Tuesday, August 30, 2011

10 Qualities for Being Counted Among the Best

For many people, being good isn't good enough.  They want to be the best, or at least that’s what they say.

I do not have any issue with setting ambitious goals and pushing oneself to “do your best'”, but I’m not sure I know what “THE best” educator is.  Does THE best have the happiest students?  Highest test scores?  Most engaged class?  Meets every deadline for reporting?

Maybe being THE best is a part of a much more reasonable, and frankly more collegial, goal – to be AMONG the best.

Does that sound like a group with whom you want to be associated? 


Me, too. 

So, what does it take to be AMONG the best?  Here is a list of 10 qualities that may determine an educator’s membership AMONG the best.  These are the qualities that separate the good from the great.  Educators who exhibit these qualities are the linchpins of your school.

10 Qualities for Being Counted Among the Best

  1. Deep and wide content mastery
  2. Guide student progress using both summative and formative assessments
  3. Overtly include opportunities for students to develop 21st century essential skills (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication)
  4. Creates a class/school culture that is student-centered (growth, motivation, communication)
  5. Conducts the “business” of the class/school with an “Open House” mentality
  6. Uses social norms to dictate the exchanges in the class/school
  7. Asks good questions
  8. Tells good stories
  9. Believes they can be better and works daily to get better
  10. Actively seeks opportunities to help other educators get better

Limiting my list to 10 was more about readability and less about trying to provide every possible quality.  Therefore, I encourage you to leave your own items in the comments section.

What qualities are present in educators you count among the best?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Report Has Implications for Head/Board Relationships

In a recent article, Executive Directors Should Invest More Time on Their Boards, Rick Moyers summarizes two findings from a report called The Board Paradox, by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation.

First, many executive directors don’t spend all that much time working with their boards. More than half of survey respondents said they spent 10 hours or less per month supporting their boards. Ten hours may sound significant, but that is just 6 percent of a full-time executive director’s time. Maybe even less, since many executives work more than 40 hours a week.

Second, executives who spend more time on their boards are more satisfied with their boards’ performance. As an example, among executive directors who said they spent less than five hours a month supporting the board, just 13 percent said they were very satisfied with the board’s performance. Among those who spent five to 10 hours per month on the board, 34 percent were very satisfied.

Taken together, these two findings suggest that many executives may be under-supporting their boards—and suffering the consequences.

What implications do findings such as these have on how heads of independent schools spend their time?  If the relationship between trustees and the head is strained (or under-nurtured), what effect does that have on the operation of the school at other levels?

Many heads I have talked with have openly admitted that one of the most, if not the most, important time they spend is time with the Board Chair and working with trustees.  As one head told me, “The closer you get to becoming head of school, the less time you have available to be among the students – which is difficult because the students are the reason why you get into education in the first place.”

Balancing time between working with trustees and being an active presence in the daily operation of the school is certainly among the most challenging aspects of being a head of school.  If you are, was, or aspire to be a head of school, what strategies would you use to find this balance?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Social and Market Norms Affect Education

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Recently, I began reading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely.  While only about 100 pages into the book, I am compelled to share my thoughts concerning a topic raised regarding the effects of social and market norms.  These effects are discussed in the context of how we live in two worlds simultaneously.  One world consists of social exchanges governed by a set of social norms.  The other world consists of market exchanges regulated by a set of market norms.

Social norms are simply described as "friendly requests that people make of one another."  Acions taken under social norms are usually "warm and fuzzy", do not require "instant payback" or "immediate reciprocity", and provide mutual pleasure.  Dr. Ariely uses as an example, the request by a neighbor to help move a couch or opening a door for someone else.

Market norms, on the other hand, are "sharped-edged" exchanges.  Typical market norms involve "wages, prices, rents, interest, and cost-and-benefits."  Often involving self-reliance and individualism, market norms imply "prompt payments."  As Dr. Ariely states, "When you are in the domain of market norms, you get what you pay for - that's just the way it is."

The book goes on to provide numerous examples of each and how they work well or not so well in certain situations.  In the interest of brevity, here is a summary of what Dr. Ariely suggests.
  1. Neither set of norms is better or worse than the other.  They are simply different.
  2. While operating under one set of norms is fine, make sure you establish which set provides the foundation of the relationship - and use that set of norms to guide your actions.
  3. Once you shift from social norms to market norms, it is VERY hard to switch back.  introducing market norms is very powerful.
  4. People operating under market norms have been found to be more selfish, self-reliant, and less willing to work in teams than those operating under social norms.
  5. Gifts are fine to give as part of a social exchange, but if you mention how much it costs, you have introduced market norms and risk having your gift rejected.
  6. Inviting market exchanges into social norms hurts relationships.
  7. Money is often the most expensive way to motivate people.  Social norms are cheaper and often more effective (read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink!).
Near the end of this chapter, there are a few paragrpahs in which Dr. Ariely briefly describes his idea about how these norms apply to education.  He does so from what he observed as a member of a federal committee tasked with reexamining NCLB policies and finding ways to motivate students, teachers, administrators, and parents.  Dr. Ariely's thougths include:
  • Standardized tests and performance-based salaries will likely push education from social norms to market norms.
  • Spending money will only go so far.  In the long run, social norms will make a difference.
  • In place of test scores, salaries, and competition, it might be better to focus on instilling a sense of purpose, mission, and pride in education - which cannot happen using market norms.
  • We should rethink curricula and link them in more obvious ways to social goals (eliminating poverty, etc.), technological goals (boosting energy conservation, etc.), and medical goals (cures for cancer, diabetes, etc.).  Thus, the larger picture of education becomes clearer.
  • Begin making education a goal in itself (pg. 93-94).
As for myself, I have written a few pieces in The Art of Education that are very applicable to the concepts put forth by Dr. Ariely.  In my post 3 Pillars to Uphold a Student-Centered Culture, I describe a school focused on communication, growth, and motivation.  All of three of these aspects of school culture are only as effective as they are governed by social norms.  I have seen instances in which market norms are introduced and the relationship falters, feelings are hurt, and the partnership between school and family is dissolved. 

In another post, I define an engaging school-family culture called the Open House Culture.  This environment is dependent on 5 factors: friendliness, trust/reliability, responsiveness, interaction, and inviting presentations.  Again, none of these 5 factors can realize their potential as a positive force if they are governed by market norms.  They rely on social norms to be effective.

Market forces have their place in education, but they need to be clearly defined and linked to market exchanges - contractual agreements, business arrangements, etc.  I'm not advocating that teachers shouldn't be paid.  I am suggesting that the pay should serve to recognize the market forces that affect the economic decision of people deciding whether or not to become a teacher or continue teaching.  Salary shoudln't be the reason to become a teacher nor should it be the reason to leave teaching.

As a former Louisiana Governor once said, "Once you mix the rice and beans, it's real hard to separate them."  For education, let's be more aware of when social and market norms are required - and not mix the two.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

American Society of Independent School Educators Update and Invitation

A little while back, I wrote about an idea to form the American Society of Independent School Educators. 

The idea is to create a society designed to bring together the collective wisdom of independent school educators (and others who share a set of basic principles  about education) in an effort to improve education for all students.  The resulting effect being the advancement of independent school education through the work of the school’s most valuable assets - the people who deliver the school’s programs and are responsible for the school’s operations.

The ASISE is designed to support independent schools through the networking and development of independent school educators.  To strengthen schools by strengthening educators.

The basic principles from which I have worked on this idea are:

  • A community whose foundation is built upon honesty and trust.
  • It values the diversity that accompanies an inclusive network of professionals.
  • Its members are mission-driven, student-focused, and growth-oriented.
  • Members conduct themselves in a manner that values excellence through effort, building relationships, and making a positive impact on the field of education.

This post is designed to do three things.

  1. Update you on the ASISE
  2. Invite independent school educators, and others who share the principles above, to join
  3. Announce the use of the #asise hashtag for Twitter conversations

In an effort to activate the ASISE to engage independent school educators in collegial conversation, I created the American Society of Independent School Educators LinkedIn group.  The creation of this group will help facilitate discussions centered around the development of independent school educators.  The first discussion topic is active and asks about the differences between public and independent school professional development.

As with any group online, it is only as valuable as it has active members.  If you have a LinkedIn account and are an independent school educator (or supporter of the core principles), I encourage you to join the ASISE discussion group.  If you do not have a LinkedIn account, you may want to consider opening one.  Membership is free.

If you want to be a part of the discussion, but are not sure about opening a LinkedIn account, you can follow ASISE topics and relevant information on Twitter by using and following the #asise hashtag.  I will use that tag to post articles, discussions, questions, etc. that concern the purpose of the ASISE.

My vision for the work done through this society includes:

  • Facilitating mentoring relationships among members
  • Providing a platform for independent school educators to network
  • Coordinating on-site and/or virtual professional development opportunities
  • Encouraging, guiding, and publishing action research performed by ASISE members
  • Having an active presence at relevant educational conferences
  • Hosting our own conferences, “unconferences”, “edcamps”, and meet-ups

The LinkedIn group and the #asise hashtag represent the first part of realizing this vision.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Power of the “Minimum Standard Experience”

Leaders who encourage innovation and independence are often identified by a motivated team working towards realizing their shared vision of excellence.  There is also a feeling of unlimited potential that allows team members to use their individual strengths to accomplish organizational goals.  In other words, without a step-by-step “how to” manual, team members find ways to accomplish goals in their own manner.

There is little doubt as to the benefits of such an environment, but without proper feedback and follow through, the leader cannot appropriately support the team’s efforts and the team can inadvertently create an inconsistent experience.  In order to avoid inconsistencies, leaders need to clearly define the minimum standard experience for the various operations.  Once the minimum standard experience is defined and understood, leaders then provide the support necessary to ensure the team can deliver this experience.

The minimum standard experience does not, however, need to be a less than acceptable outcome.  You can set as high a standard experience as you feel upholds your mission.  The key for leaders is whether or not you are willing and able support that standard. 

Setting high standards is good.  Actually supporting high standards in a way to make that makes them a reality is great.

Here is an example I experienced recently that highlights what I mean by the standard minimum experience.

In my town, if I take my kids to a fast food place, I take them to either McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A.  Both places train their teams to deliver a standard experience.  Sometimes, the experience is better (or more enchanting) than other times, but basically, there is an obvious minimum standard upheld by each.  It is, however, a different minimum standard.  While McDonald’s has cheaper prices and a more diverse menu, Chick-fil-A brings my food to the table and its employees are always among the most polite I have ever encountered.

For school leaders, each program needs a defined minimum standard experience that speaks to the mission, core, mantra, etc. of your school.  Maybe the best schools are not necessarily the ones who have high standards, but rather have higher minimum standard experiences.

Sometimes, defining your minimum may be the best way to achieve your maximum.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Avoiding "The Set-Up"

Late at night, I held the truth in my hand just like a little shiny jewel
Early in the morning, I look in the mirror and see the same old fool
from the song, Late at Night by The Subdudes

Every summer, as teachers and administrators prepare for the upcoming school year, goals are set, agendas are created, and plans are developed.  For many, this advance work focuses the year and provides a clear and sustainable path for school and/or program improvement.  For others, well they end up looking in the mirror (see lyrics above).

I am not immune to "over-goaling" and having to face the fact that in reality there are ONLY 24 hours in a day.  Over time, I have even given a name to the situation caused by "over-goaling" - I call it "The Set-Up."

"The Set-Up"
  • underestimates how difficult a new idea is to implement
  • blinds you to the reality of leading change by shining it's "light of brilliance" in your face
  • carries an operational burden that is exponentially more difficult than you can see from the surface
  • appears to be universally accepted, but is actually only tolerated
  • is potentially damaging to your credibility
So, how can we avoid "The Set-Up" while continuing to share a vision and work towards making the necessary changes in our schools?

Try imagining your new ideas in terms of filling a 3 cup plastic container.  You can use a deeper container or a shallow container.  Both hold 3 cups, but both will not necessarily hold the item you are trying to store.  You need to choose the right container for the item.

You only have so much time you can devote to your new initiatives.  Does it require more depth or breath at this point?  Choose the right container.

Unless your school is in need of drastic change, I have found fewer and "deeper" initiatives avoid "The Set-Up" better.  If you must take a broader approach, plan accordingly and be watchful for a "thinner" response in year one of your changes.

A grand and inspiring vision is important.  Avoiding the "Set-Up" will help you maintain the momentum and motivation needed to realize that vision.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

12 Questions to Help Guide Your School Communications

When preparing or reflecting on your communications, ask yourself these questions:
  1. Is the message written in a way that invites the recipient to be a partner with you in the educational process?
  2. Is it obvious that your motivation is, above all, to help the student?
  3. Are you focused on the student “in front of you” or something down the road?
  4. Have you reviewed your “non-negotiables?” Have you talked with the people you may need for support (administrators, department chairs, etc.)?
  5. Did you include all necessary parties in the communication?
  6. Have you clarified the reason for the communication up front?
  7. Do you have the answer or do you need time to think on it?
  8. Did you communicate what you CAN and WILL do?
  9. Did you summarize at the end to make sure everyone is on the same page?
  10. Is an email, phone call, or face to face meeting needed?
  11. Is it a difficult conversation? If so, did you start with “I need your help…?” Are you approaching it from a learning perspective?
  12. Are you sending enough positive messages?
These and other topics are covered in my Kindle ebook, Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools.

Feedback is great! Especially on any of these items with which you may have experience. In addition, I am happy to discuss these or any of the ideas in Paying Attention with you or your faculty. If you are interested in setting up a conversation, please email me at troy.roddy.phd@gmail.com

Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Reading Lineup (or how I seem to spend most of my free time)

"I cannot live without books."
Thomas Jefferson

I have read quite a few books so far this year.  Reading is a critical piece to my professional development and I am rarely unhappy with any book.  Having said that, I am also somewhat selective, so for a book to disappoint me is quite rare.

Here is the list of what I have read so far in 2011.  If you have read some of these, feel free to share your thoughts below.

The Roddy Reading Lineup (as of 8/14/2011)

Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

On Deck - Books I hope to Read Before the End of the Year

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Leading Change by John P. Kotter

Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Graceful by Seth Godin

What Matters Now by Seth Godin

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts About Improving the Public Image of Teachers

A recent article by Claudia Sanchez of NPR News highlighted some reasons why teachers around the country are upset over the public image of educators and the confusing political landscape that affects reform efforts.  In full disclosure, I am not a public school teacher.  I work for an independent private school, but I also know that a rising tide lifts all boats…and a falling tide lowers all boats.  I have met some outstanding public school teachers over the years and I have great respect for the work they do in their schools.  Therefore, after reading the NPR piece, I offer the following reflection as a message to all teachers who are working to repair and improve the public image of teachers around the country.

The bottom line is change.

Policy change, image change, change in focus, etc.

Much has been written about change and leading change.  Recently, I read a blog post by Dan Rockwell in which he states that change basically comes in four forms:

  1. Do more of something.
  2. Do less of something.
  3. Begin something.
  4. Stop something.

I believe that exercising your rights as Americans in the voting booth and by peacefully assembling is important steps in doing something.  These steps are important because they are proactive and being proactive is empowering.  Empowerment builds courage, and courage is required to make the next step in affecting change.  The next step may be the most difficult because it will cause teachers themselves to challenge their own identity.

Real change in how society views teachers will result when society starts seeing real results in the classroom  It will not come through policy change.  It will not come through media coverage of rallies and marches.  The perception of teachers will change when a critical mass of teacher-leaders emerges.

By “teacher-leader” I mean educators who are actively and obviously involved in affecting change in their schools.  Not just any change.  To change perceptions, the change needs to target how educators form their own identity.  The change that is needed by teacher-leaders is to address those among us who are not performing up to the standards we should place upon ourselves as professionals.

  • Great teachers are ‘good’ while helping other teachers get better.  They elevate the profession.
  • Good teachers help students learn.  They uphold the basics of the profession.
  • Bad teachers “back into a paycheck.”  They taint the profession.

So how do teacher-leaders take action?  Let’s revisit the four changes above.

Do more of something:  Teacher-leaders raise the internal standards of professionalism in their schools.  They do not wait for or rely upon external standards to define their professionalism.  Teacher-leaders are active in supporting other teachers in their efforts to get better.  They offer support to underperforming colleagues. 

Do less of something:  Teacher-leaders focus less on what is NOT working and begin to shift their thinking to what IS working.

Begin something:  Teacher-leaders begin to create a culture of true collegiality.  This culture allows teachers of differing points of view to share and engage in discourse about education.  Teacher-leaders begin to take ownership of their classes.

Stop something: Teacher-leaders stop making excuses for their underperforming colleagues.  They stop allowing bad teachers to be comfortable in their schools.

Americans love winners and we love to root for the underdog. 

There are few professions that currently find themselves in the underdog role more than teaching.  As teachers begin to shift their own professional identity and as the positive results of that shift become more obvious, education also has an opportunity to emerge as a professional “winner” in America. 

That is certainly an exciting vision, but one that will likely be realized and earned in the classroom, not the legislature.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The End Is Near…Thank Goodness!

The end is near!  Are you ready?  Have you prepared yourself for the judgment coming?

Wait, is that a pale horse?  No, just a dusty Ford Mustang. Phew!

Yes, the end is near.  The end of summer vacation that is. 

Thank goodness!

I don’t care much for the summer vacation months.  Don’t get me wrong, I like going on vacation.  I like spending time with my family.  I like getting away for a little while. 

What I don’t like is the quiet in my building.  I work administrators hours during the summer and, frankly, I miss the noise.  I miss the energy.  I miss the unexpected.  In other words, I miss the students.

Students are the life of the school.  The course through the hallways like oxygen rich blood bringing much needed nutrients to the  cells that are our classrooms (that’s cells as in the building blocks of matter, not prison cells!).

I am always uneasy around educators who are SO open about how much they can’t wait for their vacations.  They tweet, email, and Facebook post messages like, “Only 2 more weeks then I am free!”  Sure, we all love a break to recharge, but we love it so that we can be our best. 

Our best for whom?

Our family, our friends, and our students.  Yes, the same students some people couldn’t wait to get away from earlier this summer.

The “I can’t wait for my vacation” attitude often translates in student speak to, “I can’t wait to get away from you.”  Try that on and see if you are eager to return to class.

If the end of summer vacation brings tears to your eyes, I encourage you to reflect on how your outlook shapes your professionalism.  If the end of summer vacation brings deep anticipation, join me in saying:

“The end is near…Thank goodness!”  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Own your class

The rapidly approaching school year prompts us all to do some last minute reflection about the upcoming year.  Here is one of the tips I have reflected upon recently.  It is good advice for new and returning teachers.

Own your class.

What does that mean?

Owning is personal.  Owning is passionate.  Owning empowers you.  Owning your class transforms your work into your cause.

When we borrow something, we are careful to give it back in the same or better condition.  When we own something, it quickly becomes a part of us.

For example:

If you rent a car, it is expected to be returned in the same condition (with even the same amount of gas in the tank).

Buy a car?  What happens?  Bumper stickers, radio presets, empty cans, change under the seats, etc.

It becomes yours.

Rent a tuxedo?  You better count the cuff links before returning.  Buy a tuxedo?  Use any links you like.

In your class, the same idea applies. 

Own your class.  Show up ready to put your own innovative twist on an old idea.

You may respond with, “But Troy, my administrator/district/state requires I do ‘X.’  How do I own that?”

I say, “Ok, do ‘X’, but do it in a way that is yours.  I have to wear a tie, but it doesn’t have to be blue everyday.”

To paraphrase one of my favorite leadership maxims, “Own your class or it will own you.”  You are the leader in that room.  If you feel as if you cannot direct the course, you may have allowed yourself to give it away.  The good news is that tomorrow, you can get it back... if you want to.

Some don’t want to own their class because having someone (or something) own it is easy.  It provides an excuse for mediocrity.  It feels safe.

But it isn’t safe.

Mediocrity has no place anymore when it comes to anything that matters.

Education matters.  School matters.  Excellence matters.

Own your class.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mediocre Teaching is the Fuel that Keeps Standardization Ahead of Innovation.

no-mediocrity-300x300 Mediocre teaching is the fuel that keeps standardization ahead of innovation.

Standards are needed to try to ensure a minimum standard of quality.  In business, this was probably more important when people were less sophisticated and information was less available.  Today, we have access to enough information to make all of us capable of making good choices and recognizing poor quality when we see it.  We also have more choices in the global economy, thus poor products are quickly identified and the word spreads.  Bad products do not last.  They do not enhance our lives.  They do not connect us to others.  Who wants to be part of a tribe of people identified by their loyalty to a bad product?  Nobody.  Bad stuff can’t hide.

In education, standards are put in place for the same reason.  Their importance is enhanced when quality is suspect.  When students are doing great work, nobody points to the standards.  When students aren’t learning, standards are front and center in the debate.

Standards, in and of themselves, are not bad.  We should have high standards.  We should place them on ourselves.  We shouldn’t need them placed upon us – unless we become mediocre.  When we don’t live up to the standards we profess, someone will hold us accountable.  When we talk about being excellent, but don’t deliver, something will outline how to deliver.  Nobody wants to be associated with a bad product.

In today’s world, mediocre is the new bad.  There are only two options.  Be great or not.

Here’s the difficult news.  The emergence of increased standardization seems to have resulted from the awareness that our students were falling behind globally.  Intentions were good.  Set high standards and put a plan in place to achieve them.  It has not worked quite as planned.  Our capacity to be less mediocre could not keep up with the growing unease caused by global awareness.

Here’s the odd twist of fate.  A major reason we have become more globally connected and aware of our own challenges provides the best resource for fighting mediocrity and catching up.  Yes, I’m talking about the use of technology.  The same technology used to measure and communicate our challenges is the same technology that can help us become a world leader in education.

Here’s the good news.  The people needed to make this change are already in place.  We do not need to wait for a superhero to arrive or for lawmakers to change policies.  If you are a teacher or administrator, you make the change – or at least the decision.  Continue mediocrity and feed standardization.  Provide excellence and feed innovation.

One choice will isolate our students in a world becoming more connected.  One choice allows our students a chance to lead the future in a connected world.

Bad stuff can’t hide and nobody wants to be associated with it.  Mediocre teaching is the fuel that keeps standardization ahead of innovation.

Choose excellence.  Choose innovation.  Be great.

Image Source Page: http://maketodayyourgreatest.com/never-settle-for-mediocrity.html

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