Tag Archives: effort

Celebrate Success (Even When It’s Someone Else’s)

It’s pretty easy to celebrate your own accomplishments.  I mean, you know your journey.  You know what you have been through to carry out the goal.  However, it can be harder to celebrate the success of others.  It got me thinking.

  • Do we not celebrate the success of others because of the competitive world we live in?  Maybe we don’t celebrate because we are fearful that someone else’s success diminishes our own.  Maybe it makes us feel a little safer with our own status.
  • Do we not notice? Let’s face it, it’s a fast pace world we live in. Maybe we get so busy, we just don’t see anything going on with anyone else because we have hyper-focused on our own circumstances.
  • Do we doubt the impact our “congratulations” mean to someone else?  Maybe we think that the other person will question our sincerity or even value our acknowledgement of what they have accomplished.

Recently I had a colleague of a campus that had been through a tremendous challenge to help her campus meet some specified accountability standards.  While I had not directly experienced the steps and measures they had gone through to achieve the goal.  I knew it was certainly arduous.  Her team rallied. They invested.  They learned. They reflected and they grew.  Most importantly, they never gave up.  It was huge accomplishment when they achieved this task they had worked on for years.

As I watched them celebrate, it hit me how important it was that not only they celebrate for themselves, or be acknowledged by superiors, but that they be acknowledged by peers and colleagues.  I didn’t know whether my words would really matter to them, but it just seemed important.  When we live in a world where education is constantly under fire, we must stand together in good times and in bad. It just seems like it’s easier to acknowledge and feel pity for someone’s struggles. We must not compete against each other, but celebrate each educational organization as a part of the great big “whole” of public educators who make a difference for children.  That is why my teacher leaders did a twitter storm of celebration for this campus marrying their hashtag and ours to celebrate their success.

I don’t think it matters if you are a district, a school, or a teacher of a classroom.  As Susan Phillips says “Celebrate the success of others.  High tide floats all ships.” When you are in a battle, you unite your armies, not battle over who is the frontline or the support. Both are critical to winning longterm.  We must recognize that every success of any campus is asuccess for all public educators.  It’s a check in the win column to tell the world what a difference a group of educators can make in the lives of children when they have a common vision and purpose. Congratulations, Central Elementary! You have accomplished great things.  You have shown grit, growth mindset, and grace under fire!  You did it and you make us all look good because of that!

 

 

Mercy and Grace

With Easter upon us, it has gotten me doing a great deal of reflection on God’s mercy versus God’s grace.  God’s mercy is the fact that while we deserve punishment for our sins, they are wiped clean.  Because of His mercy, we do not have to face eternal damnation.  So what about His grace?  Grace is that God gives us kindness we do not deserve. We did not deserve His son to die on the cross for our sins, but he gave his son for us anyway.

We, too, have the ability to give both grace and mercy to our fellow man.  I have seen that in the last couple of weeks at my school. I have been unnerved lately at some of the adult behavior that I have witnessed. I seem to have encountered more and more parents yelling, screaming and cursing in the presence of children or belittling staff who are just doing their jobs. I think it has to do with the social climate of our country and intense stress so many people are under. Unfortunately, I have had to confront several parents about their behavior and expectations of how we must treat each other to maintain a collaborative relationship and do what is best for children.  For a couple of these situations, it involved several follow-up conversations where those parents were able to explain some things going on in their

Unfortunately, I have had to confront several parents about their behavior and reiterate expectations of how we must treat each other to maintain a collaborative relationship and do what is best for children.  For a couple of these situations, it involved several follow-up conversations where those parents were able to explain some things going on in their lives.  These were not examples of “mercy” because the bad behavior was not tolerated. However, grace was extended through the absence of personal judgment and the willingness to continue to try to maintain the relationship. Those same adults took full responsibility and gave sincere unprompted apologies to those they had wronged.  I believe they did this because they were given grace.

I see this with students, too.  I have a couple of students who ended up at the alternative school for some persistent bad behavior.  They had to be held accountable at this level because other measures were not working and their behavior was becoming disruptive to others’ learning.  I went to visit them one day and both gave me gigantic hugs and stated they were surprised to see me.  I explained to them that while they were gone, they were still my students and I needed to check on them. They had to be accountable for their behavior, but it didn’t change my love for them or my concern for their well-being.

I have found that if students make a mistake and are given “mercy”, they are usually right back in the same place after a short period of time.  However, if they are held accountable for their actions while also shown kindness, behavior had the potential to change.  All humans need to know that someone believes in their ability to be better.  Underserved kindness, or grace, says to that person, “I believe in you, no matter what your past has been.”

To extend “mercy”, you must first be in some sort of a position of power to enact punishment.  However, sometimes “mercy” backfires by allowing bad behavior to continue because it is seen as acceptance of the behavior. Sometimes, we aren’t even in a place to show mercy because we don’t hold the power to give the consequence.   “Grace” doesn’t require power, but more the willingness to show kindness where none is deserved. It requires the person giving grace to put someone else’s humanity before their own desire to “make someone pay” for their wrongdoing.  Grace has the power to change behavior for the better because there is hope for something more. Sometimes “grace” and the hope it can inspire is much more important.

No Excuses (Especially on Saturday)

Two years ago, my campus learned about No Excuses University. It happened accidentally when a visitor to our campus said, “Oh, you’re an NEU Campus.” I had no idea what it the world NEU was, so I looked it up. Basically, it is the implementation of best practices for instruction, combined with a passion for the learning of all students. It is a fierce commitment to adults not making excuses about why a child cannot succeed in school, but rather doing whatever it takes to overcome barriers and ensure that all children (no matter their background, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability) are proficient or advanced in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics so that they can go to college if they choose.

In trying to be aligned to this belief, my campus has looked at the students who we believed were not quite ready to hit that “proficient or advanced” expectation and created what we call NEU Saturday. This is a time where selected students come to school on Saturday for two hours so that they have a little extra time to learn. I need to be clear. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with our state assessment. My commitment is not to a test, but to these children’s being prepared for their future. If we do that right, they’ll be fine on a test, but the test isn’t the driving force.

I love this! Learning isn’t about worksheets! It’s about relationships, relevance to life, and things that can connect with the learner!
Because we aren’t bound by constraints of tutoring for a test, we serve all grades. YES, all grades, pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They come and a band of teachers welcome these children with open arms and celebrate the child’s commitment to his education. So many of my students are still learning that things don’t just happen to them, but through the choices they make, they have the power to change the direction of their lives. I tell each one of the students that they are the “chosen” ones. That their teachers specifically chose them to come to this special time because of the grit, growth mindset and commitment to no excuses they make every day.

We feed them a full breakfast. While I know it is big talk in Washington D.C. that breakfast doesn’t make a difference in education, that is just plain malarky. When people are hungry, they can’t think about anything, but their stomach growling and “hangry” is a reality. Many of my children rely on the food from school as their primary source of nutrition. It’s just a sack breakfast with cereal or a muffin, string cheese, juice, and milk, but knowing my students are getting one extra meal over the weekend makes a huge difference.

Then for the next two hours, I have an incredible staff that pours into these children. They talk with them, hug them, and provide them with meaningful learning. They do cool activities with Versa-tiles, read, and play games with higher-level thinking and strategy. There’s not one test prep material. Only opportunities for the students to think, discuss and problem solve in meaningful situations. The best part is that these students say this is the best day of the week and and ask to come back on Sunday, too!


There’s lots of criticism about public schools and their effectiveness. I haven’t seen that. Public education is the heart of our society’s future. It takes ensuring that all children have access to a quality education to ensure they have the tools to become productive citizens in the future. It is when we take off the constraints off and allow educators to do what they love and teach that this happens. They do whatever it takes because this is why we get into teaching: to see all children succeed. No excuses.

Why I Won’t Have a STAAR Pep Rally at My School

Pep Rallies before a standardized test have become a common occurrence in schools. A campus principal’s email can be flooded with people who want to get paid to be a part of these “pep rallies”.   I have been a part of this practice in the past, but since becoming a principal, I have been against this type of practice.  Why, because a ” STAAR Pep Rally” makes the important thing the test.  It sends the message to those people outside education that “the test” is what is important.  I am here to say a standardized test is the LEAST important thing that happens during a school year.

A test is what happens on one single day to measure all the learning that takes place in the course of a school year.  For it to be an accurate measure, all the variables for that would have to be absolutely perfect.  Students would have to have a great night’s’ sleep,  a well-balanced breakfast, a supportive emotional environment before school, and all the supports they need to be successful.

Let’s face it.  Some students have trauma at home. Many don’t have basic needs met.   They don’t always have the nutrition they need.  They may not get adequate sleep. Even our students with disabilities don’t have access to all their IEP interventions because of the rules of the test.  The variables are not the best case scenario for some kids.  How in the world could we expect the test to accurately reflect all they have mastered?

Here is what I am willing to rally over:  students, teachers, grit, growth mindset and all they have accomplished over the ENTIRE year.  At my school, we do this every Friday. Today, on the eve of our standardized test, my students did come to the cafeteria to meet with me.  The rest of the building lined the hallway to applaud their hard work and let them know we stand with them. It was not a STAAR Pep Rally.  It was a celebration of people who work hard to grow in their learning. It was caring about the people enough to let them know they were loved, supported, prepared, and in control of their destiny.

When students arrived, I shared with them my story of having to retake the GRE to get into graduate school to work on my doctorate.  As I sat down to take this test, I felt angry and frustrated.  I felt like there were some words that no one used, so impossibly worded questions, and I just felt there was no way that that test could accurately encompass who I was as a principal or a learner.  It hit me that this was how some of my students felt.

I told my students that there was no way that tomorrow’s test could define them either.  There was no way that this test could fully share with legislators or the public how much they had learned this past year. What I did tell these students was that they were in control, that they had the power to control their destiny. I shared with my fifth graders that sometimes, working hard at a test can give you a benefit.  That while my test couldn’t define me, it could gain me access to a program I wanted to be a part of to improve my life.

For them, working hard to “show what they know” could prevent them from retaking this test in a few weeks, but it would be their choice.  I told my fourth graders that while they weren’t facing a retest, the evidence does show that every time they pass a test like this,  it increases their chances of passing the next one.  No matter what, I told them they were in control.  I wanted them to know they were prepared and had everything they needed.  If they wanted it, they could achieve it.

I think that is what it is all about:  empowering students to know that they have control over their education.  The focus should never be on a test, but the people taking the test and continual reminders that even as children, they get to choose, they get to decide how to define themselves.

 We put tremendous pressure on students to “pass.”  The truth is our actions should support our beliefs.  At my campus we don’t have a test pep rally, we have a “hope rally” every single week where we celebrate teachers, students, and the power of education together as a campus.  While today I did bring students down to meet with me before they take their test tomorrow, it was never about the test.  It was ALWAYS about the people.  Whatever happens, tomorrow doesn’t really change anything.  Don’t get me wrong.  I want all of my students to do well because I know it makes their life easier in the long wrong. However, I know what my students have learned, how they have grown, and how much they have overcome and it far exceeds the constraints of a multiple choice test!

Not Just a Building

This past week, I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference and had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, speak. She had so much to say about advocating for public schools, but the thing that has resonated with me most was this quote:

“Public school is not a building. It’s a promise that a community makes to itself.” Shanna Peeples, TASA Midwinter Conference 2017

I’ve thought a lot about what she said, but I would take this statement a little further. A public school is not just a building; it is a promise that the community makes to itself to inspire hope for a better future.

We live in a tough world. We have people feeling entitled to rewards without work. People who cannot communicate effectively with words, so they use violence. People who are angry because they feel invisible, and other people who are afraid of the people they don’t understand so they put up the barriers that make angry people feel even more

disenfranchised. Instead of fixing the systems we have and contributing to a better world, people want to take their toys and go home resulting in soft segregation. This is only going to create a continuous cycle of decline.

But here is what I have to say-public schools are the hope for a better future. Public schools are the embodiment of our forefather’s vision, and capture in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on The Statue of Liberty.

In my school that promise is:

  • to a young girl that there will be someone there to care for her, despite her mother suffering from stage 4 cancer and having no extended family.
  • taking a moment to talk about what went wrong when a boy lost his cool and threatened a peer and to develop a different plan while helping him let go of his angry past.
  • a letter waiting for you at your new school when your family moved away and a teacher worried about your transition because you have moved so often.
  • a teacher braiding your hair because you are staying in a homeless shelter and mom couldn’t fix your hair before you came to school.
  • knowing that we will exhaust every option before we label you in a way that may limit your future opportunities.
  • the nurse recognizing a rash as a bigger problem to alert you to the need to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention.
  • a concerned teacher taking money from her own pocket to ensure the electricity is on so a child with asthma can have nebulizer treatments.
  • teaching peers to show compassion to a student with low cognitive ability and them applying that compassion by looking after her when she is outside the classroom.
  • designing work with incubating germs that help you learn “school stuff” but make you feel like a grown up in the real world.
  • setting goals and celebrating achievement and talking about how to regroup when the goal falls short so that all children, no matter of their ability, are coached and guided for growth.
  • talks of college embodied in grade level cheers and the dreams that a college degree can hold for your future.
  • songs of education and being “world changers” with the entire school every Friday.
  • the adults not making excuses that prevent children from achieving the best future, no matter where they started.
  • diversity and the opportunity to be around all kinds of people and learn that there is no need for fear, just value of multiple perspectives and willingness to use words to discuss differences.

Public schools are the place that we value every individual. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your native language, your religion, whether or not you have a disability or giftedness. You may come from an average background or one fraught with trauma. You may be wealthy, poor, or just middle-class. You may be the child who tries to please or the child who is continually demonstrating your displeasure with the world by spinning things into chaos. In a public school, we love you, we value you and try to earn your trust. We stretch you and grow you. We teach you to collaborate and communicate with those that are nothing like you. We teach you to think critically and set goals. We teach you to read, write and problem-solve using multiple strategies. We prepare you for the ability to thrive in a diverse world with the confidence that you can not only achieve your goals, but make the world a better place.

The things that public schools do to prepare our world for a better future are not easily measured by standardized tests or accountability systems and high performance on a test doesn’t guarantee your success if you cannot relate to the 21st century world.  Many would have society believe that paying for an education is a better option, but the don’t tell you what opportunities you miss because of a separate, homogenous education

Just remember, public schools are not just a building, we are people who ensure the promise that the community makes to itself, who love all and accept all, to inspire hope for a better society and future for all.

 

It Takes One to Grow One

Being the principal of a Title I school with fifty-two percent of our students coming from impoverished backgrounds has been a challenge, to say the least.  Three years ago, we began our journey making sure all teachers clearly understood the learning standards.  We expanded the second year to include some quality training in small group instruction, higher level thinking strategies, and writing.  This third year we have really worked on when teachers growunderstanding our students, especially those who come from backgrounds that may be very different from our own. It has become clear that relationships are key, and to develop relationships and give feedback in ways that are meaningful, you must truly understand the one that you are giving the feedback.

As we have entered the second semester of our third year, I have been amazed at the progress I have seen in such a short time.  Teachers and staff are teaching our students skills at deep levels.  Not only are they able to apply it in the context of the classroom, but the students are also starting to be able to transfer their learning into abstract testing situations. It was looking at our last round of data that got me pondering.

Yes, all the things we have intentionally worked on as a school are important.  But I have to admit that there was something present that allowed these initiatives to be successful.  At their core, the staff members in my building exemplify the characteristics of strong learners.

  1. Curiosity and Desire to Learn- Teachers who are learners continually assess their current situation and the factors that impact it.  They ask questions like “why?” and “what if?” to help them make sense of their world.  They are not satisfied with someone else’s definitions for understanding, but must experience them for themselves. Their classrooms are an experiment of trial and error to find what works.
  2. Grit in the Face of a Challenge- Teachers  who are learners recognize that failure is a part of learning.  Even when you have a path of steady growth, there is eventually a Grow-Brainplateau or even a dip in progress.  Teachers who are masters of learners accept this as a part of the growth process.  When faced with a challenge to their progress, these teachers persist, taking risks to find new ways to overcome the challenge rather than accept defeat.
  3. Growth Mindset to Continue to Improve- Often, once we as educators learn a strategy that works, we cling to it, even when it is no longer effective.  Teachers who are learners recognize that the goal is to perfect the craft of creating learners, not a strategy.  Teacher Learners are continually reflecting on their practice and learning so that they keep up with the needs of their students.  They know that the need to learn is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength in that they recognize the power of continually evolving.

I think no matter the circumstances: whether students come from affluent, middle-class, or poverty backgrounds, to grow children into learners, you have to possess those characteristics. When you have these traits of a learner yourself, and you understand your students you can instill these same qualities in them. How can you help another person achieve this level of learning if you haven’t experienced it yourself?  It really does “take one to grow one”!

The Sound of Silence

While sometimes silence of welcomed, I have to say that in a learning organization, silence can be deadly. Silence in a learning organization means a lack of feedback. It means that people are likely too content, apathetic, scared or angry to communicate with specific feedback, and this is dangerous. It reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song:

Sound of silence

In a learning organization, feedback is critical to growth. Sometimes this feedback is positive: “You’re on the right track.” “The effort is paying off.” “The strategy you are using is getting results.” Sometimes feedback offers a correction: “Instead of this, I need you to…” “It might work better if…” “Next time I’d rather you …” Other times feedback sounds like this: “I hate it when you…” “You messed up.” “There’s going to be consequences.” However, even when feedback is negative, it gives the one receiving the feedback a chance to learn and grow if they choose.

People can only guess if their actions are working and more time and energy is spent trying to decipher the silence than working on creating results. “Is what I’m going working?” “Is what I’m doing wrong?” “Why won’t he/she speak to me?” It’s a guess and check method spent mostly on guessing.

Several years ago I worked in an organization where all feedback stopped. The “boss” literally quit speaking to me. In public, I was invisible. Even in a bathroom where there were only two of us, I did not exist. Awkward! I guess I eventually figured out the message. I was not needed, and it was better to go elsewhere. The crazy thing is, if the “boss” had just given me specific feedback, we both probably would have gotten what we wanted much more quickly without a lot of hassle.

It is imperative supervisors give feedback. Too often I see leaders who are afraid to have difficult conversations. They suffer in silence until their aggravation results in an attitude of “done”. At that point, growth and recovery are no longer an option. What if the leader would have just said what needed to be said in a professional way? What if the leader coached their employee? What potential greatness was lost because the leader remained silent? What relationship was lost because things were allowed to become contentious?

Don’t get me wrong. The responsibility of feedback does not lie solely on the shoulders of feedbackleaders. All members of an organization have a responsibility of providing feedback. I tell my staff all the time that I don’t want them just to say yes and agree to everything I say. I need their thoughts, their consideration of unintended consequences and problem-solving, their ability to piggyback and make the idea even better. I need to know if something I have done has made their job harder. Their feedback cannot always result in “their way” because as a leader I always have to consider the big picture for the organization. However, without their feedback, how do I grow? How do I become better for them?

With all of this said, the most growth is going to occur when feedback is professional. While angry feedback is still probably better than silence, it is still destructive. It takes a great deal of energy for those involved in angry feedback to get beyond the emotion and focus on growth again. It is possible, but again, often angry feedback is just the explosion that occurs after a prolonged silence where the feedback was bottled up too long.

If you are a part of a learning organization, here are some tips to defeat the deadly sound of silence:

  • Give feedback, in good times and bad. People you work with need to know. It’s way more efficient than guessing. Each individual’s background experiences may muddy the water of interpreting “silence”
  • Feedback should be a two-way street. Both the leader and members of the organization should give feedback so that everyone has a chance to grow.
  • While feedback is better than silence, sometimes you may need a moment to compose yourself. Don’t give feedback in the heat of the moment, but don’t wait too long either. Feedback should be timely and professional.feedback matters
  • Be specific. Say what you mean and mean what you say. The more specific you are with your feedback, the more likely you are to get what you need.
  • Don’t ever allow yourself to become so comfortable that feedback stops. At that point, so does growth. Today’s good is tomorrow’s mediocre.
  • If you are the leader, create venues for your organization to provide you with feedback. Surveys, exit tickets after professional learning or staff meetings, and Google docs are all great ways to collect feedback. While I’m not a huge fan of anonymous feedback (it can be as bad as silence in the fact it doesn’t provide an avenue for clarification), I recognize that sometimes you have to start their of those you lead don’t feel safe giving feedback. It is a starting place, but the leader should work diligently to build relationships and get people comfortable with feedback that is specific and individualized.

Yes, sometimes it is easier to be silent. Silence can punish those with whom we are upset. It can send the message “I don’t even care enough about you to acknowledge your existence”. However, it rarely results in growth for anyone. Feedback with a growth the-sound-of-silence-simon-garfunkel-8-638mindset takes both grit and grace. It takes the grit to put others’ need to grow before one’s personal comfort of staying silent. Even more, it takes grace to give feedback in a manner that others are willing to listen and hear the intended message so that growth can occur.

Additional Resources for Giving Feedback:

Picture Day

Today, my teachers were given a compliment that made me both incredibly happy and sad at the same time.  You see, it was Picture Day.  Picture Day is one of those things that we all have to do, but it can truly wreak havoc in an elementary school picture-Day-300x271student’s need for routine and structure.  They get accustomed to knowing what to expect for when, where, and how to be.  When you add Picture Day, it can totally disrupt routines, especially if the picture schedule runs behind.  Picture Day takes a lot of grit on everyone’s part.

Our day was also affected today by about 40 district leaders, campus administrators, and teacher leaders who were visiting our campus.  Typically, my students and teachers are very used to having visitors in and out observing, but this was the first one for the year.  I guess a “normal” picture day just didn’t give enough challenge so we raised the demand by adding 40 strangers to the mix on top of an altered schedule, just to really see how the students can handle change.

I do have to say that today we were lucky. No cameras broke. Everyone was on time.  The schedule flowed smoothly.  Students were amazing demonstrating their learning and even sharing with the adults walking through their classrooms.  I am so fortunate to have a fantastic group of students and an incredible staff.

We got amazing feedback from the visitors.  But as the photographers got ready to leave, they made this comment, “Your teachers are so respectful in how they speak to your respect-meansstudents.”  Wow.  Well, you need to know that many years ago before I came to Degan, there were some comments  to the contrary about this staff.  To hear from an outsider, even outside the profession of education, how impressed they were with the staff-student interaction, was a proud moment.  But as I thought more, I thought how incredibly sad it was that this photographer, who probably spends a great deal of time in schools witnessing teachers interact with their students, felt we were the exception.  You would think this would just be the norm.

As I reflected more, I did think about the stress that shifts in schedules and the unexpected happenings of a school Picture Day can cause.  However, as adults, we have to absorb that stress to keep it off our students.  Some of our students, especially those who live in poverty, live in chaos on a daily basis.  They sense the tensions of adults and react to it.  Even more important is the relationships. If we are snapping at our students to deal with our stress about a situation, we are damaging our relationship with that child and limit our ability to have a positive impact on them. If we are going to treat others with respect, and model this to children, we have to show we value them all the time, not just when we have had enough sleep, the schedule and routines are in place, and everything is going our way.

perfect-effortBut it goes even further. How do we as campus leaders, create a culture where our staff feels safe and confident, even amidst a great deal of change?  That is the true key.  We have to make sure everyone knows what to expect.

When staff feels confident that effort, not perfection, is the desired outcome, everyone can exhale.  They will function with confidence and not be paralyzed by fear of the unknown.  They can become truly comfortable with ambiguity and learn to thrive, knowing that they are valued, no matter what.  When the teachers feel safe, they can make students feel safe as well, and then even Picture Day plus 40 strangers walking through classrooms aren’t an issue!