Vulnerability…and Mistakes…and Failure.

Previously when I thought of the attributes that define a good educator, many different words came to mind, such as ‘intelligent’, ‘dedicated’, and ‘caring’.  But over the past few years, one characteristic in particular has become the first word I think of when I envision the-best-of-the-best educators.  That word is ‘vulnerable’.

In my experiences over the past several years as a Principal in North Carolina and Washington state, I have had numerous occasions where showing vulnerability has opened doors that otherwise would not have been opened to me.  One example in particular where I’ve grown comfortable showing vulnerability is when it comes to ‘failing forward’ (thanks @brendanfetters for introducing me to that mantra!)  I’m now very transparent about letting people around me know that I’m okay with showing my failure and mistakes.  This includes showing both adults AND children.  Because regardless of whether it’s a child or an adult, when I show the courage to be vulnerable, they understand through my actions that it’s okay for them to show vulnerability.  And when children and adults are unchained from the fear of failure, or fear of mistakes, and they feel free to show vulnerability, that’s when the most grand, amazing ideas are allowed to grow.

No matter what your role in education may be, it is my belief that showing vulnerability is crucial in this field.  It’s not something we ought to do, it’s something we must do.  Without vulnerability, we will never realize our potential or the true potential of those we serve.  But with it, we can do anything we set our mind to!

I welcome your thoughts and feedback!

Actions Speak Loudest

There is a recent tweet by @VAeducatorRJW that really resonated with me.  He tweeted a quote from W.E.B DuBois that stated, “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.”  There are probably more than a few ways to interpret that quote depending on if you’re a teacher or other type of educator, but in my role of Principal, I thought about that quote in regards to the relationship between ‘Principal/Teacher’.  It resonated with me so much that I was compelled to make a list of what I should strive to do, everyday, to ensure my ‘actions’ are worth learning from…

  • Go into every conversation, every interaction, assuming positive intent.
  • Personalize.  Take time to build a caring, trusting, relationship with every teacher.
  • Give kudos to teachers (or anyone for that matter!) in the moment.  Never let kudos go un-shared.  It’s important to tell teachers those things in the moment…otherwise they can be easily forgotten in the chaos of a school day…and you never know, that could be the one moment that turns their day around.
  • Show vulnerability.  Let teachers know I’m human, too, because I’m more approachable that way.
  • Speak my own truth.  The simple action of beginning a sentence with “I” rather than “you” can make all the difference in the perception of what is being said.
  • Say what I feel.  It actually feels very liberating to say what I feel and use true ‘feeling words’.  It can be reassuring for teachers to know how a Principal feels, because it takes a lot of guessing out of the intent of the conversation.

So to follow one of my own bullets above – thanks for tweeting out that quote, Rashard.  It made me ponder!  PLN at it’s best…

 

The Complexities of Relationship-Building

As our school has moved forward with the PBIS behavior expectations reset for 2018, I have become more and more aware of the complex nature of building and sustaining relationships with students.

I feel strongly that consistency, warmth, and a true sense of caring are the foundations of building good relationships with students.  In fact, my good friend Brendan Fetters recent blog post has some great working examples of how these foundational relationship-building skills show up most effectively in a school.  I’m also noticing that after this sturdy foundation is established, it’s highly effective to have a second level of relationship-building occur in order to ensure the relationships are sustained.  That second level involves defining ambiguous words that as adults we often use to expedite a conversation, but unfortunately they can be relationship destroyers.  They include any words that carry with them a lot of assumption in their meaning.  Assumptions that are often based on the situation or the culture of the person making the assumption.  That’s why it is crucial to define for the student (in the moment) these types of words because it helps avoid confusion and misconceptions – which can derail relationship-building in an instant.

The word ‘respect’ is an excellent example of an ambiguous word we toss around in schools these days.  That word is often one of the pillars within PBIS expectations, and frequently shows up in questions we ask students such as, “Are you showing respect?” and “Are you being respectful?”.  As educators, we often talk to students about the word ‘respect’, but rarely, if ever, do we take the time to define for the child exactly what we mean by the word ‘respect’.  As in, what is our personal working definition of ‘respect’ in that moment?

Recently I’ve changed my relationship-building practices in a very subtle, yet profound, way to include defining any/all words I sense are ambiguous or carry a lot of assumption.  In the example of the word ‘respect’, I actively define for students what I believe ‘respect’ is in any given situation.  For instance, if a student is engaged in their classroom by working cooperatively, I might say to them, “Wow, I am really impressed at how you are respecting your classmates views and opinions.  And my definition of being respectful to your classmates in this situation means you’re showing great listening skills and an ability to give constructive feedback.”  It’s interesting how the extra effort I put into defining respect adds something profound to the word’s meaning in that situation.  In my view, it tells the child exactly what I’m thinking.  No confusion.  It takes the ambiguity out of the comment for the child, as well as any chance there would be a misconception of what I might be referencing as ‘respectful’

When students are emotionally elevated, it can be even more important to clarify ambiguous words.  For instance, in challenging situations I may say to a child, “I’d like us to have a more respectful conversation about how you’re upset.  And I’m defining ‘respectful’ as showing a calm voice and calm body.  If you need time to get to a more centered emotional space, I can allow that time for you.”  In that situation, the student knows exactly how I defined ‘respectful’ in an emotionally charged situation so they don’t have to spend energy guessing what it is I need them to do.  Instead they focus on the action that needs to be taken to move forward to a resolution.

The word ‘respect’ is just one example of the hundreds of ambiguous words that we, as educators, need to define for students as we use them in conversation.  If we choose not to define these words for students, it’s likely they will derail the relationship-building process in some form (or at the very least, make it harder for us to achieve the strong relationships with students that we’re seeking).  I’d like to know other ambiguous words that need defining during relationship-building so I welcome your comments!

 

Thinking and Doing

I read a great blog post recently from Kara Knollmeyer  @karaknollmeyer who writes about ‘finding a sense of clarity’  (I want to thank @gcouros for retweeting her blog link – otherwise I never would have seen it!)  I had several thoughts when reading her blog post, but one resonated above all others:

“I have found out that more times than not, if I stop thinking and start DOING, I feel more resolution. I feel abundantly more satisfied. Until you DO, you might as well worry your life away because your mind alone cannot prepare you for life, only your action and experience will.”   Kara Knollmeyer, “Finding a Sense of Clarity”

Kara’s blog reminded me how important it is as educators that we place a high value on the wisdom gained through our experiences.  As educators, we are continually searching for solutions to complex problems, and more often than not we try to ‘think’ our way through them.  But it’s important to remember that we need to put equal weight on the wisdom gained through learning-by-doing.  There is much wisdom embedded in the joyful experience of our success and the frustrating experience of our failure.  And the results from those experiences come in several very useful forms.  It can give us clarity of purpose.  It can give us clarity of goals.  And it can give us clarity regarding our next steps as a school and school community.

My good friend and PLN mentor Brendan Fetters  @brendanfetters  tweeted a great Sunday Inspiration quote today from Angela Maier that relates to my thoughts in this blog post. “The most dangerous word in our language is ‘tomorrow.'”  At the heart of that quote are frequent pitfalls of too much thinking and not enough doing, such as admiring a problem or paralysis by analysis that make us feel like we accomplished something when we really didn’t.

It’s worth mentioning that the journey to find solutions through our experiential wisdom is not without its challenges.  At a recent parent forum, I explained that one of the unique aspects of being an educator is that our learning experience (the trial-and-error we go through as educators) is very public.  As in, our positive and negative learning experiences are very much in the open for everyone to see.  Supervisors, parents, students, and the community all have front row seats to our successes and failures as they play out within the school environment.  It’s just the nature of our job as educators.  And it also stands to reason that as educators we have to first reconcile emotional road blocks embedded within this process, such as feelings of vulnerability, humility, and pride.  And that’s not always easy to do as educators (or anyone for that matter!).

I welcome any thoughts or comments about how you’ve found successes or failures by ‘doing’ instead of ‘thinking’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the ‘Bright Spots’

DSox-8GVQAAOZVA In a conversation a few weeks ago with Bellevue School District Superintendent Dr. Duran, he suggested that I check out a book called Switch.  It’s an excellent book by authors Chip and Dan Heath about ways to navigate change, but I also noticed the book provided many other strategies that related to our Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) behavior expectation reboot we started January 2nd.  As I’ve been synthesizing some of the information from the book into my daily routines, I’ve found this particular part of the book very helpful.

Finding new, positive, and innovative strategies to address behavior challenges in a school can be a complicated process.  In general, one of a school’s main goals is to provide effective and sustainable replacement behaviors for students.  The process of finding new behavior strategies traditionally involves looking at the child who is struggling with behavior, reviewing what they’ve done in the past (or the negative experiences they’ve had in the past), and creating new behavior strategies based on that information.  It’s what Dan and Chip Heath call in their book an “archaeology dig”.  It’s the process of digging in a child’s past (recent past or further back in their childhood) to “excavate the sources” of behavior.  In these situations, according to the authors, we tend to focus on what is going wrong, or has previously gone wrong, in a child’s life, and subsequently create systems/strategies of support based on that analysis.  But Dan and Chip Heath offer an alternative path to take in these situations.

What if our search for behavior strategies began with focusing on the bright spots, i.e. the times when a child feels love and a sense of belonging.  That thought process is a bit counter-intuitive to how we’ve historically addressed behavior challenges, but follow the thought process that Dan and Chip Heath propose.  In a scenario where a child is struggling with a certain behavior, we can often make our search for effective behavior strategies more fruitful by investigating what is going right for a child, rather than what is going wrong.  The authors suggest using a specific line of questioning that ensure children understand they are empowered to solve their own problems, and adults focus on the potential of a child rather than their history of behavior when developing behavior support strategies.

This philosophy will play a key role in our current PBIS behavior reboot…and beyond.  Creating positive behavior supports within a school is not just about positive-expectation-setting and reinforcement systems.  It’s also about changing our thinking so we focus on the bright spots, which I believe will make us more efficient at developing truly effective behavior strategies that support all children.

Breaking away from traditional ways in which we conduct discipline and purposefully focusing on the bright spots when looking at behavior challenges can at times take us out of our comfort zone as adults. However, in my opinion, the potential for student-empowerment and a more positive culture far out weigh the discomfort.

Your thoughts on this blog are welcomed and appreciated!

Staying Balanced on an Incline

Last March my wife and I were able to take a weekend trip to San Francisco (it was where I took the picture shown above).  Living on the east coast all my life, this was my first ever venture to California.  There were many things to be amazed at as we walked around the streets of San Francisco.  The food.  The people.  The bridges.  But I was struck most by the architecture.  But it wasn’t the shape or size of the buildings that amazed me.  Instead it was how the structures were built so balanced on the continuously inclined streets.  I imagined how much thought surrounding the laws of physics must go into building such structures where gravity is pulling so intently in one direction.  In the end, I imagined that it all comes down to understanding balance.

I learned early on in my career that being a Principal means that I’ll be on an ‘incline’ in some form or another most of the time.  It’s rare that as Principals we’re not being pulled very intently in one direction or another (like gravity pulling on the home in the picture above).  As I’m now only a couple years from my 50th birthday, ‘balance’ has taken on a more important role in my life.  I’m becoming much more aware of how my body, heart, and mind need to be balanced in order for me to be my best-self every day for the kids, staff, and parents who depend on me as a Principal.

The reasons for us as educators to stay balanced are easy to think of…kids/adults depend on us, we need to stay physically healthy, etc.  But it’s understanding the specific actions we need to take to stay in balance that’s tricky.  I took time over this past winter vacation to read a book called, “Trauma Stewardship” by Connie Burk and Laura van Dernoot Lipsky.  It shed light on so many ways in which we can, and should, as educators keep balance in our lives.  I highly recommend it for those who think they need balance and for those who think they have perfect balance in their lives.

So to all my colleagues in education, I wish you an amazing 2018 full of joy, happiness, and balance.

Your thoughts on this blog are welcomed and appreciated!