Friday, November 30, 2012

School Administrators: Leadership or Management?

A recent meeting approached the topic of leadership in schools.  In that conversation, a wise participant shared his thoughts about the difference between leadership and management.  He also acknowledged that need for administrators to lead and manage schools.  Based on my studies, research, and practice, I would completely agree that there is a difference between leading and managing - and that effective school administrators do both.

Here are some more of my thoughts on the topic.

  • The culture and environment surrounding education is going through a dynamic adjustment.  Schools face pressures and competition from places that didn't exist 10 years ago.  It is not going to ever go back to what it "used to be" so schools need leaders who understand change.
  • As a mission that says everything actually says nothing, a vision without specifics cannot possibly inspire anyone to move forward.
  • The uncertain nature of where education is heading needs leaders who can thoughtfully examine a school's history, clearly understand a school's strengths and challenges, and prudently craft a relevant vision with a "target" firmly planted in a place where the school needs and wants to go.
  • A moving target is hard to hit.  A school's future goals should be crafted with care, thought, collaboration, and respect for institutional history and mission.  However, once set - leave the target alone.  Give people a chance to "get there" before looking for the next "target."
  • If you look at a school's hierarchy, is the person on top actively pushing others down or pulling them up?
  • Policies/procedures = Management
  • Empowerment = Leadership
  • Administrators who spend more time checking on compliance or answering questions concerning policy or procedure are not leading, they are managing.
  • Administrators who spend more time discussing how to get better, empowering others to deliver an enchanting classroom experience, and working to define their school's greater future are leading.
  • Filling out a teacher evaluation form is managing.  Providing guidance, support, and resources to help that teacher improve is leadership.
  • Prudent management is symbolic of an administrator's priorities, and therefore can be a form of leadership (symbolic).
  • Forward thinking leadership sets a course and motivates the team to all move in the same direction.  In this case, compliance on "how to get there" is usually not a significant problem.  Therefore, by default, you are effectively managing.
  • Effective leaders know when to lead and when to manage.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Students Not Turning In Assignments? Try Rewards

One of the more frustrating challenges I notice concerns students who do not (or forget to) turn in assignments to their teachers.  Within this category, the most frustrating situations involve students who did the work, brought it to school, know where it is, yet still seem to forget to have it ready to turn in.  The majority of the responses, that I have observed, from teachers is to attach some sort of punishment (loss of credit, point deductions, a note home to parents) to the forgetting of the assignment.

However, I wonder if taking the opposite approach might get better results.  Instead of a punishment for those who do not turn in the work, give a reward to those who do.

This idea will have some resistance.  There are those who believe are that rewarding what "should happen" sends a wrong message - that rewards should be given to those who do outstanding work, not those who do what is expected.  I agree that students who do "above and beyond" work should be recognized, but given what is being discovered about motivation and reward, shouldn't we consider a slightly adjusted approach?  In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, we are presented with a research based argument that we should.

Without going into great detail, Mr. Pink's work basically describes how for low level/manual repetitive type activities, external rewards have been shown to increase production.  For more complex or creative tasks, external rewards have not shown to increase productivity.  The key to applying this thesis to turning in school assignments is to decide if the act  of turning it in is a low or high level function.

Turning in assignments, it seems to me, is a low level basic function which seems to fit nicely into the category of items that are enhanced by direct external rewards.  If so, would teachers have better results (fewer assignments not turned in) if a simple reward was given?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

If you are reading this post...

...then you have been given another chance to do great work.

What will you do to help:

  • a student get a little better today?
  • support a colleague who is trying something new in her class?
  • yourself finish the day a better teacher than you were when you started?
Smile.  You are doing important work.

Now, go do great work!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Measure, Target, and Prudence: Thoughts about Innovation and Schools

Schools are historically slow to change and wary of innovation.  Innovation alone doesn't guarantee better results, especially in schools that do not establish clear benchmarks for success and/or do not collect data to evaluate progress.  In those schools, broad, innovative, initiatives risk having no clear connection to the mission and vision of success.

Here are a few other thoughts I have about schools and innovation.

  • Schools serve their families' most valuable commodity - the children.  Much like handling priceless art, a great deal of care and prudence is demanded in working with children.  Significant changes in how that is delivered should go through a thorough review so that when asked, "Why?" the school can clearly articulate the reasons for the change and how those reasons relate to student success.
  • The old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" still applies.  If your school is measuring results and are achieving great success, there is not going to be much traction to change.
  • If a change is needed, try to preserve as much of what was working as possible and incorporate those items into the innovation.
  • Target your innovation.  Seek to make changes in areas that are not achieving the results you are expecting.
  • What is innovative at your school is relative to what your school currently does.  The innovation isn't necessarily doing something nobody else is doing, but to adjust how you operate.
  • Just because someone else is doing it, doesn't mean you must do it also.  Do you remember trying to convince mom to do something because, "everyone else is doing it?"  What did she say?  Probably something like, "If everyone else jumped off a bridge, does that mean you need to also?"  Schools are similar in many ways, but no two schools are exactly alike.  What works well at one school does not mean it will automatically work at yours.  This is where a prudent and mission focused approach to innovation pays dividends.
  • When you add an element to your school's program, you are, by default  doing something new.  These are great opportunities to demonstrate your commitment to being innovative.  Once you establish positive results with the new program, explore how any operational elements can be applied to other areas of the school.  If you make a possible link between an older method that could be enhanced with the approach being used in your new program, you have built in credibility and data to reinforce the possible change.     

Monday, November 26, 2012

How Empowered Are Teachers As Front Line Personnel?

In the connected economy, empowering your front line people to deliver an outstanding experience is essential for growth...and survival.  The connected economy thrives on trustworthiness, reliability, interactivity, and friendliness.  These qualities are an essential part of my thrivapy work and are also hallmarks of schools that deliver enchanting experiences for students, parents, and teachers.  So, it is worth reflecting on whether or not your school's expectations and policies are aligned to promote this approach.

Do the policies and expectations restrict a teacher's ability to deliver great service as a front line employee?  What can teachers "give away" to promote a positive experience without eroding your school's mission?

What is more important people or procedure?  Do your school's policies align with your answer?  Do teachers have the freedom to make decisions on the spot that will enhance the relationship between school and home without fear of receiving a "citation" from the "policy police?"

As we learn more about the tremendous difference a teacher's relationship with students and parents has on learning, have we adjusted our policies and expectations to empower teachers to provide a "connected education?"

Student Success through Thrivapy

Thrivapy has been the overwhelming preoccupation of my thinking in the past few months.  Not only because I am working on the book, Thrivpay, but also because I have been working with some students using the thrivapy concepts with good results.

For those unfamiliar with the word, thrivapy is a term I created to describe the act of advising, guiding, coaching, and mentoring students and/or parents in a holistic approach to student success and satisfaction. Thrivapy includes - basic fundamentals: knowing your "foundations" (mission, vision, beliefs, philosophy), setting goals, taking action, understanding habits, appreciating growth mindsets, accepting ownership/responsibility, and having a FRITR (Friendly, Responsive, Interactive, Trustworthy, Reliable) philosophy of communication.

For those of you interested in an overview of how student success and thrivapy are related, I published this lens to help explain the thrivapy concepts and their relation to student success.

In an era when we are looking to extremes to help students get ahead (medication, therapy, tutors for every class, etc.), it may be worth a few minutes to examine a different approach that might be the connection you and your students may be seeking.

Give the lens a glance and let me know what you think.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Are You a Better Teacher...?

Most schools are approaching the mid-year holiday season.  At some point, take a few moments to do some mid-year reflection.

Are you a better teacher today than you were when the year started?

I think this is a fair question.  After all, we hope our students are better today than when they walked in on day one.

Yes, you say you are?  What evidence points to that?  What does someone see (colleague, student, administrator, etc.) that demonstrates professional growth?


No, you don't think so (or are unsure)?  Don't be upset.  Examine your practice.  What is your vision of a successful class (or more productive class)?  What is missing?  Set new goals and begin moving towards them.

If you are struggling to answer and/or unclear about how to establish a self-directed "get better" plan, you may benefit from a little "thrivapy."  In that case, and if you are interested, feel free to contact me.  I may be able to help.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Note About Trustworthiness

Trustworthiness is among the most important characteristics a teacher can display.  When teachers are trustworthy, there is no doubt in the minds of the students, parents, or colleagues that the teacher makes classroom decisions based on what is best for her students.

Trustworthy teachers have obvious motivators - and these motivators are student driven.

If you are giving assignments, scheduling tests or quizzes, or starting projects for any reason other than your need to either help students learn then you are taking a risk.  Students do not care that you think you need more grades in the grade book.  Parents are becoming more and more aware of the "busy work" nature of many homework assignments.

Be obvious in your desire to help students learn by making sure that your decisions about your class are clearly driven by student success.

Be trustworthy.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thrivapy, Students' Wants, and the Essential Triad

One of the conversations (or series of conversations) I have with students during thrivapy sessions is to help them articulate what they, the student, wants out of their school experience.  For some students,  this is a difficult question to answer because, frankly, for many of these students, no one has ever asked.  When asked, students tend to "open the floodgates."  However, it is important to remind students that while their wants are important, there are still two other parties who have an interest in their success and those parties have wants that deserve and need respecting also.

The essential triad - students, parents, and schools - do not always need to agree completely on every desired outcome.  However, each component needs to respect the fact that the other two matter.

It is easy to fall into the trap of only respecting the wants of your most closely identified group.  During my thrivapy sessions, it is important to remind the party I am working with that it is perfectly fine to have a desired outcome that differs from the other two, but those differences cannot be dismissed as unimportant.

Recognizing that a strong essential triad requires mutual respect for both similarities AND differences is among the most important early conditions of productive thripay.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Reminder for Educators

On this day of thanks, let us not forget to thank those who work hard. mostly behind the scenes, to make your school work.  Every school has them.  Here are a few descriptions.  You fill in the names.

  • the facilities worker who sets up the room for a special presentation
  • the librarian who is always ready to accept a class into the library with little notice
  • the dining hall worker who is prepared to serve meals on time, every time
  • the office assistant who stays late to get the important email sent before the week ends
And another special, "Thank you" to all of you who choose to invest a part of your day with me here at The Art of Education.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The mindset behind your teaching goals

Each class you teach should have some desired outcomes.  Most often, we focus on student outcomes.  Certainly, students outcomes cannot be under-valued.  However, each class should also present you, the teacher, with opportunities for attaining certain outcomes as well.

Think of it as "real time" professional development.

Do you know what YOU want to achieve as a result of teaching your class?  Have you set personal/professional goals for yourself that are linked directly to your class?

If you know what those goals are (or even if you are making them now), the mindset behind your goal will provide an interesting guide for how to best approach attaining them.

Take a look at your goals.  Generally, they will fall into one of two different categories: promotion or prevention.

Promotion Goals

  • try to attain, achieve, or accomplish something of note
  • goal is to maximize gains
  • optimism is a motivator
  • usually accepts some risks
  • values speed or accuracy
  • achievement of these goals gives you a rush
Prevention Goals

  • these goals are items you "ought to do"
  • safety and avoiding losses is the focus
  • achievement gives you relief
  • pessimism helps more than optimism
  • more conservatively focused and more attention to details
Reflecting on your goals and reviewing if your approach matches the type is a useful exercise.  It is also one of the exercises I do when working with students in thrivapy sessions.

A promotion goal that is perpetually stuck on the details and taking a pessimistic approach will likely lead to frustration and failure.  The same is true of a prevention goal that you approach too optimistically and try to achieve too fast.

For more about promotion vs. prevention goals and their impact on your work, check out Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The implications of students' beliefs

What are your students' beliefs about success in school?

Have you asked?  If not, don't fret.  What do their actions tell you?

Beliefs are only as valid as they are acted upon.  The implications of a true belief are a call to action.  When the action suggests something different, then the belief is either poorly communicated or not truly a belief.

Do your students "walk their talk?"

If not, they should consider either changing the belief or changing the action.  However, this decision comes with its own set of implications.  A change in action may require an understanding of habits and how to change them.  A change in beliefs will alter one's personal vision, mission, and philosophy.

Shameless self-promotion warning!
For more about beliefs, mission, vision, and philosophy, you can check out my book, Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy .  Only $0.99 US for Amazon Kindle.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Easily Embedded Student Feedback

I am a big fan of teachers who regularly ask students for feedback.  This can be for a specific lesson, the class in general, or to gather suggestions for future planning.  However, some teachers find it difficult to hold such conversation openly in class.

Another method I have used, that works very well, is to add a section at the end of a test, quiz, or exam that specifically asks for student feedback.  I even give students a few extra points for offering the feedback as a "thank you."

This design doesn't (and shouldn't) take on some extensive/complicated format.  As with most things, simple is best.

Ask two questions.

1.  List three things you do NOT want to see changed about this class (or lesson, test, etc.).
2.  List three suggestions you would like me to consider for future planning.

That is it.  Two easy questions.  Six pieces of valuable feedback per student.

Try it out and let me know how it worked for you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Model for Student Ownership

Over the past few months, I have been providing "thrivapy" to a small number of individual students who find themselves in a rut.  Fully capable, these students simply need some clarity and guidance to rediscover and embrace their "better version of themselves."

"Thrivapy" is a term I created to describe the process by which I support, guide, and advise people towards a higher level of satisfaction and success in their work.  Thrivapy is grounded in the understanding of the roles goal setting, habit formation, growth mindset, personal empowerment, and personal presentation play in realizing higher levels of success and satisfaction.

One particular challenge was with helping with exam preparations, but the model I used can be applied to almost any situation.  It involved 3 basic steps with the outcome being a better understanding of one's current challenges AND a clearer vision of what the next BETTER version of oneself looks like.

Here is a visual I created to show the process.  Below is a description of each step.

Set expectations and take action

Step one is to form realistic, yet challenging, expectations for your work/results.  These expectations should be based on your own experiences and can vary from course to course.  For example, if math is presenting a much harder challenge than history, expectations for history may be greater than those in math.  Be realistic, but set expectations that will stretch you do better - not just your best.

In addition, this step requires one to take action.  If you are working on exam preparations, taking action may be taking the exams.  If you are practicing for an upcoming game, playing the game is the action.


Once the action has been taken and the results are known, then next step is to reflect on those results and see if you met your expectations.  You may find yourself falling into the "I should have..." trap.  My advice is to replace the "should have" statement with a "next time" statement.  "Should have" pushes you closer to a fixed mindset and can get you stuck in a vicious circle of doubt.  "Next time" statements are growth oriented and provide a road map for future success.

Expectations met

Congratulations!  If you met your expectations, you should be proud and celebrate.  Your plan and preparation for the action taken seemed to work.  Make a note of what you did to prepare and refer back to it in the future.

Expectations NOT met

If you didn't meet your expectations, don't fixate on the outcome.  Instead, remember you are capable of achieving those goals, but may need to revise your plan.  Remember the reflection step - think in terms of "next time."

If we continue with the exam example, a conversation between student and teacher may be in order to go over the exam and identify specific areas of difficulty.  Once you know the "get better" opportunities  compare those to how you prepared.  Maybe you spent too much time on items you understood and not enough time on the ones with which you need help.  Adjust your plan as dictated by your findings.

"After the model"

The model ends with the adjustment exercise, but whenever you work from a "get better" mindset, there is no end game.  Therefore, with new found confidence, set your eyes forward and begin the vision exercise again:

  • If there were no roadblocks to success, what does the successful/better version of myself look like?
  • What are those roadblocks?
  • What can I do to overcome those roadblocks and work towards realizing my "next better me?"

Additional notes:
As I stated near the beginning of this post, I have been offering thrivapy to a few students over the past few weeks/months.  If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you may also recall that I am working on my next book, titled Thrivapy, which goes into more detail about my thrivapy system.

If you are interested in learning more about thrivapy for yourself, fellow teachers, or your students and families, feel free to contact me.  I am happy to set up a time to have conversations about the foundations of thrivapy and how it can help increase the chances of success and satisfaction.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Future of Education: My notes from a recent conference presentation

On Monday, I attended the VAIS (Virginia Association of Independent Schools) Annual Conference.  One of the sessions I attended was a lecture titled, The Future of Education given by John Martin, President/CEO of Southeastern Institute of Research.

Mr. Martin presented some intriguing research findings that led his organization to make a host of suggestions and predictions about the future of education.

Here are the highlights per my notes.

"Tailwinds" for the future of education

  • Growing population in the United States (predicted growth of about 24% by 2030)
  • Inability of public schools to push past the status quo due to bureaucratic processes
  • College graduates becoming one in a million - potential for certification programs to become as valuable if not more in some markets
  • Growing number of parents who want to "parent right" and provide their child with every advantage possible
"Headwinds" facing the future of education
  • New consumerism - making more of what you have, a desire to focus more on needs than wants
  • More questions about the value of education, especially private school education
  • Growing number of low cost alternatives to traditional schools
  • Growing number of highly customized, free content and learning tools
  • Increasing levels of diversity
21st Century Skills (from his research)
  • Critical thinking
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Social impacts
  • Collaboration
  • Global awareness
  • Ability to acquire new skills quickly (New Gen Flux)
Imperatives for the future of education
  • Deliver a superior outcome
  • Create a unique selling proposition - do not be defensive, but rather focus on quality of outcome over price (quality/price = value)
  • Use the future as your point of reference
  • View 21st century education as being a part of a network
  • make your school a "gateway" into that network
  • Package your 21st century program
  • Track and report outcomes
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