadership may be the singular approach that allows schools to meet with success.  Our students and teachers cannot afford to be led by those who lack the skills to ensure that every minute of their day is spent meaningfully.  Are you a dynamic leader?  Let’s look at the arguable qualities that make a leader dynamic or not.

Dynamic​​​                           Not
Fearless                  ​​​          Fearful
Inclusive​​​                           Isolated
Failure as opportunity​ ​      Failure as disaster
Innovative​​​                        Traditional
Proactive​​​                          Reactive

Fearless, not fearful

Leaders who are consumed by fear are unable to make even the simplest decisions.  They are the veritable “deer in the headlights.”  On the other hand, fearless leaders are thoughtful and decisive.  They weigh all of the options while making timely decisions.  Fearless leaders operate from a mindset that focuses on what is right for students first.  They don’t allow fear to cloud their judgment.

Inclusive, not isolated

Dynamic leaders understand that you can never have enough help and support.  While they are confident in their ability, they know that the success of their school depends on many people.  They give a voice to students, teachers, and parents.  Most importantly, they trust that others are competent and capable.  They assume the best in people without being naïve.

Failure as opportunity, not disaster

Failure is inevitable.  Dynamic leaders expect failure, some even plan for it.  Dynamic leaders model their humanity by acknowledging failure and using it to plan for the next success.  Students benefit from observing school leaders and teachers who model a mature response to failure.  If we expect our students to be resilient, we need to give them the tools for handling failure.

Innovative, not traditional

Traditional thinking gets you traditional results.  Innovative thinking, however, can take you places you’ve never been before.  What is the number one quality of an innovator?  They look to others for new ideas.  Yes, some innovators create their own great ideas, but most innovation builds on the work of others.  Innovative leaders are self-aware.  They know their strengths and challenges, so they fill in the gaps by capitalizing on the human assets around them.

Proactive, not reactive

Dynamic leaders are always one step ahead of change.  They anticipate change and start planning for it before it’s necessary.  Proactive leaders are calm and cool under duress because they are rarely surprised.  They support students and teachers by contextualizing change.  In schools, proactive leaders integrate new curricula, standards, and teaching practices with those already in place.  Their “we can do this” attitude reassures others that someone is looking out for them.

While dynamic leadership can be discussed and debated, it is harder to define.  It may be one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” phenomena.  What other qualities make a leader dynamic?  Post your comments below or tweet out a response to this post and help us grow the list.