My Measure of Success Makes Me a Failure

I really believe that in education one of the most fundamental feelings we need to have is efficacy; the need to feel like we make a difference. The need to feel like what we say and do matters. We get into education for this moral obligation to make the world a better place. This is so incredibly important to what we do that when it’s challenged it can throw us off our hinges. No matter the role you’re in, the need for impact is nearly visceral.

To increase the chance that I’ll make an impact, I have developed my core beliefs. This is something that has taken me time, effort, and deep reflection. In short, I have worked REALLY hard on it. My core beliefs are everything I value about education. I also have beliefs that stem off from those core beliefs. Things like “change agents aren’t just the person who does something different…it’s the person who keeps on moving forward when something gets hard.” I have so far been measuring success by my impact, and I’ve been defining impact as moving people forward, making them think new thoughts, and changing their minds when they’re decisions are questionable for teacher support and student learning. The issue is that ultimately, these things require people to take action and change their ways which is something they only have control over.

I’ve discovered there are some semantics at play when you begin to use “success” and “control” and “influence” and you judge yourself by things. What happens when your beliefs aren’t someone else’s, yet you’re measuring your success on their changed mind or actions?

I feel like there are situations where I have been banging my head against the wall. I have employed every tactic I know to try to get through. I have adjusted my communication style. I have taken time to reflect instead of react when I’ve seen red. I have stood by my beliefs but have worked hard to find the things I can do instead of can’t. I have had the courage to advocate for the people who need advocating for. I’ve had difficult conversations. I’ve had to deafeningly accept that my very best effort wasn’t good enough to make an impact. And with that difficult realization, I’ve felt like a failure. I’ve questioned whether I’m a change agent if I can’t make it through the hard parts when that’s what I claim they need to do. Which in turn, makes me feel like a fraud. It’s a complete downward spiral into have I ever made any difference at all?

Then anger. Tears. Anger again. Indifference and acceptance.

The path to disengagement.

What I realized today in a conversation with a supportive friend was that I am measuring my success not by my impact or influence but instead by things I can’t control. I can’t control other people. I can try to influence them, but if I’m measuring my success by someone else’s reactions and actions then I’m going to come up short because I will fail nearly every time. There is a difference between control and influence. I’ve always known this in leadership but I’ve never thought of it in terms of success. To be more realistic, I’ve had to reflect on what I consider success because the feeling of being unsuccessful and a lack of efficacy is unhealthy for my own mental health and my ties to education.

What I can measure my success by is living my core beliefs. I have always worked diligently to uphold them in every way I possibly can because they are what make me up as an educator. They are literally the EDU version of me. Without my belief system, I am not the person I want to be in education. By measuring my success by my influence and the impact that living my core beliefs has, I am measuring myself against something I have control over; myself. I can continue to influence by modeling. My ability to move past my frustration into a healthy space – or just walk away from the situation entirely if my beliefs don’t align – is a form of success. And when I’m beginning to feel like I have no control in a situation, I always know that I have control over exercising the beliefs I hold dearly, and therefore finding a measure of success that makes me feel like I’m making a difference.

Judge Me By My Worst Day, Do You?

My friend, Jaime Donally, and I were out to lunch one day at a nicer restaurant where all the waiters and waitresses wear matching black uniforms and they give you fancy water in stemmed glasses. Our waitresses came up and took our drink order and when we asked for a few minutes she said, “I can give that to you but see that large group over there? If I don’t take it now you’ll have to wait.” I was a little surprised at her bluntness but considering Jaime and I were pressed for time, grateful that she warned us. We ordered our food, but we were slow and unsure, and she was clearly trying to hurry us along. I nearly told her what beautiful blue eyes she had (striking really) but she grabbed our menus away and sped off before I could. For the rest of the meal, we had to grab an alternative waiter to get the drinks she never brought and when we asked her to take the bills, she looked at them and walked away. Not knowing how to get our bills paid for, we ended up charging everything to our rooms. We never saw her again.

I’d be lying if I said that we weren’t turned off by the service and her attitude. It was a really nice restaurant. We were expecting extraordinary service.

We could assume that she was the worst waitress ever. It would have been easy to assume that she was not a very nice person. Or, we could assume that it was a couple hours out of her really bad day. It would be two very different ways to view the same situation which results in very different empathetic reactions.

What happened with the waitress isn’t much different than when we go into any other educational setting. Whether it’s us as teachers going to a professional learning opportunity, our students coming into our classroom, our parents sending their children to spend copious amounts of time with another adult (us), we all expect outstanding service. Yet, we sometimes judge people by their bad days. It’s so easy sometimes to focus on the negative, especially when what they do hurts us and we feel like we need to protect ourselves.

For example, how about that parent whose alarm didn’t go off and they run their child to school in their pajamas. Do we see the situation without knowing and think, “Yikes, wake up a little earlier and get your stuff together” or do we think, “Oh my gosh, I wonder if the alarm didn’t go off. That is the worst! Wonder if I can help get their child going?”

How about the co-worker that gets furious in a faculty meeting about a suggestion you make that seems relatively insignificant and you allow your irritation with the outburst to continue beyond the meeting, yet you didn’t know that she stubbed her toe trying to get to her two-year-old daughter that started throwing up that morning and she’s pretty sure it’s broken but didn’t have time to go to the doctor before work and she didn’t want to leave her students with a sub so she’s been hobbling around with the pain all day. Do you hold onto the irritation or go to her and ask if there is something up?

When I look at how I am perceived, I know that I wouldn’t want to be judged by my worst day. I think of days that I’ve flipped my lid when most days I’m fairly calm and even-keel. Or days that I’ve made poor choices due to other things that had happened earlier that day or being overcome with a stressful situation that had really nothing to do with what was happening in front of me when on any other typical day I have my head on relatively straight. What if the only encounter someone had with me was on one of these days? What if someone I know saw that side of me and determined that I was a fraud because they assumed that was my normal? I can’t imagine being judged on my worst day.

While we can’t control how someone perceives us and the judgment they cast, we can control how we internalize someone else’s behaviors and be that model for others. When our students have a bad day, whether it’s individually or collectively, we can wipe the slate for the next day. Because everyone has the right to having a bad day, and we have the power to give them that grace and assume positive intent.

Quote attributed to Mother Teresa

What Can Divergent Thinking Do For You (The Teacher)?

I was reading through this guide by the University of Texas at Austin on thinking and teaching divergently and I came across these reasons as to why divergent thinking is important:


● Opens possibilities of innovative ways to solve more complex problems, overcoming the tendency of many learners to only work within the confines of first impressions or latent
assumptions.
● Fosters empathic understanding of difference and
appreciation of varying perspectives.
● Builds on learners’ curiosity, encouraging experimentation, risk-taking, perseverance through failure, and self-expression.
● Develops creativity, which is often cited as one of the most in-demand skills by employers.

How to Teach: Divergent Thinking

I was considering how this connects to my definition of a divergent teacher in Divergent EDU and I believe that if all of these characteristics can develop from divergent thinking for students, the same could be said for divergent teachers (who then, of course, model the traits for students). I’ve found that defining how something will affect students will many times get buy-in, but ultimately people also want to know how some of those same ideas can drive them forward as well. The definition of divergent teachers that I developed from the psychological definition of divergence is “the ability to recognize our own assumptions, look for limitations and challenge our own thinking in regards to teaching and learning. It’s taking an idea and creating new thinking that will facilitate student learning in new, innovative directions for deeper understanding. It is diverging from the norm, challenging current ideas, looking for a variety of solutions, and being willing to fail and grow” (Divergent EDU, 2018). The practice of the definition and the outcomes for divergent thinking for students are very similar. If we had to reframe the question as, “What can divergent thinking do for teachers?” we might see:


Opens possibilities of innovative ways to solve more complex teaching challenges, overcoming the tendency of educators to only work within the perceived confines of district initiatives, first impressions, a fixed mindset or generalized assumptions.

Fosters empathic understanding of differences, varying opinions, and an openness and appreciation of varying perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds.

 Builds on educators’ curiosity about both their content and the learning of their students, encouraging branching out in lessons, risk-taking, perseverance through failure, and a heightened awareness of how their own passions and interests drive their teaching and professional learning.

Develops creativity, which has sometimes been diminished by the implementation of canned curriculum and compliance measures.


But moreover, if these aren’t a reason to buy into how divergent teaching and thinking can support your teaching, recently I was moderating a panel on this exact topic (find it here). One of my dear friends and panelists, Rachelle Dene Poth, cited divergent teaching as one of the reasons she was reinvigorated in the classroom and engaged in her profession. In turn, her students were happier, learning, and more engaged in the classroom. This correlation makes sense. When teachers are more curious about their own content and how their students are learning, when they challenge their own assumptions and biases in favor of exploring, when they model taking calculated risks, failing, and adjusting their course, they become more excited about their own journeys and their students follow suit ultimately creating a more enriched learning experience for both the teacher and their students.

Are You Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose?

I’ve been watching my boys play football since they were eight years old. Actually, before that, if you include flag football. And in all their sports I have seen a multitude of different types of coaching strategies, involved parents, athlete attitudes, and how the trajectory of a game can change depending on all of these things. Our high school football team in particular, for many years, had built a culture where the kids didn’t care if they lost because they did it so often that it was a surprise if they won. Therefore, they never played to win, they played to not lose, and there is a difference in mentality when you play that way. A change in coaching has shifted that entire mentality (proving, once again, that a change in leadership can make all the difference.)

Yesterday, I was at my eldest son’s college football game and in the first half, they were playing really well when everything began to go awry. With two minutes left in the half, we were winning, but not by much. Our team began running the ball, and even when it was third and long and obvious that an alternate play needed to be called, they continued to run. They were trying to run out the clock and just make to halftime. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the first down they needed to continue and the other team took the field with 50 seconds left. They marched down and even our own fans could feel their energy. They played hard, calling plays to win, trying to score prior to halftime. Unfortunately for them, they got close enough for a missed field goal, but that drive had effectively changed the momentum of the game even with only 50 seconds to go. One team played to score by halftime. The other team was just trying to hold their lead at halftime.

One team playing to win. The other playing to not lose.

While this seems like semantics, the mindset that comes with each is very different. And it’s a fine line, really. Just the slightest movement can shift you one way or the other. Are you doing one thing, or are you just trying to not do the opposite? Are you trying to be happy, or are you just trying not to be miserable? Are you trying to be positive or are you just trying not to be negative? Are you engaged in your profession, or are you just trying not to disengage from it?

I think it’s natural that our attitudes may shift from day to day depending on things we have going on, but I also think that it’s important to be self-aware enough to check our mindsets and realize where we are most of the time. Also, are we teaching our kids to think this way? Recognize where their mindsets are and learn how to shift them?

And maybe sometimes the line isn’t exactly the opposite but is about being great or good enough. For example, are you trying to empower learners, or are you just trying to teach? Do you recognize that you may be the one person in a child’s life that is consistent and cares, or are you just concerned with teaching the content?

There are no doubt some days where I am just trying to get through the massive amount of meetings I have and put out the fires I never saw coming. There are some days I’m just trying to be and thinking about how I can be better seems like an insurmountable struggle. It’s human to have these kinds of days. But, it’s important to recognize the challenge and try for better the majority of the time. I’d rather lose while trying to win than try not to lose and lose anyway.

 

courage

The Beauty of a Clean Slate

When I was a teacher, I did my best to ignore the talk of students in the grades below my own. At the beginning of the year, I would be certain that I knew about any needs they had or how I could help them behaviorally (eg if they had something that triggered them) or any strategies another teacher had learned that worked for them, but other than that, I never wanted to know the negatives that had happened in the past. I tried to keep that to a minimum. Why? Because I am a firm believer in the clean slate.

We know that there are a few ways that our jobs are different than the private sector. I always consider our years to go from July 1st to June 30th. I don’t make New Year’s Eve resolutions, I create summer goals. Our “products” are children and their futures. But, my favorite aspect of being in education is that there is no other profession that has the ability to begin each new year with a clean slate, and the thought of that is so unbelievably powerful.

There were multiple times that for my students, my classroom’s clean slate meant that they had the ability to reinvent themselves once they realized I didn’t come into class with any preconceived notion about them. I had high expectations for everyone no matter what. My expectations were that they grew from wherever they were, which meant that they quickly discovered that we celebrated growth, not a number, grade, or average. For some students, they will repeatedly fail a grade, but it is much more difficult to fail completely at growing whether that growth was academic or behavioral, they had the chance to become a better version of themselves as soon as they stepped through my classroom door.

I feel this way about educators, too. I go into each school year not only giving the people around me a clean slate but myself as well. It’s the time to forgive the mistakes I had made the previous year, mend relationships after a break that had been previously strained and be a better person than I was before I wiped the slate clean. One of the beauties of education is that we have the ability once a year to start again, and we can choose how we do it.

clean slate

The Power of Mindset

As I’m working on the mindset chapter for my upcoming book, it has been bouncing around my brain how I can incorporate growth mindset and innovator’s mindset and use them to support divergent teaching and learning. I’ve always known that mindset seems to play a part in so much of what we do. It can make us feel better (or worse) about ourselves, our situations, or the people around us. It can make us believe we can do the impossible or convince us that whatever we try won’t work. The way we set our minds can either be one of our most powerful tools or cause destruction depending all on how we choose to think about something.

Case in point lately…when I took my Director of Innovation & Tech job two years ago, I began a commute that takes two hours a day. Over the course of a work week, I’m in the car for ten hours. With four kids, my day job, two books in the making, and presenting and traveling and such, it had become nearly impossible for me to workout. I gained a substantial amount of weight and have fought to take it off to no avail. I lived and died every morning by the scale just praying the salad I had the day before or the lunch protein shake I drank would help me take some weight off. I was so focused on losing weight I couldn’t see anything else. However, recently I began to think about how crappy I felt and began researching ways to make myself feel better. I started a new “diet” with the hopes that I would have more energy and frankly, be able to go to bed later than 9pm. I started thinking about how it was going to work long-term and changed my mindset about why I would eat healthier. It wasn’t about losing weight, it was about getting healthy. And when I could focus on feeling better and how the healthier food made me not sick, the weight began falling off. Now, I have a long way to go, and I’m not saying that if you change your mindset you’ll lose weight, but I am saying that the change in mindset allowed me to look at the reason I was eating food differently, and that has made all the difference.

Recently, I witnessed a conversation questioning the benefit of teaching a growth mindset to kids as it may not have a significant effect on student achievement. The conversation made me so glad that I believe that I teach all facets of being a person, not only student achievement. According to Carol Dweck’s website, these are definitions of growth and false mindsets:

Growth Mindset: “People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

Fixed Mindset: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.”

According to George Couros‘s Innovator’s Mindset, the definition is:

Innovator’s Mindset: The belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

As I think about the students I had and the teachers I now work with, I want two things for them:

1) The knowledge and awareness to go with mindset so they know how to change it and 2) the belief that they can develop into more than they ever thought they could.

I don’t need a study in student achievement to know how important it is for a person to believe in themselves. They need an awareness of their own thinking and strategies for changing their mindset should they fall closer to fixed on the mindset continuum. I need them to believe that changing the way they think about something, like a diet, can alter their entire outlook on a concept. I feel like the very foundation of what I do as a teacher is to help kids (and as an administrator…teachers) believe in themselves. To have the mindset that they can develop and grow and that they can have new ideas that can lead to better things is one of the most important ways I can support the kids and adults I work with.

mindset

Finding The Passion Needed For Great Change

I was in the grocery store the other day and I did something that I very rarely do, I picked up a magazine and read the cover. I’m usually so busy reading edu books that I don’t typically look at anything else, but the Oprah magazine for this month caught my eye. The article was called What Would You Stand Up For: It’s your time to rise and be the light you want to see. That article, coupled with my newest obsessions in the Heath Books, The Power of Moments and Switch: How to change when change is hard has given me pause as to what I’m really doing with my life. Kind of the “What’s my overall purpose here on Earth” question. The BIG why. Pretty deep thinking to have been brought on by a magazine, but I’ll take it.

I have lived my entire life with the desire to do something that actually matters, and also with the all-encompassing fear that one day I’ll wake up and realize I’ve done nothing to make a difference. I think that many educators live with this same feeling at different levels. It may even be the reason they went into education in the first place. I think that when you enter a profession that is more like a calling (teaching, nursing/doctor, police officer, many public servant jobs), this feeling is deeper rooted than most other careers because you need to give so much more of yourself, and your actual “payday” is when something happens and you know you’ve made a difference. Like when you have worked with a teacher and then watch as their thinking does a 180, or when that lightbulb goes off over a student’s head and they finally get that difficult concept that up until that point had been eluding them. We need the money from our jobs to pay our bills, but our success is measured in the lives affected versus our bank account balance. We want to make a difference.

For many of the stories in the Oprah article, the people featured are making that difference in whatever endeavor they took on. Typically, the change happened when they had experienced some kind of tragedy, hardship, or trauma and they had that moment…that one epiphany…that created a relentless determination to create a different world so others didn’t need to go through the same experiences, or if they did, they knew they weren’t alone. I began to think about how it does seem like that’s a common catalyst for great change to begin. What I don’t understand is how we can be more proactive instead of reactive. Why does it take the feelings of hurt in order to motivate people?

In education right now, I feel like many of us are spinning. It’s like that feeling when your kids first start walking and you’re running around in circles trying to save them from their own unbalance so they don’t crack their head on the corner of the end table as well as scrambling to pick anything up that you didn’t know they could reach all the while mentally trying to take note of the electrical sockets that you forgot to plug and then the issue of just trying to keep another human alive. We are being battered with school shootings and politicians who have never set foot in a classroom and an increase in behaviors due to mental health issues for students as well as policy and implementation and technology changes. As far as I’m concerned, we have hit that critical point where most people begin to relentlessly pursue change, even though I can’t say that I understand why we need to get to that point to do so. But, we are so busy trying to find the unearthed electrical plugs that we have no energy to think about how to move forward.

If we want to be change agents, great creators of change, we need to find the thing that sets our soul on fire. We need to stop spinning and focus on where our passions lie and where we can create the biggest waves. The beginning of the Oprah article was what caught my attention:

When you find it, you know it: the issue that sets your brain aflame, the one you’re incapable of shutting up about, consequences be damned. And those consequences are often all too real – discord, danger, or at least some very difficult conversations. Maybe you haven’t happened upon your burning issue yet, or maybe you’re facing a thousand other everyday battles, feeling too overloaded to make an impact, but there are countless ways to get loud about the topics you care about, or to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone to make your message heard. Here’s hoping no one’s unlucky enough to get in your way.

-The Oprah Magazine, April 2018

I have found mine in discussing the mental health issues that our teachers are facing and how to create organizational change to support teachers (therefore supporting students as well) but everyone needs to find what lights them up. I know there are people out there who don’t want to hear about it, and I can tell you that there’s nothing that will fire me up quicker than someone who doesn’t want to recognize this issue. That’s how I know it’s mine. I have no idea if I will make a major change globally, but if I make a difference for one in doing the absolute best I can, I feel I’ve done something which is more than nothing. I think we all need to look for this thing…this one passion that we can’t ignore. If we want to create change, widespread organizational change, we can’t wait for a catastrophe for it to happen. We need to make the decision to find the one thing that lights us up and go with it. For me, I know that if I take this on, it’s the only way I know I won’t wonder one day if I made any difference at all.

steve jobs

Developing My Core Beliefs: The importance of knowing what you stand for

Awhile back, I created a post called What is the point in blogging where I referenced the development of my core beliefs. Very quickly, this is what it said:

By really working on my reflection skills, I was able to develop what I consider to be my core beliefs about education. I only realized that I was even doing this after I had written awhile and noticed some patterns in my own thinking. I can now rattle these beliefs off at any point, and I bounce every decision I make off of them. Developing these beliefs has also made me more engaged in my profession. I know what I stand for. It is incredibly powerful to understand what it is that makes you tick and holds you up when it comes to certain ideas and concepts in education, especially in the face of adversity. There are times when these beliefs are my lifeline and assure me that I am making the right decisions when they align to these philosophies. I am also more bound to my thinking when I write about it and put it out there for the world to see. Similar to writing down actionable goals, I feel like if I want to be who I say I am, I need to live the ideas that I write on my blog.

I often speak of my core beliefs. I even address them in my keynotes. While I believe everyone has core beliefs, I don’t know if many people develop them over the course of time by reflecting and actually writing them down. What I find when I speak to people about it is that they are often fragmented thoughts put together on what they think they believe. I know that I developed mine over the course of keeping my blog and looking for patterns. I am positive that, for me, deep reflecting needed to come in the form of writing things down, hence my blog. For this kind of reflection and developing your core beliefs, there needs to be some sort of catalog of thinking to see the patterns, whether it’s blogging, journaling, creating reflective videos that are private or public…but something that can be reviewed and common threads can come to light.

It’s super important to understand that when I began my blog, not only did I feel like I didn’t have ideas that anyone else would want to hear, but I also wasn’t convinced that I even had that much to say. More importantly, I did not consider myself a writer. Not. At. All. I never found solace in writing poetry when I was younger, I did not write short stories for fun, I never did any of those things that would lead me to believe that I could maintain what I was attempting to do. Like most new attempts at a project, it took practice, failure, and actually realizing that I was writing my posts for myself and my own reflection and ceasing to write for what other’s might want to hear for me to become more comfortable with the discomfort of writing. When I grasped that completely, my posts because significantly easier to produce. Because I did not consider myself a writer and never had ambitions to write publicly, I am convinced that anyone can begin the journey of reflection through writing with practice just like I did.

I believe what I wrote about developing core beliefs in What’s the point in blogging with every bit of my professional heart. I am more steadfast in my decisions because I know the basic tenets of what I believe. I can list them off and I can give you information as to why I believe that just off the top of my head because they have become embedded in who I am as a professional. Developing these beliefs has been one of the best “gifts” I have given to myself. They have occasionally been my lifeline when I am unsure of myself and what I am doing, and they have tethered me to education and students in a more concrete way. Most importantly, they are mine. They are a direct result of me taking the time to reflect and find what is important to me. While people might agree with my core beliefs, they may have their own for their own reasons, and that is exactly the way it should be.

Because I believe so strongly about developing core beliefs, I have decided to do a series on mine, not only to discuss what mine are but how I found them and use them hoping that it will inspire others to do the same. They are in no particular order, and no belief, to me, holds greater weight than any of the others (ie the first one I post is no more or less important than the last).


Core Belief: We need to teach people to do the things we ask them to do

My best example of this is when we ask kids to reflect. If you have children of your own and you’ve ever told them to go to their room and think about what they’ve done, you know that you walk in ten minutes later to them playing with their Barbies or Legos most likely completely oblivious to what they were supposed to be doing when they were sent there. They probably sat on their bed for three minutes and rewound the situation in their heads, wondered how long mom or dad would be angry, and then began playing with their toys. At most, they may have thought about how angry they were at their brother/sister for getting them in trouble. They probably did not reason through what they could have done differently to avoid getting into trouble unless you, as a parent, walked them through that process.

The same holds true for our kids in school no matter the grade level. We often ask them to reflect, whether it’s about a goal or assignment or even their behavior with another student, but we never teach them what that looks like. We rarely give them examples and walk them through role play situations with an external dialog of internal thoughts. How to not start your reflection with what someone else did or blaming circumstances out of your control, but instead what role you had in the situation and what you could have done differently. I am positive that I did not learn how to be truly, deeply reflective until I was about 38 years old, and it was only because I taught myself and practiced, not because I was taught in school.

We do this with teachers and professional development as well. We say things like, “Use Twitter” or implement a new initiative but then don’t give them the necessary professional development to learn it. I once had an administrator say to me, “Teachers should be able to learn on their own because they are professionals” to which I responded, “No, teachers should be willing and open to the learning we provide them because they are professionals.” There’s a difference. We need to provide educators with an abundance of (not only the necessary) professional development and follow-up support to do the things we ask them to do with students.

This first core belief has spurred me onto finding additional ways we can provide professional development support to teachers, and has made me aware, as an administrator, of what I am asking teachers to do and if they need additional help in getting there. It may be in the form of buy-in or developing a new skill set, but I try very hard not to ask if I’m not willing to provide the learning. I have learned to never assume. This same idea can be carried over into the classroom. It’s one of the reasons that I practiced everything with my students before releasing them to do it on their own. We practiced procedures at the beginning of the year, for example. We role played and we worked through reflective practices together. While I hadn’t developed my beliefs to this extent at the time. I realized later that this has been an embedded belief even back to my classroom days, and still continues to drive me in my current role.

So, the first “lesson” of developing core beliefs is to begin to write. Even if that “writing” is jotting down three thoughts a day that you had at some point that seems significant. They don’t need to be mind-blowing or deep thoughts. Just three thoughts. You’re not necessarily looking for an epiphany, you will develop your beliefs by looking at patterns. Another option: begin a blog. Whether it’s public (which I recommend) or private, or written or a video blog (vlog), begin to chronicle your journey. The patterns you find after time will help you develop your core beliefs.

You can find the next post in the series on core beliefs here.

royedisney1

Building Trust with Challenging Conversations

Educators are nice people. We are taught to be positive and complementary and to give feedback that people can feel good about. What we often miss, though, is the importance of having challenging conversations. I see this most often with administrators, but it is certainly a problem across the board. Teachers, too, need to be able to have conversations with disengaged students or unprofessional colleagues. We all need to be willing, at some point, to have conversations that might make ourselves or the other person uncomfortable. And it’s not only about addressing issues that are seen, it’s also about building trust between the people we work with. The ability to have and to positively receive a challenging conversation helps to build this trust.

When speaking about the need for a challenging conversation, some people will do anything to avoid having it, including allowing whatever behavior to continue. However, the lack of these conversations results in consequences for all stakeholders.

  • The behavior, whatever it might be, will continue
  • Some educators might notice the behavior and begin to see it as acceptable (after all, it’s not being addressed) so they may do it as well
  • The educators that don’t see it as acceptable will be irritated that it’s not addressed
  • These differences create an “us vs them” climate
  • The trust between colleagues could be broken
  • The behavior is no doubt affecting student learning and/or the students may see the behavior

Challenging conversations also need to be had when there is a question as to why something is being done. For example, the way budget money is spent, or the implementation of a new initiative. There is definitely a level of maturity and respect that comes with being able to approach a colleague and ask them why something is happening. The ability to have these challenging conversations will get people facts instead of gossip, increase trust and transparency, and lessen negativity from a lack of information. Although challenging conversations are difficult to have, it is more difficult to work in an environment where gossip and negativity reign due to the inability to ask questions for information.

This kind of conversation holds everybody accountable. I typically find that most people want challenging conversations to happen when someone they work with is not pulling their own weight or doing what’s best for kids. Some people want it to happen, but just not to them. However, if trust is built and the climate and culture support feedback for growth, challenging conversations are more likely to be accepted as what they are… a way for everybody to be working toward the best learning environment possible for kids.

So, the ability and willingness to not only have a challenging conversation but accept the feedback given to the recipient is important in building trust. What does the willingness to have a challenging conversations say:

There is trust between us 
I trust that you will understand, process, and employ my feedback and put it to good use.
Likewise, you trust me to give you feedback when you need to improve, along with asking clarifying questions and for additional explanations.

There is transparency between us
I know I can ask you a question when I feel I need more information.
I know that you will promote a positive climate by asking instead of assuming.

You believe in me
That I can change, I can improve, and I can be better and you’re helping me do that.
I believe you have the potential to grow and be even more amazing.

If I lose my way, you’ll help me find it

Challenging conversations are sometimes necessary to support the people around us. Although they are often looked at with a negative connotation, they don’t need to be a negative experience. They can be based on a solid relationship, trust, and transparency, and result in growth and change for all involved. Moreover, they are necessary in order to create an environment where everyone feels supported and is working toward what is best for students.

difficult conversations

 

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: When the supports are in place

This is the fifth installment of the #hierarchyseries. You can find the first post here.

The purpose of the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking is to give a more concrete look at what supports need to be in place to give educators the best chance at thinking innovatively and divergently. Realistically, in looking at an organization, reflecting on these particular support systems is probably going to be more about plugging the holes that might be found in the foundational levels rather than creating them from scratch. For example, you may have teachers with a growth or innovator’s mindset already but may need to “patch” the areas that are predominately a fixed mindset by working with those educators on recognizing growth mindset and swinging their pendulum in that direction. While the idea of the hierarchy should help districts put the supports in place, it still does not “create” innovative and divergent thinkers and teachers. Instead, it gives the base support so educators can focus on new learning, thinking, and doing versus using brainspace for worrying about other issues around them.

The act of becoming innovative is not something you can be forced to do, nor is it something someone can give you. It is a personal choice to move outside your comfort zone and try or learn something new. Again, even with the Hierarchy complete and solid, that is only the support structure. A person still needs to make the decision personally to want to be innovative.

Innovation can be messy
As we move toward more innovative approaches, we need to learn, relearn, fail, try again, and use our knowledge to develop our new thinking. Rarely is true innovation a straight line to the end, and even when we get to the end, are we really done? Once an innovation continues to be used, doesn’t it just become part of the status quo? So, we need to continue the process of moving forward with innovation in order to not become stagnant.

Innovation is personal
I grabbed onto this idea from George Couros. Innovation is personal to each individual. What is innovative to one may not be innovative to another who has already been doing it, and that is ok. Everyone is on their own personal learning journey. Also, innovation is not “either you are or you are not innovative”. The idea of innovating and thinking divergently is a continuum, and each person falls somewhere on that continuum. That’s why when looking at the people around you, it’s best to try to discover what you can learn from that person and how they think differently than you versus trying to compare the amazing things you to do the amazing things they do.

Innovation involves failing
The quicker you accept that it is going to happen, the quicker you’ll begin your journey. Failing is not always easy, it’s not always fun, and sometimes you just want an idea to work. All of that is understandable. However, if failing stops someone from moving forward and trying again, then that’s where the problem lies. Our failures do teach us what doesn’t work. They are valuable and help us figure out what might work when we try again. That kind of learning cannot be replicated by being continuously successful all the time.

Divergent teaching will stem from divergent thinking
Divergence is the act of thinking and doing outside the box, moving outside your comfort zone, acknowledging and challenging assumptions, being forward-thinking, using known and recognizing/learning unknown information in decision-making. Divergent teaching uses divergent thinking in all aspects of teaching; from lesson planning to the moments working directly with kids. A teaching thinking divergently will try a new idea with their students instead of scrapping it because they wonder if they can handle it (assuming and forward-thinking). They will actively seek out new information on their own and not wait for the district to provide all their professional learning. They will allow students to try a new technology that they don’t know themselves because they trust their students will learn to use it without their help (recognizing unknown information in decision-making). They will be willing to make quick trajectory changes when they know that it will be better for student learning.

When the Hierarchy is in place, this gives educators the chance to move toward this kind of thinking and teaching. If they are worried about what their leadership will say if they fail (holes in climate/culture and effective leadership), they are less likely to try the new idea they had. They are less able to expend energy in bettering themselves as professionals because they are too busy with being concerned with the holes in their foundation. Providing people with the support they need in the foundational areas is imperative when expecting them to be innovative and divergent teachers.

The Hierarchy is not something that can be put to rest when most of the holes are filled. It is a structure to be constantly cognizant. One hole can create a host of issues in other levels. A change in leadership, for example, can create a domino effect hole throughout many foundations of the hierarchy, just as a change in leadership might be just what the organization needs in order to fill some of their holes. The Hierarchy is not a finished product, but rather a constant work in progress, similar to the way innovative and divergent thinking are never truly complete. We will always need to continuously improve to move forward, and that kind of innovation and divergence comes from our own motivation to be the best people we can for our students.