Monday, December 31, 2012

Rewarding Mission

I am a believer in rewarding progress towards a mission.

Taken form the United States Department of Education's website, here is their stated mission:
ED's mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.
Here is a screenshot (12/30/2012)

I don't really have an answer here, but how - beyond test scores - are schools measuring progress towards attaining that goal?  If there really aren't any measures beyond tests scores, then are schools being rewarded for mission progress or test scores?

Finally, what role does diversity (a national strength) play in the realization of this mission?  If all schools are measured for mission attainment based on the same measures, then is there no recognition for how a school in an urban area in the Northeast can make progress towards that mission differently than a school in a rural area of the Southwest?  What about a suburban school in the Midwest?

Does your school, or district even have a published mission statement?  Is it easy to find?  Is it at all aligned with the national mission?

Again, I don't have the answers to these questions.  As a matter of fact, they may have simple answers.

I just think these are good questions to keep in mind as conversations about improving education in America is discussed.

Are we rewarding mission or are we rewarding test scores?  I have nothing, basically, against test scores, but if we are not rewarding anything else, then change the mission to be more clear.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Favorites From 2012

 In 2012, I published (including this one) 165 posts here on The Art of Education.  Recently, I posted the 10 most popular ones for the year (I also published a Squidoo lens with those 10 with previews for each).

That leaves 155 posts published this year had varying degrees of popularity.  Looking back, I am satisfied with all the posts, but some stand out to me more than others.

Therefore, I am sharing links to 12 posts I am most proud of for 2012 - one from each month.  These may not have had the most traffic, but are noteworthy and deserve a second chance - at least to me.

Give them a view.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.


The 3rd Dimension: Deep and Meaningful Experiences


2 Simple Steps To Improve Student Success


3 Tips For Helping Students Set Goals


Helping Derailed Students Get Back On Track


The Worst Response?


3 Easily Overlooked Qualities of Highly effective Educators


Schools: A Stage or an Opportunity?


Fear of Failure ... or Success?


THRIVAPY: To Err Is Human, but So Is To Learn


6 Tips For Supporting Overwhelmed Students


The Mindset Behind Your teaching Goals


What Empowerment DOES and DOES NOT Do

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Simple Test for Student Satisfaction

Sometimes, measuring the level of student satisfaction with their school experience is difficult.

With surveys, there may be pressure (implied or otherwise) on students to "get the right answer."  If you decide to talk with students in a more informal way, depending on your current relationship with them, you may have trouble with students not wanting to "open up" about how they feel about school.

Here is a simple test that I use to take the temperature of student satisfaction.  It is not exactly scientific, but I have found it to be a fairly good measure - and it is completely noninvasive.  In other words, students have no idea you are actually getting feedback from them when you do it.

1.  Choose an area of the campus and a time when students are likely to be gathering or moving.  Good examples here include: lockers areas between classes, before, or after school or the cafeteria during lunch.

2.  Walk through the area and make a mental note of how many students are smiling, laughing, or engaging with each other.

3.  Walk through again and note how many students initiate engagement with you.

4.  Do another pass and initiate contact yourself.  How many of those students seemed comfortable with you?

You can probably accomplish this test with less than 4 passes, but the idea is to get a sense of each of those 4 categories.

The more smiling, happy, engaging students you see, generally the more satisfied they are with their school experience.

Again, not very scientific, but worth trying out.

P.S.  It is also a great way for teachers to measure class satisfaction in real time!

Friday, December 28, 2012

What Did 2012 Look Like At Your School?

When you reflect on 2012 at your school, what did it look like?

Think about the activities, student projects, classroom experiences, design of spaces, allocation of resources, new ideas, etc.

What did it look like?

Did it look like 2011?  Maybe it resembled 2010 or 2008 or 2000?

Dare I say, some year beginning with 19?

On the other hand, how much of what you did was progress towards a vision of excellence for a year yet to happen - like 2013, 2014, 2015, ...?

We cannot predict the future, but that should not stop us from seeking better and recognizing when a better way might not look the same way it did last year.

Is your school moving forward or simply "rearranging the furniture" to give the appearance of progress?

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Compliment

A friend and former colleague of mine, Jim, recently paid me a wonderful compliment.

Connected via Facebook, he has been reading my blog posts (I share each post on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn).  In a recent message, Jim told me about a time when someone told him that he was "always thinking about something."  Jim, a retired math teacher, considered that a great compliment and wanted to send the same compliment my way.

I had never considered "always thinking about something" as a compliment before.  Maybe my habit of reflecting on my art and sharing my ideas with others has caused me to take my own practice for granted.  Never the less, I have a great deal of respect for Jim and will gladly accept his gracious compliment.

Thinking about compliments, here are a few questions upon which you can reflect.

  1. Considering the work you do, what one statement would be the best compliment a student could give to you?
  2. Same question as number 1, but this time replace student with parent.
  3. Same question as number 2, but replace parent with colleague.
  4. When was the last time you paid a compliment to a student of her effort?
  5. When was the last time you paid a compliment to a parent for partnering with you?
  6. When was the last time you paid a compliment to a colleague for helping you out?
In this season of giving, maybe the best gift from you is a well deserved compliment.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Ask

The Ask is the moment when you, as educator, are put on the spot.  When you are called to address the challenge of the moment.  The Ask can come from any number of directions and sometimes, there is no course of study or lesson from experience to provide the "right" answer.

The list of potential Asks is too long to write, but here are a few examples.

  • The shy student who suddenly asks for extra help.
  • The parent of the disorganized student who asks you to initial the homework planner.
  • The interested student asking for ways to deepen their understanding.
  • The uninterested student asking when class ends.
  • Is this on the test?
  • A colleague asking for help managing a difficult class.
  • An administrator asking for your feedback.
  • A worried nation asking you to raise achievement.
How you approach The Ask can often be the difference between good and great, between being a cog in the wheel or being an instructional linchpin, or the difference between being simply accepted and being respected.

You may not have the answers to The Ask immediately available, but having the right attitude and approach to serving your students and honoring your role as an educator will place you in a strong position to deliver on The Ask.  In my Thrivapy work, I suggest adopting a FRITR philosophy towards your relationships.  FRITR stands for Friendly, Responsive, Interactive, Trustworthy, and Reliable.

The Ask is ineveitable (and almost daily).  Are you prepared to answer?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

When Expectations Clash

In a connected society, if you choose to engage, you are responsible to a variety of people.  For students, this list includes their teachers and parents.

However, once a student decides to engage and commits to a minimum standard of satisfaction, there needs to be some recognition that the student's personal standard may not line up exactly with those to whom they are also responsible.  Parents and teachers may have different expectations.  Therefore, having a strategy to address this "clash of expectations" is helpful.

Here are a few tips:

1.  Try to use differences in expectations as points from which to strengthen your support team.

Differences in expectations are a problem if you allow them to strain your relationship with your support network.  Use the differences to enter into a conversation about expectations.  Recognize and accept that the expectations of others matter.

2.  Meeting others' expectations doesn't mean giving up on yours.

Having different expectations does not mean you cannot meet yours.  If the difference is not too vast, then it is very likely that in the process of meeting your standards, yo will also meet theirs.  It is not a "mine vs. yours" situation.  The situation is more closely one of degrees of success rather than a totally different definition.

3.  Ask for examples from your past work to clarify the other expectations.

As mentioned in #2, the difference is often a matter of varying degrees of success.  Different standards may also be the result of unclear methods of measurement.  In other words, what others see as examples of meet the standard may differ from person to person, even if the actual standard is similar.

For example, both student and parent may have a shared and stated goal of getting better in science class.  The student, however, has a standard of success for that goal of answering two questions and asking one good question in class correctly each day.  The parent, on the other hand, has a standard of no less than an 85% on any graded assignment.  In this case, it is important to come to an agreement about both what actions to take in class and what results on assignments satisfy the standard of getting better in science.

In all of these conversations, students need to ask for specific examples to help clarify what exactly meeting the standard looks like.

4.  Recognize when you came up short and be proactive.

Meeting a standard of satisfaction for a worthwhile goal is not easy.  There should be some degree of difficulty involved.  Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that students may fall a little short from time to time.  My suggestion to students is to create an if/then plan for falling short.  For example, "If I do not meet my standards, then I will ______."

This proactive plan to address falling short will help the student get back thinking from a growth mindset (get better) than having a fixed mindset reaction (I'm not good).  In addition, having a proactive response ready to go demonstrates a great deal of maturity in the face of difficulty.  This quality ( also referred to as resilience, grit, fortitude, etc.) is among the most important ones for long term success.  Finally, taking action when things do not work out and being able to report that progress to parents (or other standard bearers) is a much better for the partnership between your support team members than simply reporting that you fell short.  Showing you have taken some action focuses the conversation more on the reaction (now what?) than the results themselves.

You can read more about establishing your own expectations here and here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Innovate Or Get Better?

I like new.  I admire innovation.  Striving for innovation as part of your vision is a strong statement for the belief in potential.

However, "new" doesn't last.  There will always be a new "new."  The other problem with innovation is that is it singular.  There can only be one "new" at a time.  So, unless your idea, method, device, etc. is truly "new" then you are not being innovative.  You may be creative.  You might be imitating or borrowing.  But unless you are first with the "new" you are probably not really being innovative.

Using slides to enhance your lecture is not innovative.

Better, on the other hand, is never is short supply.  No matter where you are now, better is always available.  Better is easier to imagine and measure.  Working to get better is not a race.  You don't need to be first to be better.  Better is always welcomed.  Growth mindsets love better.  Better never becomes obsolete.

Using slides could make your lecture better.

Of course, if the innovation is better, then you win on both sides.  Unfortunately, "new" isn't always "better."  Better IS always better.

I like new.  I admire innovation.  When innovation highlights how to get better, I love it.

Schools need to be places of perpetual "better."  

If striving to be innovative is a strategy for getting better, you will likely be more successful than if you are seeking innovation for the sake of being first with the "new." 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Raising Your Bar

Ownership and setting a minimum standard of success has been a recent theme for me.

Hopefully, at some point the conversation with the student moves to a reflection on when to possibly adjust the minimum standard.  In other words, "When do you raise your bar?"

Here are a few suggestions.
  • If you are consistently meeting (or exceeding) your minimum, it is probably time to raise your bar.
  • If meeting (or exceeding) your minimum requires little effort, it is a good idea to raise your bar.
  • If meeting your minimum no linger satisfies your drive to do great work, raise your bar.
Of course, it is difficult to self-evaluate these matters.  That is why having a regular check in meeting with a coach, mentor, guide, or....Thrivapist is very useful.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Met Your Minimum? Now What?

I recently (12/17/2012) published a post about helping students take ownership of their work.  Two of the suggestions in that post are to:

1.  Help the student define and commit to their minimum standard of success/satisfaction.


2.  Support self-accountability by developing an if/then protocol.

Here is a chart I created to help with the if/then protocol.  If you decide to try this strategy with a student, the graphic may help, especially with students who respond better with visuals.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Five Suggestions For Establishing Student Ownership

In the traditional scenario, the teacher tells the struggling student to "reach for the stars."  Other versions of the same tale are told as examples of trying to inspire students by explaining that their potential is limitless.  Sure, reminding students that you believe in them and know they are capable of better is important.  However, focusing only on the mythical heights of potential might be cutting out an important piece of the process.

When students are not working to their potential, it is natural to want to inspire them to do better.  You give examples of wonderful work the student has done.  You tell stories about former students and use their experiences to inspire your current student.  You repeat how much you care and how much you are there to help.  Sometimes, this works...for a while.  But eventually, unless the student learns to take ownership of his or her work, old habits will come back and the student will, once again, struggle.

The important piece to this puzzle is the learning to take ownership.  We use this term (or ones like it) with students, but most students really do not know what taking ownership is, nor do they have much of an idea about how to begin doing  it.  The traditional scenario (see above) involves the teacher trying to create a vision of achievement designed to inspire the student.  After which, the student, transformed by this vision, makes the decision to work harder, focus more, and engage actively in the learning process.

However, there are some potential pitfalls with this one sided strategy.

1.  The vision of what "can be" is espoused by the teacher with little or no input form the student.  Therefore, student buy-in is low.  A shared vision has a better chance of being realized.

2.  The vision rarely includes any changes on the part of the teacher.  In other words, the burden of reaching for the stars is almost entirely placed on the student.

3.  Striving to reach a higher level of achievement is difficult (or at least it should be).  Difficult goals are better achieved when the student is able to break them down into smaller, more direct steps.  Focusing on small victories builds momentum and adds up to large wins.  Teachers need to be prepared to help students identify these specific, smaller steps towards progress.

4.  The inspirational vision ignores failure or what to do if the student falls short.

The point here is not to devalue having a vision of success or believing in the potential for all students to do better.  The point here is to recognize that ONLY hoping to inspire students to higher achievement is not a complete plan.  In order to complete the plan, students must begin to take ownership of their work.  Unfortunately, as mentioned above, students often need help learning how to take ownership.

So, how can teachers change their approach to helping students achieve better?  What elements can teachers  add to the traditional approach that would present a more complete plan for students?  What can a teacher do to help a student begin to take ownership?

Here are five suggestions.

1.  Included the student in the crafting of the vision of success.

Ask the student what a successful experience looks like.  What is the student doing when she is successful?  What type of results would suggest success?

2.  Explain what ownership is and why it is important.

Ownership is not the same as being left on your own.  Ownership is being committed to a standard of quality that exists in everything you do.  Ownership is being responsible.  Ownership is being honest.  Ownership is knowing when to ask for help.  Ownership is accepting that success is better achieved when you take an active role in developing the relationships needed to support your efforts.

3.  Help the student define and commit to their MINIMUM STANDARD OF SUCCESS/SATISFACTION.

This may sound counterproductive.  Why would you want to focus on the minimum when you are trying to discover the maximum?

Here's why.

Unless the student knows where his bottom line is, they cannot hold themselves accountable for any of their results.  In other words, at what point does the student look at their work and accept it as satisfactory?  Once that minimum level is defined, they must stick to it.  The minimum also provides a clear foundation from which the student can define better.  If the minimum isn't known, how can he clearly envision better?  Better than what?

The rule here is to remind the student that the minimum is the lowest acceptable outcome, effort, etc. for everything she does.

4.  Support self-accountability by developing an if/then protocol.  

Every time the student gets feedback, they should measure that feedback against their minimum standard.  Once they do so, they should go through an if/then exercise.

"If I met my standard, then I will __________ ."
"If I did not meet my standard, then I will __________ ."

5.  Schedule check in and follow up meetings.

One of the toughest parts of any plan is the follow through and check ins.  it takes discipline and organizational skills to stay on track and having regular checks with the student will help you and her maintain focus and momentum.  At these meetings, remember to ask if anything has changed since the last meeting, any positives to celebrate, or any new challenges that have emerged.

Helping students appreciate and work towards better results is an important part of being an educator.  While it would be great if every student responded to the cheering and inspirational mantra we like to share, the reality is that, for many students, success needs a more specific and pragmatic approach.  Establishing a foundation from which student ownership is developed is a powerful way to support the long term growth of your students.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Getting It Done vs. Getting It

 Getting it done crosses the task off your to-do  list.  It frees you to do the work you find more important; more stimulating.  When you look to get it done, getting done is THE goal.  Other than being finished, there is nothing to share after you get it done

Getting it done is a task - a fixed item in time.

On the other hand, when you get it you become open to the value and pleasure of learning.  You are absorbing new knowledge and sharing your work with the world.  Getting it never ends.  It is a gift to yourself because you are honoring the purpose your muse is calling to to discover.  It is also a gift to others because as you honor your obligation to yourself and take ownership of your work, you become an example to others.

Getting it is an attitude.  It is a commitment to quality that applies regardless of  task.  It is a belief in your potential to do better.  Getting it is growth.

The challenge for some students is they have a tendency to put get it done items in the get it bucket or the get it items in the get it done bucket.  As educators, we are tasked with helping students determine what belongs on a check list and what deserves deeper attention.

If you are trying to be a better student or to help others be better, it is better to get it than to get it done.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Art of Education to "go dark" in remembrance of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary

Apple Clipart Image: Apple Silhouette in Black and White
image found at

I was just beginning a leadership team meeting today when I was alerted to the news of the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Simply put, I am shaken to my core and have been managing difficult emotions since that moment.

Educators all over the world share a special bond with each other and the students and families we serve.  Today, a great void was created in the community of schools.

I hope you join me in offering the most sincerest of condolences to everyone affected by this senseless act of violence.

It may not be much, but I am compelled to take some action to recognize the tragic events of December 14, 2012.  Therefore, my blog will "go dark" this weekend to honor the victims, families, and friends of Sandy Hook Elementary.  There will not be any new posts published this weekend, December 15-16, 2012.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

If Autonomy Is So Important, Why Do Students Give It Away?

 Autonomy can be described as a state of self-direction or self-governance.  It is also a word I like to use with students when discussing their work.  This is especially true since I read Daniel Pink's Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  Autonomy plays a large role in Drive.  As a matter of fact, autonomy is one of three factors (along with mastery and purpose) that Drive suggests are the most important in motivating people.

So, why is it that when students are not provided with detailed micro-managed instructions, they seem to freeze and are frustratingly less capable of getting the job done?  Do students value autonomy less than everyone else?

I asked my students and they reported, to my expectation, that they value autonomy as much as the next person.  I also found that they are afraid to be wrong, and when asked to decide which is more important, they seemed 'ok' with giving up some autonomy for the perceived payoff of less risk of failure.

That leads me to the question I didn't ask them.

Is there really any security against failure with less autonomy?  Does having every decision about how an assignment is done or how one's work is presented made for you make it less likely that you will fail?

I guess the answer depends on how much weight a teacher places on such matters when figuring out an assignment's grade.  I suggest that the answer, regardless, is, "No."

Directions are not bad.  Having specific standards for successful completion is not bad.  Holding students accountable for producing high quality, educated work is not bad.  None of these examples are synonymous with a lack of autonomy.  If specific formatting is essential to the assignment, then by all means be specific in your instructions.  However, if you are looking for ten examples from American history that demonstrate an understanding of the foundations of the American economy, then does it really matter if students hand in a bullet list, an essay, a slide show presentation, or write a poem?

Autonomy is essential to motivation and growth.  It is also a cornerstone of a free and informed society.

Sure, as the teacher you are responsible for directing the ship, but that doesn't mean not allowing students to choose how they enjoy part of the journey.

Find ways to promote autonomy.  Engage with students in a manner that reduces fear of failure.

Do not teach students to freely give up autonomy for the mirage of security provided by complacent dependence.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Start Helping Students Improve With This Question

Trying to help students find better success in school is not easy.  Even with the best of intentions, the volume of data and feedback can become overwhelming; making it difficult to know the best way to begin.

Sometimes, less is more.  So, here is one question I have used with good success.  It can be asked of any teacher at almost any time and will provide you with a clear starting point to help the student.

"What two or three specific actions can the student take immediately that would have the greatest positive impact on his/her results?"

Three important results of this question (and answer):
  1. "Specific" - Answers must be specific to be useful.  Responses such as, "Work harder", "Study more", and "Put forth additional effort" are not specific.  Useful responses paint a clear picture of what action needs to be taken and leave little to no room for misinterpretation.
  2. "Immediately" -   Begin NOW.  Remember, the standard of satisfaction is not perfection.  Get started and adjust as needed.
  3. "Greatest" - Forces the answer to speak to the most efficient course of action.  Also, it requires the person answering to reflect deeply on their response.
Added bonus!

You can use this question for ore than helping students.  Change a few words and you can apply it to your class, division, school, team, business, etc.

Try using it yourself and let me know how it worked.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

New Approach To Serving Students?

 A recent Harvard business Review blog post by Micah Solomon titled, What's New About Serving Customers (and What's Not), offers a few very good suggestions that schools should consider.  The article describes three "new" ideas.

1.  "Social media has empowered customers. Respect and work with that power, not against it."
2.  "Customers expect companies to share their burdens."
3.  "Your customers demand their right to serve themselves."

Each of these three has implications for interacting with students and families.

1.  Be easy to reach and respond quickly.  As a general rule, I suggest answering emails within 24 hours - even if your response is to acknowledge that you received the message and will be in touch again soon.  In addition, adopting a FRITR (friendly, reliable, interactive, trustworthy, responsive) philosophy to communication is highly effective.

2.  Turning in assignments, reminders about upcoming deadlines, posting assignment details/instructions on the web, etc. may seem to some as "doing the work that responsible students should do" but actions such as these should be discussed in light of best practices.  These burdens also set up a clear partnership with students with a focus on producing an educated body of work, which is different than the more traditional "you vs. them" relationship that promotes the student as a receiver of an education.

3.  Intentionally bringing autonomy and choice into the classroom allows students to take ownership of their work.  Helping to guide them to connect previous knowledge and/or interests with the current theme of the class also brings a degree of "self-service" into the equation.  In addition, helping students articulate their own vision of success provides a better benchmark for effort and support.

For more suggestions on school communication, check out my Paying Attention lens.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Clarifying "Better" For Students

I like it when students tell me that they want to "do better."  As a matter of fact, "do better" is one of two most often given responses (along with "get a higher grade").  I like "do better" because it shows a glimmer of growth mindset working in the student, and having a growth mindset is an advantage for those seeking greater satisfaction and success.  However, "do better" is not specific enough for students to get the support, guidance, and help they may need to achieve "better."

Students need help clarifying "better."

One way to clarify "better" is to guide students through creating a vision of success.  Ask them what success looks like if there were no barriers to achievement.  See if they can describe a vivid picture of  what they are doing when they are doing "better."  Then, ask students to list all the barriers they see to getting "better."  Finally, work with them on a realistic plan to overcome as many of those barriers as possible.

Also, it is helpful to set up specific points to use as benchmarks.  While setting up fixed points to use as a measure of progress may sound like a fixed mindset, unless you are defining success by reaching those markers (instead of recognizing success through the effort needed to reach them) you are still focusing on growth mindsets.  Establishing specific points will help define "better" in concrete terms and serve as a foundation for both students and those helping them.  I tell students all the time that it is hard to hit a moving target.  Define the benchmarks and stick with them.  Then, everyone on their "success team" is able to draw conclusions and provide support towards a consistent point.  If the "marker" moves, it is harder to support the student.

Again, setting up benchmarks is not the same as valuing a fixed mindset.  Rather, having specific points along the way helps reinforce the effort needed to continue progress.  This is especially true of new or difficult to reach benchmarks.  Knowing where to adjust your efforts is an important part of realizing a vision of "better."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fill in the blank: When Your Plan Breaks Down...

 ________________ takes over.

  • discipline
  • effort
  • character
  • vision
  • grit
  • resilience
  • creative thinking
  • problem solving
  • teamwork
  • leadership

  • all of the above

Rarely, do things go EXACTLY as planned.  This applies to students trying to get better results, teachers with well organized lessons, parent with hopes and aspirations for their children, and administrators who are initiating new ideas.  When the plan breaks down, even for a brief moment, having the skills and qualities necessary to work through the break down puts you in a much better position to eventually succeed.

How is your school teaching, valuing, reinforcing, and celebrating those skills? 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Report Card Grade: Destination or Starting Point?

I have spent quite a bit of time recently working with students who have just received their report cards.  Inevitably, the instinct is to focus on the results ONLY as an indicator of what has already happened and as a fixed determinant of learning.

Certainly, one's grades should be a measurement of learning from the period of time in which the grades are determined.  However, only viewing grades as a final measure cuts out the growth mindset from the picture.

My suggestion to students (and parents) is to balance this view of grades with a growth mindset.  Instead of only focusing on them as a fixed measure of what was, use the grades as a starting point for what can be.  In other words, use the current results to determine what is a reasonable vision of "better" and then work on an action plan that addresses "getting better."

Chances are, by focusing on getting better, you will be more satisfied with your next set of results.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What Empowerment DOES And DOES NOT Do

Empowerment has been a theme in some recent posts.  One concerns whether or not school leaders empower teachers to deliver on the expectations of the connected/sharing society.  The other provides a simple definition of empowerment and a quick check on the level of empowerment being offered at your school.

Empowerment, however, is a tricky topic.  If you don't feel empowered, you want to be.  If you feel like you are empowering others, you want to see the results.  We rarely complain about being too empowered, but often feel we are not empowered enough.  This may be because as specific expectations change, it is difficult to place the new expectation into the current framework from which you operate.  In other words, "How does the new ___ fit into my existing paradigm?"

Of course, the challenge is that paradigms are changing constantly.  What feels like empowerment today may feel like restriction tomorrow.  Therefore, it is very important to be clear about what empowerment does and does NOT do.  Here are a few examples.

Empowerment DOES...

  • allow individuals and teams to make decisions relevant to their responsibilities
  • expect individuals and teams with responsibilities to take mission appropriate actions
  • hold responsible parties to a high standard of communication and follow through
  • create a "leadership density" among members of the organization
  • increase the chances of tapping into an undiscovered talent base among your team members
Empowerment DOES NOT...

  • guarantee positive results
  • ensure success
  • relieve anyone of school-wide responsibilities
  • give you permission to "point the finger" at someone else
  • discharge top level accountability
A wise friend once advised me that, "You can delegate responsibility, but you cannot delegate your accountability."

Empowerment follows that logic.  While empowering others does not guarantee success or positive results, it certainly places your team in the best possible position to make good on their responsibilities.  If those responsibilities are aligned with noble and forward thinking goals, the rewards of empowering others and achieving those goals greatly outweighs any risks associated with empowering your team.

What Is Teacher Empowerment?

 Teacher empowerment is an important issue, especially when you reflect on what empowerment looks like in a connected/sharing society.  However, empowerment is one of those topics that can lead to misunderstandings because it can mean different things to different people.  Therefore, it helps to have a uniform understanding of what empowerment is before you can explore empowerment in your school.

So, here is my simple explanation for what it means to be empowered.

There are three essential elements to empowerment.  Without one of these, empowerment does not exist.

Element #1 - A clearly communication and understood set of goals/expectations.

Element #2 - Each person clearly understands their role and responsibility in achieving those goals or meeting (or exceeding ) expectations.

Element #3 - Anyone with any responsibility is provided to tools and resources necessary to address his/her responsibilities.

For each goal or expectation of your school, you can use these three elements to evaluate if the front line people asked to deliver critical pieces to achieving that goal are empowered to do so.

  • What are we trying to do (see vision, mission, etc.)?
  • Who are the critical players needed to do it?
  • Do those players have the resources and support needed to get it done?

If your answers follow a clear path to a final, "Yes." then you most likely have an empowered team at your school.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

10 Student Challenges Addressed By Thrivapy

Recently, I made this lens to describe how Thrivapy supports student success.  After making the lens, I began to reflect on the specific challenges students face that can be addressed with Thrivapy.

Here are 10 of them.

1.  lack of satisfaction
2.  unclear purpose
3.  inconsistent follow through
4.  no sense of what success looks like
5.  difficulty making a plan to address challenges AND taking action on that plan
6.  inconsistent engagement with work
7.  minimal empowerment to do better
8.  fixation ONLY on grades
9.  unclear about responsibilities
10.  organization/time management/prioritizing tasks with a busy schedule

The ideas behind Thrivapy do not only apply to struggling students.  The strategies are as effective for high achieving students who are working to manage busy schedules and demanding expectations.

There is more information on the Student Success and Thrivapy lens.

You can also email me or schedule a Google+ Hangout to discuss.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Occupying Higher Ground

Leaders occupy higher ground.

One person helping another climb up a mountainThis can refer to the teacher in her class, the administrator among his division, the principal or headmaster and her school, the superintendent and his district, etc. 

Reflect on where you stand.  Who occupies the ground below you?

Now reflect on what you do.

Do you spend your time actively trying to make sure everyone knows where you stand?  Are you constantly looking for any potential threats to your position?  Are your decisions motivated by a desire to maintain your status by keeping others away from your spot?


Do you use your position to pull others up closer to you?  Are you throwing ropes out and providing stability upon which others can rely?

Occupying higher ground is a great strategic position.  You can survey wider spaces and gain a perspective that those in other places do not have.  If it was worth the effort to get to higher ground, it is usually worth sharing the experience with others.  Having been there first, you also know the best route and the problems to avoid.

Genuine and effective leaders occupy higher ground so they can inspire others to join them and then help others get there.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Perpetual Potential

Perpetual potential is a state of:
  • feeling as if anything is possible
  • knowing the next great idea will be found today.
  • anticipating the next best (fill in the blank) will be available tomorrow.
  • believing better is attainable.
  • accepting that one person, with a platform to communicate and the drive to do so, can make a difference.
Teachers and administrators:
Does this sound like the culture in your classroom?  Does this describe the environment at your school?  

Students and parents:
Is this a description of your beliefs about your ability to learn?  How does perpetual potential align with your beliefs about yourself?

Perpetual potential is not easy.  It requires you to:
  • respect the current reality, but have a vision for the future.
  • be brave enough to act and empower others to act.
  • accept a growth mindset (get better) rather than a fixed one (be the best)
  • engage with others and be willing to share what you know to create knowledge.
  • know that seeking support, guidance, and advice is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • be honest with yourself, accept responsibility, and tirelessly work to be a "better you."
  • become comfortable with the fact that there is NO END GAME to potential (see note about growth mindset).

For more about growth mindsets, having a vision for the future, and taking action, visit "Student Success and Thrivapy ."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Savvy Educational Leaders Use Mission and Vision

In a recent blog post, I wrote, "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."

Educational leaders who understand change also understand how to use vision and mission to support that change.

Vision is forward thinking and active.  It describes the ideal future of the school.  Vision communicates change.  Vision is the target set firmly in the distance that everyone can see and aspire to become.  Vision is knowing and embracing that change is inevitable - and those changes will move the organization closer to its most ideal state of operation.

Mission is not vision.  Mission is the instrument by which you measure the potential change agents.  Many ideas and initiatives may seem "vision appropriate."  However, not all of those ideas may be "mission appropriate."

Savvy leaders know how to use vision to inspire their team and create a shared sense of purpose.  They also know how to use mission to examine ideas to determine which ones are the bet fit for the school.  The better the fit, the more likely the ideas will achieve their intended purpose - which should relate to moving closer to the ideal state of being as shared in the vision.    

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cereal, Service, and Schools

My wife went to the store today to do some grocery shopping.  One of the items on our list was cereal.  Specifically, it is a Kellogg's brand of cereal with "Special" in the name.

At the store, she was unable to find the"Special" cereal.  She also couldn't find a single store employee in the area near the cereal aisle to ask about the inventory.  However, she did see a Kellogg's representative (the woman was wearing a Kellogg's shirt) one aisle over.  Since the "Special" cereal is a Kellogg's brand, my wife wanted to ask if the rep knew about the inventory.

When asked about the "Special" cereal, the rep quickly pointed out (and in a not too friendly manner) that she didn't work for the store.  My wife recognized that fact, but asked if the woman knew if the store was selling the "Special" brand.  At that point, the Kellogg's rep "educated" my wife to the fact that not only did she (the rep) not work at the store, but didn't handle cereal - she was a cookies and chips person.

Needless to say, my wife's effort to get an answer stopped there and she purchased a different cereal - not a Kellogg's brand.

The point is that this rep had two chances to show off her companies commitment to customer service.  maybe she did, but if so, it says a lot (or very little) about the desire to make a connection between the company and its customers.  We could have been Kellogg's customers for life, but instead have no more of a reason to buy their brand now than before - maybe even less of a reason.

What does this say about schools?  We often wear our "brand" in public.  When presented with an opportunity do we engage in a meaningful way about our school or do we only do "cookies and chips?"

Maybe Kellogg's, or at least this rep, needs to reflect on their relationship with their customers and adopt a FRITR philosophy: Friendly, Reliable, Interactive, Trustworthy, Responsive.  This ONE aspect of Thrivapy would have made a huge difference in one family's choice of cereal.

What about potential families and their choice for school?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Great Selection of Books for Holiday Reading

Soon, the holiday break will be upon schools.  If you are looking for a good title (or two) to read over your break, check out my Thrivapy Reading Collection.

The collection has something for anyone seeking a better understanding of:

  • goal setting
  • goal attainment
  • taking action
  • building habits
  • growth mindsets
  • understanding motivation
  • taking ownership
  • empowerment
  • developing positive relationships

Also, I do not receive royalties from any of the links on the reading collection lens.  All earnings from that page go directly to charity.  In other words, my motivation for creating the lens and sharing it is NOT to make some extra money.  I created the lens and am sharing it to spread, what I think, it an awesome collection of books.

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