Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Using "Predictive Visualization" for Student Success

fortune cookie A few days ago, I wrote an article titled, 2 Simple Steps to Boost Student Success.  In that article, I suggested that having students determine WHEN and WHERE they would do their assignments would greatly increase their chances of actually doing the work on time and with better quality.

These two simple steps are powerful, but their is another strategy I use with students (and teachers) to provide even more support to doing high quality work.  In most cases, I use this additional strategy in addition to "When?" and "Where?"  I call it using "predictive visualization."

What is predictive visualization?

Predictive visualization is reflecting on an assignment in a way that forms a mental image of the finished product based on what you predict is your best and most complete effort.  Predictive visualization answers the question, "What would that assignment look like once you have finished it in its best and most complete form?" There are two steps in answering this question.

  1. Predict what you think the assignment requires in its best and most complete form.
  2. Visualize how those items look once YOU have finished the work.
Once you complete a predictive visualization exercise, I suggest recording your thoughts so you can refer to them when you actually begin doing the assignment.  You can use any method to record your predictive vision as you like: bullet points, narrative, audio recording, draw a picture, etc.

Here are some other factors that contribute to a predictive visualization exercise.

  • You need to know WHAT to do before developing your predictive vision.  Having the context and parameters clearly understood is important because lack of clarity will lead to a vision that may or may not actually apply to the task.
  • The predictive vision is very personal.  It describes YOUR best and most complete effort - not what someone else would do.
  • Predictive visualization is NOT the same as making educated guesses.  With predictive visualization, you are using the power of your mind's eye to enhance your chances of success, not eliminate what yo know to be false.
  • Once you actually finish the assignment, review your predictive vision and check for similarities and differences.  This part of the exercise has the potential to help you better understand how you actually think and work, which is helpful for future predictive visualization exercises.
  • Predictive visualization is NOT the same as having an optimistic outlook.  While there are obvious benefits to having a positive view, not applying a layer of reality (which is vital in the Predictive visualization process) can lead to over-confidence, sloppy work, and careless errors.  If your task is particularly challenging, not applying a layer of reality could lead to your quitting too soon or not completing the task to an acceptable standard.
Predicting outcomes have shown to help promote learning.  Having a vision of success is also an important part of attaining your goals.  Combining the two to develop a predictive vision of your best efforts on any given assignment has the potential to take your success to a new level.


For an interesting article about using predictions to learn, read What's Your Best Guess? Predicting Answers Leads to Deeper Learning by Annie Murphy Paul.

Monday, February 27, 2012

When Students Ask, "Why do I need to learn this?"

There are a few reasons why students may ask, "Why do I need to learn this?"



  1. They are searching for relevance.
  2. They have mastered the concept and are seeking a deeper meaning.
  3. They find the concept difficult and are trying to understand. 

For reasons #1 and #2, asking "why" is an appropriate question.  Provide context, make connections, explore examples and possibilities, etc.

For #3, if the student is struggling to master a new and difficult concept, asking "why" may actually lead to frustration, lack of follow through, and a less than expected outcome.

A strategy for those asking "why" about a concept that they find difficult to master is to redirect the focus to asking "what".  Asking, "What do I need to learn?" (or a similar line of questioning) breaks down concepts into step by step pieces that allows for careful, focused efforts to result in gradual improvement.

I often use a cooking metaphor.  At first, you follow the recipe to make sure you do it right and the meal tastes as it was intended.  After a while, you know the recipe, how the ingredients taste together, etc. and can begin to experiment with new ingredients to improve on the recipe while minimizing the risk of total disaster.

Questions are important and can lead to deeper discovery.  However, guiding students towards the most appropriate question can also improve success and motivate them to seek deeper meaning.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

2 Simple Steps to Boost Student Success

 Of all the work I do, among the most satisfying is working with students and teachers to examine goals and provide coaching to assist in achieving those goals.  Frequently, both students and teachers find themselves stuck.  They have good. clear goals set, but find themselves finding it hard to follow through and/or get their work done well and on time.

One method that I have begun using in my coaching is to ask the person with whom I am helping to add two small pieces to their plans or assignments: think about and write down WHEN and WHERE they intend to actually do the work.

For example, a student is having trouble completing his homework, and the work he does do is not of the quality he once was producing.  He is writing down his assignments in an assignment notebook, but his assignments are only telling him WHAT to do.  However, as the video below (featuring Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson) explains, deciding WHEN and WHERE he will actually complete the assignment suggests he is now hundreds of times more likely to actually follow through on getting the work done.

Setting goals is not difficult.  Putting together a appropriate plan of action to attain those goals is more difficult.  Following through and actually attaining them is where most fall short.  If you find yourself h knowing what to do, but are having trouble following through, try determining WHEN and WHERE you will follow through.  You may find that these two simple steps are what your action plan needs to find greater success.

Here is the video mentioned above featuring Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson.

Friday, February 24, 2012

12 Ways Educators Earn Respect, Part Two

In part one of this two-part series, I shared 6 of 12 ways educators earn respect.  Simply listed, the first 6 are:
  • set goals
  • stick with it
  • learn from mistakes
  • take chances, but avoid recklessness
  • over-communicate
  • have a plan, but be flexible
Now, here are the next 6 ways educators earn respect.

Listen

Students often just need you to listen to them.  This is particularly true when you are pointing out an error on their part.  I have found that if you stop and allow the student to have their chance to engage with you, you can still accomplish your objective AND have the added bonus of that student now knowing that their connection with you is a two-way street.

Listening also allows you to model empathy and emotional intelligence.  When you listen, you are telling the other person that you care, at least enough to allow them the chance to be a part of the conversation.  Students want to be heard because they are often trying to find their voice.  Listening to them gives students a much needed ear.  For that, students will respect you.

Know Your Stuff

Students, I have found, are very good at quickly (and accurately) determining if their teacher knows two things: the topic or subject being taught and how people learn.  For certain, students are not always correct, but it is uncanny how many times over the years students have commented that "Teacher X doesn't know the subject" or "Teacher Y doesn't know how to teach" - and they end up being right.

When you step into the room as a teacher, you are the expert in the room on that topic and how to help students learn it.  That doesn't mean you need a Ph.D. in education, psychology, or your subject to teach.  It does mean that you need to stay current, apply strategies that have shown to work, and be prepared to answer (and ask) good questions.  Since nobody knows everything, it also means that you know where to find the answers (this is among the most valuable lessons I learned in graduate school).

If you don't "know your stuff", students will recognize this very early on.  Students cannot and do not respect teachers who don't "know their stuff."

Stop Trying to Prove You Know Your Stuff

Ok, you know your stuff and are read to help students learn.  Now what?

Stop trying to prove you know your stuff!

It is a given that you know it (thus the lack of respect when students figure out a teacher really doesn't).  Your class is not a forum for you to prove to the students how smart you are or how much you know.  Proving how much you know may be impressive for a brief moment, but eventually students want to know you have their interests in mind; that you are leveraging your knowledge to help them learn.

If your class is simply a platform to draw attention to your wisdom, you are missing a chance to earn critical respect points.  Work to draw attention to student achievement, not your understanding of the topic.

Have a Foundation

In the class, the teacher is the leader, and leadership needs a foundation.  I suggest four leadership foundations: vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy.  Every leader needs to have a clear understanding of these foundations in order to be clear in their expectations and to build leadership capacity among their team.  In the case of a classroom teacher, I suggest that leadership capacity among the students can be measured by the degree of academic maturity that exists in the class.  In other words, to what degree can your students take responsibility for their learning, lessons, assignments, etc. and display an acceptable level of progress towards the course objectives?

Before leadership capacity can be built, the leader needs to know their own foundations.  Unfortunately, it is rare that a teacher examines these four foundations.  If you want to examine your vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy deeper, I have written an eBook, Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy, that guides you through that process.

When in Doubt...

While good teachers plan well and are prepared for their class, it is rare that lessons always go as planned.  When faced with having to go "off script" for some reason, teachers who are prepared with back-ups have a great chance to not only model the value of flexibility and preparation, they have an opportunity to score big respect points.

I suggest that a solid back-up plan requires a teacher to have not only a deep knowledge of the subject, but more importantly, a deep understanding of her own strengths and challenges as an instructor.  When in doubt, go to your strengths!

For example, you planned an awesome experiential learning lesson on the Boston Tea Party and the Sons of Liberty, but when you got to school there was a fire drill which caused the class to be shortened in a way that would not allow the lesson to work.  Doing an experiential learning lesson was somewhat new for you, and you were really looking forward to it, but now you are stuck with having to come up with a new idea.

What are your strengths?

Well, for the sake of this example, let's say that in the past, you have lectured the class on the topic and you are very good at it.  While you were trying something new, it may need to wait another day.  Go to your strengths, deliver the lecture after explaining to the class that they will do the other lesson tomorrow.

While this was not ideal, it is probably effective and you avoided looking unprepared in the eyes of the class.

Give Respect

This one is simple.  If you want respect, give respect.


Earning respect is not getting students to pay attention to you.  Their attention provides you a platform to engage in a manner that earns you respect.

For example, I am a middle school administrator.  I work with students in grades 6-8.  I also really don't have much interest in Justin Bieber or the Twilight series.  On the other hand, I sometimes wear pink or yellow pants and engage with them about those subjects.

Why?

Because it gets their attention and provides me an opportunity to guide them in a real (yet sometimes sneaky) way.  Do I earn their respect?  I have never asked them, but knowing middle school students the way I do, if they choose to interact with you, chances are you have their respect.

Whether you are a new or veteran teacher, establishing, maintaining, and growing the level of respect for you as a professional educator is both healthy for you on a personal level and beneficial to your students and colleagues.  Sometimes you need to focus on you.  Empower yourself by working to earn respect.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

12 Ways Educators Earn Respect, Part One

This is part one of a two-part series describing 12 ways educators earn respect.  In part one, I describe the first 6 ways.  Part two describes the second 6 ways. 
Why two parts? 
I intended this to be one post, but it began to get too long for my liking (I like my blog posts to be quick reads, not short novels) and to shorten the descriptions, I felt, didn't do the ideas justice.  So, I broke up the 12 ways into 2 separate posts.
The order of the 12 ways is NOT in order of importance, only chance.


  One of the reasons given by people who stopped teaching after a few years for their decision is a general lack of respect afforded them by their students and/or families of their students.  I find this reason interesting because of the three most commonly given (including low pay and lack of resources), earning respect is the one over which the teacher has the most influence.

You have little or no control over the salary your school pays you.

You have little or no control over the amount of space, time, and resources your school provides.

BUT

You have a great deal of influence on how much respect you earn.

This last point is the one that many educators forget (or were never taught).  In my opinion, it is also the point that strikes most at the heart of teacher empowerment and success.  When you do the things that will earn you respect, drum roll please.... You earn respect.

Here are 12 tips for how educators (with any level of experience) can earn and/or maintain the respect of their students.

1.  Set Goals...

Knowing what yo want to accomplish and/or where you want to go is important.  More important is knowing how you came about those goals, establishing an action plan that is compatible to attaining them, and developing the discipline to follow through - especially when things appear to be getting off track.  Being clear with these answers and being able to communicate them to others provides a clarity and direction that most people appreciate.

Teachers who struggle in this area often struggle with earning student respect because the environment appears directionless and disorganized.  When you appear to not be able to be prepared for your class, students will have a had time believing you are able to help them.  The may like you and have fun, but those outcomes may not be a sign of respect.

In order to be successful, you need to define success.  You cannot define success without knowing what you  want to accomplish and how you will go about attaining those goals.

2.  Stick with It

At some point, you are going to hit a rough patch.  Things will not go as planned and the road to success gets very difficult.  It helps when you set your goals to accept that they are attainable, but not easy.  Ultimately, though, you need to grit your teeth and work through the tough spots.  Many teachers give up before they should because they either began with the illusion that teaching would be easy or they weren't prepared to dig a little deeper.

There is a great deal of self-satisfaction that comes with having worked through a difficult problem.  If your challenge was public and students see that evidence, chances are you earned respect points in their book.  We tend to hold those who fought through difficult challenges and emerged better, more capable as a result of that challenge - this is basically the premise of every hero story.

3.  Learn from Mistakes

Mistakes are not the enemy.  Not learning from them is.  In order to do this, a healthy growth mindset and "be better" approach is helpful.

You will make mistakes in class, and so will your students.  How you respond to those mistakes is an important piece to earning respect.  Your reaction will send a message loud a clear about what matters most to you:  the content or the person, the lesson or the learning.

Students tend to respect teachers who care more about the person in front of them and that the person is learning, not that you were able to deliver your lesson on today's content.

4.  Take Chances, but Avoid Recklessness

Students like to try new things, especially in classes that are very predictable.  Unfortunately, trying new things may lead to a few mistakes (see previous item).  If communicate about the new idea up front and prepare the students for it, chances are that even if it doesn't work as planned, you will earn a few points of respect.  What doesn't work is if your new idea is a complete surprise.  In that case, it comes off as poor planning.

Also, if you want to take a few chances on something new, improvise, or respond to a moment of inspiration, it helps to have a clear DO NOT DO LIST.  This is your list of non-negotiable do not do's.  This list is important because it can act as an often helpful balance.  How many teachers, in a moment of inspiration (or frustration, brilliance, or whatever) did some REALLY dumb things that A. got them in deep trouble and/or B. did great damage to the level of respect for all teachers by the general public. 

5.  Over-Communicate

I have rarely had a student or family tell me they are getting too much information, but I have often been told that communication is lacking.  Sending messages and responding to others demonstrates commitment to the individual.  Few things earn respect more than taking a personal interest in a student's progress.  It helps to block off time each week to send a few messages and to have a response plan for incoming messages.

If you are interested in more about teacher communication, you can check out my eBook Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools.   

6.  Have a Plan, but Be Flexible

Having a plan, as opposed to showing up and improvising, provides direction and clarity.  Your plan answers the questions, "What are we doing?" and "How are we doing it?"  In addition, a good plan also helps students see "Why we are doing this?"

However, as with many plans, once they are put into action, being flexible enough to adjust to circumstances or new ideas is a trait that students tend to respect.  This is especially true when the students themselves are the ones generating the new ideas.

The bottom line is to know what, how, and why students are doing your lesson, communicate those things to the students, and be prepared to "follow an unplanned path" that remains true to the lesson's purpose.



Looking ahead to part two:

Part two continues this list of 12 ways educators earn respect.  Here is a preview of the items you can expect to see:

  1. Listen
  2. Know your stuff
  3. Stop trying to prove you know your stuff
  4. Have a foundation
  5. When in doubt...
  6. ? (a mystery item, ohhhhhhh)
Ok, now that you are  primed to continue reading, stay tuned for 12 Ways Educators Earn Respect, Part Two - coming to this blog soon.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Helping Students Set Goals

I have recently begun a series of discussions with groups of middle school students about setting and attaining goals.  While I have been having such discussions for years, I recently read a fabulous book about goals setting and attainment, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson.

Below is a graphic I created to help organize my discussions and to help students follow along in the conversation.



For students, I find that many need help with determining when to have "be good" goals and "be better" goals.  In addition, Dr. Grant Halvorson writes in Succeed about two other powerful ways to help attain your goals.  Both can have a big positive impact on student success.

  1. Use of "if/then" thinking
  2. Taking a moment when you have a task to think about "when and where" you will perform it
"If/then" thinking helps students avoid procrastination.  While reinforcing the need to get started, "if/then" thinking also sets up the subconscious to guide your actions.  For example, students can begin to think in terms of "If I am finished dinner, then I will review my notes from the day for 15 minutes."

Thinking "when and where" is also a powerful tool.  When students are given an assignment, in stead of only writing it down in an assignment book, they should also tell themselves exactly when and where they will do the assignment.  This has shown to have a significant effect on completion and quality of assignments.  For example, "I will do my homework in the dining room after dinner and before 9:00 pm."

Both "if/then" and "when and where" thinking should also be self-chosen by the student for the best chance of these thinking models to work.  Of course, teachers and parents can model such thinking, remind students to do so, and check in on how well the student is sticking to their goal.




Emotions, Middle School, and the Plague of Disorganization

I just finished reading a nice article about how emotions and self-regulation may have a negative effect on how well someone is able to remain organized and on-task titled, Life's Messy.  Train Your Brain to Adapt by Megan Erickson for bingthink.com.

In addition to drawing upon research to explain how the brain works to regulate stress and emotions, the article points to how the energy used by that function depletes our ability to follow through on goals and remain on-task and organized.  Fortunately, all is not lost!  the piece also provides expert opinions on how to redirect our energy and adapt our brain to handle life's complexities.

As a middle school administrator, one of the most challenging parts of working with students is helping them get better organized.  The article helped provide a possible explanation for the middle school "plague of disorganization" by explaining how the brain functions can get in the way - especially for middle school students who are in a constant battle to understand and express their emotions.

Maybe one way of looking at middle school disorganization is to see it as a sign of higher levels of emotional intelligence and self-regulation (a good thing) that leaves very little energy to use for staying organized.

If you are an adult who works with "middle scholars" what tips can you  share to to either help support organization or emotional intelligence?

Friday, February 17, 2012

8 Ways Schools Can Enhance a Culture of Innovation

 One of my favorite blog posts of 2011 was published in The Innovation Issue of Think Quarterly on thinkwithgoogle.com.  The article was written by Susan Wojcicki and is titled, The Eight Pillars of Innovation.
Susan begins her post with the following statement:
The greatest innovations are the ones we take for granted, like light bulbs, refrigeration and penicillin. But in a world where the miraculous very quickly becomes common-place, how can a company, especially one as big as Google, maintain a spirit of innovation year after year?
Nurturing a culture that allows for innovation is the key. As we’ve grown to over 26,000 employees in more than 60 offices, we’ve worked hard to maintain the unique spirit that characterized Google way back when I joined as employee #16.
She then lists and explains each of the eight principles of innovation that Google has adopted that continues to guide the company.  They are:
  1. Have a mission that matters
  2. Think big but start small
  3. Strive for continual innovation, not just instant perfection
  4. Look for ideas everywhere
  5. Share everything
  6. Spark with imagination, fuel with data
  7. Be a platform
  8. Never fail to fail
After reading the article a number of times, I found myself asking the same question over and over again.

How can school leaders and administrators apply a similar approach to schools?

In order to address the question, let's translate Google's innovation principles into "school friendly" definitions.

1.  A mission that matters

Schools must be driven by some force that is greater than the individual needs of its members (students, teachers, etc.).  This force should be the mission of the school.  Mission is one of the foundations upon which a leadership platform is created.  For schools, the impact made on the larger, surrounding community is often related to its mission - not just in statement, but practice.


While institutions may (and likely do) have independent missions, those with the potential to make the most impact are those school's whose missions guide organizational matters and action plans.  Missions need not be long, elaborate statements.  One or two sentences is usually best.  In my eBook, Foundations, I suggest two questions that need answering by your mission: "What is your purpose?" and "What do we do to accomplish this purpose?"


2.  Think big/start small

As an administrator, you will find that new ideas are not hard to find.  What is hard is how to implement good ideas in a way that makes a big difference in your school.  Often, there is pressure to begin a new program or idea on a large scale - after all, it is such a great idea that it cannot possibly fail, right?

Prudence is an often overlooked virtue and can be quite useful in such situations.  If you have an idea that has potential, don't forget that a small scale trial in a classroom, grade level, or division may provide feedback that will help make a larger initiative more productive.  Do not forget the value of a good pilot test.

3.  Strive for continual innovation, not just instant perfection

There is tremendous pressure put on schools (and students) to be good.  In other words, the focus is often placed on fixed outcomes, test scores, good grades, high GPAs, etc.  There is nothing wrong with those goals.  As a mater of fact, focusing on being good often produces very good results.  On the other hand, if you are trying to develop a more creative and innovative culture, being good goals work against you.  In their place, focusing on being better is the correct approach.

Being better aligns with creativity and self-chosen autonomous goals.  While their may be less emphasis on the details, being better encourages resilience and allows performance to fuel motivation.  If you strive for perfection and fail, being good can cause students and schools to give up too soon.  If you focus on getting better, any movement towards your goal is a victory.

4.  Look for ideas everywhere

There is no shortage of information.  I think everyone will agree to that.  However, while you may have a robust PLC, subscribe to great blogs (hopefully this one included), or engage at conferences, sometimes we forget to look for ideas within our own school.  Chances are that someone on your team has a great idea.  If we look for ideas everywhere, don't ignore the ones sitting in front of you.

5.  Share everything

...that will help your team deliver the school's mission and help demonstrate the school's commitment to student learning.  Sharing is, in my opinion, has positive outcomes.  "Spreading" is not sharing.  Spreading rumors, gossip, biases, stereotypes, is not sharing and does not promote your mission.  One doesn't share a cold, you spread it.  However, sharing good and/or bad news does promote your mission.  Sharing does not always mean comfortable.  It means necessary for mission, and thus, ultimately it is a positive.

6.  Spark with imagination, fuel with data

Here are a couple of statements to consider.  Imagination is seeing with your mind's eye.  Putting imagination into action is creativity.  Of course, when we use our imagination, we can see past events, current events, or project a future event - and play it out as we want, including mental manipulation.

For example, I can imagine myself playing football in high school (which I did), but I can also imagine it as if I was 6 ft. tall and 200 lbs. running a 4.2 40-yard dash (which I wasn't and couldn't).

Now, imagine a future for your school.  Imagine a picture of what can be.  Chances are, there are a number f pieces to your image that involve real/current items or people.  Now, think about how to make that a reality.  What do you need?  Again, you probably see items or conditions that are known.  In addition your image may involve multiple, creative steps to make it a reality.  How do you decide what needs to be done first?  What are the priorities?  How do yo know your imagination is leading you down a productive path or derailing current progress?

You need information.  This is where data fuels your ideas.  While your ideas may have been born out of imagination, whether or not you apply creativity to make them happen is based on what you know (or what you can find out) - that is hoe data helps make the necessary connection between what could be and what will be.

7.  Be a platform

Schools that serve as platforms are those that invite others to partner in program development.  The school acts as a central place from which great ideas can emerge and be tested.  Schools as platforms create knowledge.  Creating knowledge is a social function.  It happens when people share ideas and information, thus creating a higher level of discourse and understanding which benefits all who share.  In other words, schools can be places where students take information and use it for personal gain or schools can be places where its members share what they know with each other and create an atmosphere of intellectual stimulation from which new ideas emerge and spread.  The latter are schools as platforms.

8.  Never fail to fail

There are seldom a shortage of ideas for how to address any challenge in a school.  The difficult part is often choosing the right one.  The challenge is choosing the right one, the one that is the best fit for your school.  Unfortunately, often the only way to know is to try something and see how it works.  If it doesn't, you can either adjust or try something totally new.  In order to do this, and do it comfortably, schools need chances to set promotion goals and think in terms of getting better.

Unfortunately, schools are often faced with fear of failure.  There are certainly always going to be some discomfort associated with failure, but of all the places or institutions in the world at which learning from the past is critical, schools should be at or near the top.  Avoiding failure leads to prevention goals and focusing solely on being good.

There is a place for both types of thinking and both types of goals in schools.  The trick is knowing which is most appropriate for establishing and nurturing a culture of innovation.  If you are only prevention/be good minded, then you will choke innovation.  If you want and need innovative thinking, allow for promotion/be better thinking.

These are just a few thoughts about innovation in schools, and I am sure you may have your own separate ideas and/or stories related to school innovation.  Feel free to comment below and share your own ideas about sparking innovation in schools.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Square Peg/Round Hole

Square Peg in a Round Hole
image found at http://www.stuartduncan.name/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/square_peg_in_round_hole_2-300x225.jpg

It is possible to fit a square peg into a round hole.  School leaders do this all the time, especially when trying to implement an idea or program that appears to have a large potential benefit and seemingly low cost.  In other words, the peg appeared round before we started playing with it.

Now that you see the peg is square, there is pressure to make it fit.  To do so, you have a few options.

Option 1:  Hammer the peg until it squeezes into the hole.
Sure, this may get the peg in the hole, but at what cost?  More than likely the peg will still stick out (it will still be obvious that it isn't the best fit), you will have damaged the peg (it will not resemble the nice one you thought you were going to play with), you will have damaged the hole (now, your school is also wounded), and there are still gaps between the idea and the issue.

Option 2:  Drill a bigger hole.
This option implies expanding the criteria for using the peg to a point where it fits into the issue without needing to use brute force (option 1).  However, the hole is bigger because you have permanently altered its appearance and you cannot ever go back, the peg is now in the hole, but the gaps are still obvious and likely larger than before.

Option 3:  If you like the square peg, find a square hole
Ok, you REALLY believe this idea has potential.  Maybe you were just using it for the wrong issue.  Assemble the team and see if an adjustment in placement may help.

Option 4:  Round the peg
Now, you take the peg (program) and permanently change it to fit the hole (issue).  Of course, it will never resemble the square peg you started with and, unless you sand it down well, may have a rough surface and be slightly distorted.  Again, not a perfect fit, but certainly less obvious.

Ultimately, most of us hate to admit we made a mistake or that we may need to abandon what seemed like a good idea, but a bad fit is a bad fit.  Even if the square peg fits into the round hole, you'll need four small semi-circle pieces to fill the gaps.  Now where one solution was sought, you have five ideas trying to "fit the bill."

Somewhere there is probably a better fit (idea, program, etc.) seeking a school just like yours.

Better yet, be innovative, tap into the collective wisdom of your team, and develop your own program (peg) that is custom made for your school.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Take Five: My 5 Best/Most Popular Posts in One FREE eBook

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing this blog is seeing which posts get either the best responses or most views.  When I began writing The Art of Education, I wasn't sure what response I would get or how many readers would visit.  Today, I am overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of readers who have visited in such a relatively short period.

As a "Thank you" to all who have spent time here, I have created a free eBook (available as a .pdf file), Take Five: the Best and Most Popular of The Art of Education, volume 1.

Take Five, volume 1 is a compilation of my five most popular blog posts as of  the end of January, 2012.  Topics covered in Take Five, volume 1 include: the 3 pillars of a student-centered culture, what school administrators should say daily, the "evolution" of education, identifying who should do the "heavy lifting" in your school, and why some people resist technology integration in schools.


Clicking the links to the file will take you to my shared version via Google Docs.  From there, you can download the original .pdf by clicking FILE/DOWNLOAD ORIGINAL.


Note: Reading .pdf files requires Adobe Reader. If you need to download Adobe Reader, please click here.


If you experience a problem with the download, please email me and I will send you a copy.


  

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Unsticking" Your Faculty Team

From time to time, you may find that your faculty team appears stuck in a daily routine that consists of them doing one task after another.  Teachers who are stuck in this cycle may be identified by looking for a few signals.

  1. lack of motivation and energy to perform tasks
  2. noticeable lack of advanced planning/thinking
  3. thinking in near future terms only
  4. when faced with a new idea, they focus on feasibility much more than desirability
  5. they appear to be all business, no pleasure
So, what can you do to help "unstick" your faculty team?

First, recognize that teachers who are focused on the daily tasks are operating mostly as concrete thinkers whose actions are guided by the question, "What do I do?"  What thinking is good for complex or unfamiliar tasks because it helps keep one focused on realistic, specific actions needed to act quickly and safely.  The problem is that this type of thinking is only productive with difficult and unfamiliar tasks which may take a long time to complete.  For tasks in which teachers are familiar, concrete thinking (what thinking) may not be the most productive type of thinking.

Second, you can begin to help shift thinking away from what and more towards why.  Why thinking is abstract thinking and abstract thinking has a number of benefits for teachers who are performing familiar tasks.

  1. can be motivating because it links actions to greater meaning
  2. guided by big picture, long-term goals
  3. less vulnerable to temptations and impulsiveness
  4. enhanced self-control
  5. more likely to plan in advance
  6. thinking is more focused on desirability
Third, if a shift in thinking is not the best strategy at the moment, then introducing a new, unfamiliar element into the work may help capitalize on the concrete thinking. For example:
  1. challenge the teachers to develop a new format for their faculty meetings
  2. examine a current program and explore new ways to leverage its value with other programs
  3. Ask each teacher to reflect on their best lesson and coach a colleague in how they planned, delivered, and followed up on that particular lesson.
Of course, there are times when concrete thinking is needed and there are times when abstract thinking is needed. The challenge is matching the circumstances to the thinking needed to move forward. It is also important to keep in mind that the faculty team is made up of a collection of individuals, each of whom may be experiencing various levels of comfort and familiarity with their work (i.e. veteran teacher vs. new teacher). As the leader, you need to also work to help align the thinking about how to accomplish one's goals with the individual's needs while maintaining a bigger picture view of the faculty as a whole.

NOTE:
The ideas presented here are greatly influenced by the work of Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson. Specifically, the thoughts about concrete and abstract thinking and how they apply to performing tasks and attaining goals are part of her outstanding book, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.


I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about how to set and attain appropriate goals.



Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The 3 Options From Which Every Educator Must Choose



A
s I see it, an educator has three options.

One is to be better.

The second is to be good enough.

Three Options for Underperforming SalespeopleThe third is to not care about either.
  
Those who choose the third option should do something else.  You are not only doing a disservice to yourself and your students, you are damaging the profession that you, hopefully, once loved enough to care about.

If you choose the second, you are choosing to chase a mirage.  There is no such thing as an educator that is "good enough."  Good enough for what?

That leaves option one, be better.  If you choose to be better, you are empowered to make a difference.  Everyone can be better.

I am a better educator today because of the work of other professional educators who were willing to engage and share their wisdom with me.
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