Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Take On Wrapping Up 2011 And Looking Ahead To 20112

Last year, I wrote a number of posts near the end of the year heralding the usual thoughts.  Those included some predicted ins and outs, my favorite posts from 2010, and a list of blogging and social networking goals for 2011.

As for those posts, some ins are more common, some of my favorite posts have been read by more people, and I simply destroyed my blogging and social networking goals.  That leads me to this year and how to wrap up a great 2011 while looking ahead to 2012.

I have decided to change my approach, somewhat, and pass on making any predictions.  Mostly because I have little control over their becoming true , but also because after doing so last year, I had little time or interest in tracking how well my predictions were going.  This year - no predictions.

Also, I am not going to set any blogging or social networking goals.  Last year, I was interested in increasing the numbers of posts and followers.  This year, those numbers are not as important to me as what I AM going to do.

I am making commitments.

Blogging Commitments:  I commit myself to sharing quality content with each post.  Realizing that content may be in the eye of the beholder, I am also committing to more active searches for guest contributors who can enhance the experience of the visitors to The Art of Education.

Social Network Commitments:  I am committed to sharing great content I find from the various feeds, tweets, and emails I receive.  In addition, I am committed to helping like minded educators make the professional connections they need in order to advance their professional learning networks.

I also have a few personal/professional ideas that I will explore in 2011.  Some of these ideas include:


Last, but not least, I ask you to consider joining me to help support a worthy cause - St. Jude's Research Hospital.  Between now and the end of January, 2012, I will donate $1 US for every copy of either of my two eBooks purchased.  You can find additional information about this offer by clicking here or you can simply click on either book cover above to purchase that title.

As of the writing of this post, 5 copies have been purchased.  My goal is 100, but we still have over a month to go.  PLEASE consider this cause and, if comfortable, send this request to your friends.

Thank you very much for a wonderful 2011.  

I hope to hear from you in 2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

User Friendly Educators

Image found at  
Last July, I published a post in which I defined the various components of what I called the "Open House Culture" in schools.  Since writing that post, the Open House Culture concept has become the subject of one of my eBook projects as well as an upcoming faculty presentation.  As such, I have been reflecting on the concept of an Open House Culture and refining/expanding some of my initial thoughts.
In that post, I suggested a brief definition for all five components.  One of those five is "Friendly," which was described as:
If you genuinely like being an educator, let everyone know from the first impression (if you do not, find another line of work).  Smile.  Produce more “happy endorphins.”  Dress professionally and/or appropriately.  Greet everyone with an implied invitation to engage rather than to “get this over with.”
While I am happy with my initial idea of Friendly, I want to expand the idea somewhat to include a different type of Friendly that educators should work towards - "user friendly."

Ease of use is such a powerful characteristic today that almost all of use make multiple decisions each day mainly based on how user friendly the choices are.  Sure, once in a while we choose a less friendly choice, but this usually only happens when we notice either an immediate or significant benefit to NOT choosing the user friendly option.

For example, you may choose to take a longer route to work (assuming you are not running late) because the view is outstanding and puts you in a much calmer state of mind than navigating the highway.

I often wonder if educators spend enough time examining their practices to determine if those practices are as user friendly as they should be.  In other words, are you inadvertently making the use of your class much harder than it needs to be and if so, is there a immediate and recognizable benefit to doing so?

I am NOT talking about lowering standards or making the course "easy."  I AM, however, talking about the interface, the instructions, the feedback loop, etc.

Have you examined these for ease of use?

  • How "hard" is it for a student to receive clarification on an assignment?
  • How available are you to help outside of class?
  • Do your instructions come in multiple forms and include visual prompts?
  • Do you use technology to aid in ease of use (post assignments online, accept papers electronically, maintain communication with parents and students about progress and grades, etc.)?

Here's the hard part.

What we often view as user friendly changes when something easier is introduced.  In other words, what was once "user friendly" may not be user friendly any more.

Using a copy machine was easier than printing multiple copies and collating myself.  Now the idea of user a copy machine for almost any function is one of the most unfriendly tasks I can think of in my school.


Because creating and sharing a Google Doc is easier (not to mention quicker, more accessible, and better with which to collaborate).

Being friendly is important for creating an Open House Culture, but do not forget to include user friendly into your thinking.

A Visionary Or A Mirage Spotter?

Pete Turner—The Image Bank/Getty Images 
A vision statement speaks to the preferred future.  If all things were operating at their highest level, the vision describes what is happening.

A mirage is a false vision.  It is the idea of something "good enough to help us survive."

Visions gain value through inspiration.

Mirages get more valuable through desperation.

Visionary leaders motivate others to contribute to and share in the dividends of the preferred future.

Mirage spotters motivate others to save themselves by working towards a false sense of achievement.

What type of educational leaders do you want to be?

What type of leader do you want your students to become?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Buy an eBook (or Two) and Help a Worthy Cause

Here is an offer I hope you will consider this holiday season.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate time at Rhodes College was being involved in the philanthropic efforts to support St. Jude's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my professional life has been the publishing of my two eBooks, Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools and Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy for Kindle.

Therefore, I thought I would offer the following deal.

Between now and the end of January, for every copy of Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools or Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy bought, I will donate $1 US of my royalties (which are not much more than $1) to St. Jude's Research Hospital.

Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools is priced at only $0.99 US and Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy is only $2.99 US.

If you would like to read more about why donating to St. Jude's is a good idea, please click here.

Of course, the goal is to raise some money for a worthy cause.  If you want to skip the buying of the books and  donate directly to St. Jude's, please click here.

To start, I am including a screen shot of my sales report for the most current period.  At the end of January, I will take another screen shot and post that as well.  In addition, I will also include a picture of my receipt confirming my donation (just to make sure you all know I am not attempting to scam anyone).

Sales report 12/21/2011

Thank you for considering this worthy cause.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

You Have Permission

"Permission" by Hugh MacLeod found at Hugh MacLeod's gapingvoid
Have you ever wanted to shake things up in your classroom?  Try a new way to communicate with students?  Introduce or deliver a lesson?  Assess student learning and growth?

Have you tried any of those ideas?


Why not?  And don't say it is because you don't have permission, because you do.

Permission is granted by those who matter most - your students.

Yes, they want you to try new things.  They need you to show them that it is 'ok' to be creative, innovative, willing to risk failure for outcomes worth realizing, like changing the world.

Modelling fear is a sure way to graduate drones.  We have enough drones.  We need more leaders, thinkers, producers, and problem solvers.

Would you be more willing to take a chance if you had a safety net?  Guess what, there are no guarantees.  Your idea may flop.  You may need to try over and over again until you get it just right - then try something else.

On the other hand, you are not alone and being brave is often easier when you are in group.  You're in luck.  There are plenty of such groups.  Its members are every other educator who is also trying to change the world.  It's not hard to find them.  They hang out in Twitter chats, write blogs, attend and present at conferences, publish their own books, etc.

Members of this group are eager to meet others with whom to share their passions, ideas, fears, successes, and failures.  They need you to join them.  Not just to justify their own ideas, but to encourage you to continue to pursue yours.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Round Up the Usual Suspects

You can probably reflect on your career in education and list the administrators and leaders you felt were most effective and least effective.  While there are many reasons why, I suspect much of your opinion rests in how these leaders handled adversity and failure.

There are those that ignored it and moved on as if nothing happened.  Not effective, no learning, likely to repeat the same mistake again...and soon.

There are those that accepted what happened, but used it as a learning experience.  Likely effective because in their sincere quest to make improvements, they demonstrated a willingness to serve their mission and model collaboration and growth.

The third group is the one I worried most about.  These are the ones that claimed they wanted to know why things aren't working, but are not as interested in truly learning as much as trying to save their egos and positions.  As operations begin to take an undesirable turn, they quickly "round up the usual suspects" to deflect responsibility.

In Casablanca, rounding up the usual suspects may have led to the "beginning of a beautiful friendship."  When it comes to school leadership, it usually means someone may be more interested in preserving the status quo.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Being an Educator: "Like" It or "Love" It

When you "like" something, you typically enjoy it, but can take or or leave it.  When it is missing, the "liked" item is can often be easily replaced with a new "like."

Loving something is different.

Love is an investment.  You pay a price for it, but the benefits are worth the price - and then some.  We miss what we love.  They are not easily replaced.  When they are gone, there is a void.

I'm glad there is no "love" option on Facebook.  I "like" it just fine.

Now comes the holiday break for schools.  As with summer break, I hear many people express how much they can't wait for the break.  I hope it is because they need a much deserved re-charge, not because they want to get away from the work.

Maybe I am unusual in my thinking, but I love being in school.  Not the same way I love my family, but when I am out for an extended time, I feel it.  Sure, I like to get away and re-charge my batteries as much as the next person, but I never have the desire to express how eager I am for school to close.

I truly miss the opportunity to support the faculty, fellow administrators, students, and families.  I miss engaging with those who inspire, challenge, and stimulate my thinking.

I miss inspiring, challenging, and stimulating them as well.

Breaks are necessary.  They can be a great source of rejuvenation.

I "like" breaks.

I "love" being an educator.

Who Needs To Be Made Whole?

School leaders are often called upon to help mend and re-establish positive relationships.  These relationships can be student:student. student:teacher, teacher:teacher, teacher:parent, etc.

What is difficult is knowing exactly what needs to be done in order to set the relationship back on the right track.  More often than not, something happened to damage the relationship and someone needs to be "made whole again."

One key to successfully navigating these situations is to listen carefully at what each party is saying in order to determine exactly who needs to be made whole and how.

Here is an example:

  • A High School teacher suspects cheating on a test and follows the school procedure for looking into the matter (uses discretion with the student, contacts the Dean and Division Head, awaits the administrative decision before taking any further action).
  • The student is cleared of any wrong doing.
  • The teacher is informed of the decision and accepts it.
  • The Dean of Students is contacted by the student's parents.
  • The parents are upset that the teacher would suspect their child of cheating and demand an apology from the teacher to the student.
What can the teacher, who did nothing wrong, do?  Let's probe a little deeper to form a plan to satisfy all parties (including the teacher who shouldn't have to apologize for fulfilling her obligation to the mission of the school).  Here are a few questions to consider.
  • Why do the parents want an apology?
  • Has the student expressed hurt feelings?  Does the student feel he was wronged?
  • Do the parents perceive the situation as a judgment against them?  In other words, did suspecting their child of cheating hurt THEIR feelings and thus are looking for an apology for THEM?
  • Is the student embarrassed by the situation and feels unable to communicate directly to the teacher?
A reasonable plan for the teacher can address all of these items.  Here is a suggestion that can help everyone get "back to whole."

  • The teacher should call or, even better, meet with the parents to discuss the situation and to emphasize that the teacher still maintains a high opinion of the student.  The Dean of Students (and possibly the Division Head) should probably also be invited to sit in.  This is particularly important for the Dean because she was contacted by the parents to begin with.
  • The teacher should also meet with the student to review what happened and communicate that, as far as the teacher is concerned, the matter is over.  Asking the student how to repair the relationship is also important.  The student may not have an answer ready, so be prepared to offer more specific questions such as, "What can I do to demonstrate my confidence in you?" or "In what ways can I show you that I still have a high opinion of you in class?"
In almost any situation involving hurt feelings or a perception of negative judgement (nobody ever voices opposition to compliments), it is important to recognize the feelings and work towards an understanding and resolution that satisfies ALL parties.  Sometimes that resolution requires work to be done over time.  Others are more effective because they do not require a long term plan.

Either way, figuring our who exactly needs to be made whole and how to address the needs of each person involved is likely to produce a desirable outcome.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is It Better To Stay Too Long Or Leave To Soon?

RenĂ© Magritte, Coming and Going by Duane Michals, 1965
Of course, most of us want to arrive at just the right time and leave at the most optimal moment.  Unfortunately, it is rare that such perfect timing occur.

School leaders face a similar issue.  Is it too late to initiate ideas others have been using?  How would it look to "arrive" at that particular educational "party" at this point?  Should you wait for the next "invitation?"

On the flip side, your school is already immersed in an initiative.  Are there signs that that "party" is slowing down?  Should you move on while things are still going fairly well or risk being the awkward "last person in the room?"

The party scenario highlights a real issue with many school leaders.  Mostly, it is about change.  When to talk about it, when to do it, is the timing right, did we make a mistake before, is this new idea the best one, ... the list goes on.

Here are a few suggestions:

Change for the sake of change is rarely a good idea.  There MUST be more substance to it or you will struggle to achieve buy-in.  This is the equivalent to making up some lame excuse to leave the party.  Nobody really believes you, but is polite enough to go along with it - up to a point.  Once you leave the room, the "party" continues as before.

Measure the need for change against the mission of your school and the expectations of those your school serves.  If you identify areas in which a change in approach would being about better service and more focused attention to mission, assume the change is going to happen and mobilize your team to begin that process.
If it is working for your school, keep doing it, but embrace those who are keeping an eye on future trends.  Sticking with what works is not the problem (see Is Your "Stuff" Broken).  The problem is ignoring or dismissing other potential enhancements because your operations appear to be working well.  Change may not be about an overhaul.  It may simply be finding ways to highlight the good work already being done.

Ultimately, these suggestions bring attention to the need for school leaders to have the authority and ability to make real decisions about the operation of the school.  In other words, if you go to a party as one person in a large group, you are less able to determine when you arrive and when you leave.  If it is just you (and your wife, date, friend, etc.), you have much more influence over those same decisions.

For my friends in public  (and in some cases parochial or other private school networks) school leadership, I often hear the frustration of having to "arrive and leave as a group" play out in various conversations.  Unable, in many ways, to make independent decisions based on the needs of their school, they are forced to "wait around the party" until the group decides it is time to go.

On the other hand, independent schools, that are mostly free to make such decisions, must weigh the potential impact on enrollment and retention against any significant operational change.  While anything may be possible, it certainly isn't always advisable.

Stay too long or leave too soon?

Neither choice may work in every situation.  When faced with such a decision, apply a mission guided and student achievement centered approach to your leadership.  That may be your best chance for a good outcome.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Saying, Doing, And What They Suggest

Image found at
If actions speak louder than words and we are judged more by what we do than what we say, then what does it mean when nothing gets done?  If there is no progress, movement, or any obvious attempt to do so, is there any leadership?

For example:

You are in a group of people who were invited to attend a party.  When you arrive, you and the others are shown into a large waiting room.  There are no instructions, but in the room are three doors.  Each door leads to another room (unknown to the group is that all three doors lead to the party).  You can hear the party going on, but are unsure which door leads to it.
What should you do?  Well, you have choices.
  1. Do nothing and wait for someone from the party to arrive and tell you what to do.
  2. Do nothing and wait for someone in the room with you to try the door(s).
  3. Discuss what to do with others in the room.
  4. Get up and open a door.

I think individual schools are often like the people waiting in the room.  They can hear great things going on around us.  They are aware of the potential impact that making the next step will have.  They know others are doing great things in the "next room."  Their challenge is deciding what to do.  

Some experts on decision making may suggest that because there are multiple options, schools have trouble deciding which one is best and fall back on the default choice - to continue to do what they are doing now (in the example above, that is choice 1).  This is similar to what Dan Ariely implies in Predictably Irrational; that because the decision is important we often cannot decide and therefore are subject to the decision someone else made for us (sit in the room).  This is the same mindset I wrote about in Why Some Resist Tech Integration in School.

At some point, someone needs to get up and try a door.  That person (or group of people) is the leader.  Not just because she took the initiative and risked failure; it is also because taking action caused others to move.  She opens the door, finds the party, and goes in.  Guess what happens?  Others get up and go in with her.

Saying suggests doing.  Once spoken, most people expect a follow up in the form of action.  The risk of saying is losing credibility, unless you actually follow through.

Doing suggests engagement, investment, and the acceptance of judgement that comes along with action.  The risk of doing is learning from the experience, even if the outcome is not exactly what you expected.

Try another door.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reasons And Excuses: Answering "Why?"


The question is usually asked in relation to one of two contexts.

"Why did we succeed?" or "Why did we fail?"

Answers to both questions should include reasons.  Reasons provide information that can be used in the future to either succeed again or avoid failure.  Reasons are shared.  Reasons provide lessons.  Reasons make us better.

Only one of the two questions ever gets excuses - "Why did we fail?"

Excuses try to cover up reasons.  Excuses are selfish.  Excuses attempt to share (or deflect) blame.  The only thin learned form excuses is to avoid teaming up with the excuse maker.

Failure is not the enemy.  Allowing excuses to satisfy failure is.

Ask "Why?" five times.  Get five reasons.  Clarify your mission, define your core values, develop your mantra.

Ask "Why?" five times.  Get five excuses.  Update your resume.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Doing The Heavy Lifting

As a school leader, one of your roles (by the way, it is not specifically listed in your job description) is to be a scale.

Didn't you know that?

Well, it is true.  You are a scale.  You need to measure things.  Specifically, you need to weigh projects to determine how heavy they are.


Because you are also the person who is likely responsible for assigning those projects to someone (or some team) to deliver results.

Here's the challenge.  Is your "scale" calibrated?  How accurate is it?  A scale that doesn't measure accurately isn't very helpful.

Let us assume your scale is accurately measuring the weight of your school projects.  Now what?

"Light Lifting" 

"Light" projects are those that should not present a problem to just about anyone on your team.  Successful completion does not require any major use of energy or necessitate any specialized skill set.  For example, let's say you need someone to monitor a study hall.  Just about anyone can be present in a room and supervise students for a brief period.  That would be an example of "light lifting."  No particular level of "strength" needed to successfully complete that task.

I think it is important to point out that "lighter" projects may not be less important.  Using my example, if nobody supervised study hall there is potential for huge problems.  Just because the task is light, doesn't mean unimportant.

"Heavy Lifting"

 These tasks are more involved.  They require more insight, specialization, experience, etc. for successful completion.  The heavier the task, the stronger the "lifter" needs to be.  In other words, you should assign your stronger team members to the heavier projects.  Heavy projects also require more involvement.

Using the lifting metaphor, heavy projects should also have "spotters" set up to help.  One of those spotters should be YOU.  As the leader, you need to support those projects and have a stake in their success.

Do not turn away form the heavy lifting!  Be there to support the team's efforts.

How To "Get Stronger"

Now, a question you may have is, "If my stronger team members are the only ones doing 'heavy' work, how do the others get stronger?"

This question is a good one because, as with working out, the only way to get stronger is to gradually add more weight.

That is exactly the same approach in building your team members' strengths.

Look for ways to include your "weaker" members in heavy tasks by asking your "stronger" members to mentor, coach, and guide them with heavier work.

A note of caution:  Always be aware of signs of fatigue.  ALL team members will get tired.  Even your stronger individuals eventually wear down.  Be prepared to "stop the lifting" for a while to celebrate success and allow people to re-energize.

And of course, keep your back straight and lift with the legs!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How Many Times...?

School leadership and administration implies an acceptance of responsibility.  Most, if not all, of you probably agree with that.  The challenge is normally not the responsibility, but the frustration that creeps in when you are disappointed over the lack of progress in addressing those responsibilities.  Making matters worse is that in many situations, your leadership/administrative responsibilities are very closely tied to the work of others.

How do you know if frustration is creeping in?  Simple test:  Do you find yourself saying or thinking questions that begin with:

"How many times do I (we) need to...?"

If you are thinking or saying questions like this, you are probably feeling the frustration, and your progress towards fulfilling your responsibilities is likely being delayed by someone else not having their part done on time or at an acceptable level.

This frustration is no secret.  As a matter of fact, it is a big reason why many educators stay away from formal leadership/administrative roles.

So, what is the answer?  How many times do you need to (fill in the blank)?

The answer is very important.  Accept i,t and you have a god chance of maintaining your sanity and  being an effective school leader for years to come.  Reject it, and I predict you will soon burn out and look to vacate your role.

The answer is...

If it truly matters, as many times as it takes.  If it doesn't matter, let it go.

If it matters, try this to ease your frustration.  Normally, any action is better than no action.  So you taking steps to help, may benefit you as much as the other person:
  • Ask the other person to explain their difficulty.
  • Is their part clear?
  • Is it a matter of lack of skill or refusal to do the work?
  • Does the person need training or coaching?
  • What are the roadblock and can you remove them so the work can get done?
  • Is this a temporary situation or is this an on-going problem?
  • Provide examples of others doing their part (a little peer pressure sometimes helps)
If the matter doesn't matter, review the process for addressing the larger responsibility.  You may find that the system for addressing the responsibility can be streamlined or adjusted to help you get it done, while releasing others the burden of an unnecessary task.

Ultimately, what matters is that the work that truly counts gets done well.  Often we get caught up in non-essential functions that take time and energy away from what really deserves our attention.

If you begin to feel the frustration, remember the answer and decide if the underlying issue truly matters.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What It Feels Like To Be 20 Again

Today, I turn 40.

Despite some ego bruising for never making any "Top 40 Under 40" lists, I think I have navigated these past 40 years fairly well.  I think it is natural to look back and reflect on life when you come up on a cultural milestone like turning 40, but I would rather take this opportunity to express what I feel as I turn "20 again."

I feel...

  • fortunate to have been raised by loving parents and among wonderful siblings.
  • lucky that both of my parents are still around to talk to.
  • blessed to have a beautiful and supportive family of my own.
  • honored to have made so many good friends.
  • excited to enter this phase of life - both personally and professionally.
  • overwhelmed by the positive response to my writing and blogging.
  • energized by the prospect of developing my ideas and seeking opportunities to contribute to the professional learning of other educators.
  • tremendous satisfaction for the efforts of all the students I have taught over the years.
Thank you for your continued support of my work and this blog.  I hope to continue to provide relevant and quality content for years to come.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Are We In Control Of Our Own Decisions?

Earlier this year, I read Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone looking for a good read about behavioral economics.

In preparing for a school presentation, I came across this video of Dan talking briefly about many of the topics in the book.


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