Summer Renewal: The Exit Interview

The school year is winding down. Many of us are saying good-bye to our students, to our colleagues, and to another year in the classroom. For some, the year was long and difficult, for others it may have gone by in a blur. No matter what kind of experience we had during the year this is a perfect time for a reflective practice. Why not take a few minutes before you leave for the summer and do a personal exit interview

Here are some sample questions you might like to ask yourself:
On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest how would you rate your own performance for the year?

Purpose and Calling
Do you feel successful and proud, or just happy to have the year over?
Describe 3-5 of your most happy moments during the year.
What was it that made them stand out for you?
Did what you accomplished this year match your expectations?

Stress and Overwhelm
Describe 3-5 of the biggest challenges that you faced this year.
Describe how you responded to each of these challenges.
What kind of stress, if any, did these challenges create?
How did this stress manifest itself- professionally and/or personally?
Is the stress still with you?
Is there a more effective way to handle the stress and anxiety of these kinds of challenges?

Strengths and Gifts
Looking back on the school year, what would you say were your greatest personal characteristics and strengths?
If you were going to build on one these strengths for the next school year which would it be?
What practices can you create to help strengthen this area?

Areas for Growth
What were some of the personal characteristics/behaviors you think were holding you back from even greater levels of classroom effectiveness?
What practices can you create to help you address these characteristics?

Student Feedback
Think about your students for a moment.
Did they have anything to teach you this year?
If you think of them as a mirror, what did they reflect back to you about yourself and your teaching?
Was there a student that you particularly liked? What was it that drew you to them?
Was there a student that you particularly disliked? What was it about them that you disliked?
Is there anything about yourself that your feelings about these students reveal?
How would your students rate your performance on a scale of 1-10?
What would they list as your greatest personal strengths?
What would they say was the area in which you need to improve?

There’s no better time for professional (and personal) reflection then the waning days of a school year and no better place to do it than an empty classroom. The purpose of this reflection is not to beat yourself up. It’s not meant to be “I should have done this.” or “I shouldn’t have done that.” guilt trip. It’s simply meant to allow us to step back and look at the year and our performance with some perspective (a perspective that’s hard to maintain during the year). I suggest you write you answers in a journal. Come back to them over the summer and before the start of the new school year.

A few suggestions:
Look out for burnout. At some point we can let our purpose and calling drift into a job. It takes work to keep reminding ourselves of the special work we do with children.
Be on the look out for the effects of stress on our thinking, our health, and our family life.
Be specific about our strengths and weaknesses. We all have them. We can build on our strengths, we can learn to address our weaknesses.
Students offer us a wealth of information on our classroom effectiveness if we’re courageous enough to look at the cues and clues they provide.

The questions I’ve presented are just suggestions. Your heart knows what questions are right for you. If you’re quiet and allow your inner teacher to come forward, it’ll guide you in the right direction.

Good luck and have a great summer!

Pete

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Transformative Change

“For public education to benefit from the rapidly evolving development of information and communication technology, leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”
– From the National Educational Technology Plan

There are several elements involved in transformative and systemic change. First, there is the content of the change message; second, is the condition of the audience who will be receiving the message; and third, is the the condition of the person who will be delivering the message and leading the change.

For the purpose of today’s post, let’s pretend we all agree on the content of the message. We believe that technology can be a catalyst to transform teaching and learning so that students are more active and engaged in their learning. Now, let’s explore the environment into which this message, or any message of change, is being delivered.

The Environment- We all know that a school building culture can be complex environment and like any organization one description of the culture does not fit all. However, it is clear that some buildings, over the years, have devolved into an ‘us and them’ atmosphere. The ‘us’ being the teaching staff and the ‘them’ being the administration. In these situations there is a feeling that administrators are nothing but political animals who want to look good; but don’t understand or truly care about how difficult the teacher’s job is, nor are they fully supportive of the staff. There is little trust.

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The building may be experiencing destructive levels of triangulation on a daily basis. The Principal holds a faculty meeting, or the technology committee or the curriculum committee holds a meeting and the staff participates; but as soon as the meeting breaks, there are people in the hallways or lavatories complaining about the Principal, the presenter, the committee chair, other members of the team, or the entire committee process. Rather than raising these issues in public where they can be discussed and remedied, they are relegated to private conversations. When people aren’t being candid with one another it erodes trust.

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The teachers are open to the leader’s message; but they are overwhelmed. There are multiple initiatives going on and many committees meeting. The teachers feel like they cannot take on another thing. They don’t have the time or the intellectual shelf-space for another ‘high priority item’.

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There may be a few staff members who are not meeting the teaching profession’s basic standards. In some cases these folks have been ignored and tolerated for years because engaging them will take an enormous amount of effort and has the potential to generate lots of political controversy.

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The pedagogy in many classrooms within the building, especially secondary classrooms, is fairly traditional: teachers have the answers, they follow the curriculum, they talk a lot, while students listen and then take written tests. Also in the realm of pedagogy and transformation falls the ‘personality driven classroom’, where teachers who like to exert control or be the center of attraction find that the personality traits that have made them so successful, do not serve them as well in a more creative, project-based, student-centered classroom.

The point here is that bringing a visionary technology message, or systemic change initiative into these building cultures will be exponentially more difficult than bringing the same message into a building with a healthy, trusting, culture that has shared values and a shared vision.

“When you want to foster more responsible behavior in people, you can’t just legislate more rules and regulations,” says Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book “How.”  “You have to enlist and inspire people in a set of values. People need to be governed both from the outside, through compliance with rules, and from the  inside, inspired by shared values.”

Tthere are many elements of existing building cultures that need to be addressed before we can move ahead with transformative technology initiatives. Think of it as tilling the field before planting a new seed. We need to deal with existing building cultures so that our staffs are open to creating a new shared vision and implementing it.

The Leader – Last, but not least, there is the messenger; the leader. How prepared is the building administrator to lead systemic and transformative change? No doubt a challenge like shifting a building culture and introducing systemic change will be the challenge of a lifetime. Have we trained for this? or are we stepping up to the starting line of a marathon without having done any roadwork ahead of time?

If the building leader is like most of us, he learned on his own, and through his studies as part of his graduate certification program. There were courses in School Administration, School Law, Business Administration, Personnel Management, Supervision of Instruction, and School-Community Relations.  He read, he attended class, he discussed, he wrote, and occasionally he presented; but little of his certification work had to do with leading transformative and systemic change.

Take just one of the scenarios above…If there is even one staff member who everyone in the building knows is not doing their job and the leader ignores them and lets them continue with business as usual, how much credibility will he have when he lays out his vision for the future? The staff will look at him and say to themselves, ‘Sure, he says he wants to make this school ‘world class’, ‘the best it can be’; but he turns his eyes away from the people who aren’t doing their jobs because it’s too much work to confront them. It’s too politically risky. Why should we stick our necks out if he won’t?” They’re right. In order to build trust with the staff the leader has to walk his own talk.

I am not trying to discourage us from moving forward. I have designed my life to help lead the effort; but if  we are serious about transforming teaching and learning, we need to get serious about identifying the enormous challenges we face; and once we have done so, we need to take some serious steps to prepare ourselves, as leaders, to meet them.

It’s my belief that we’ll never get there if we continue to prepare our leaders in same manner as we have in the past. As the National Educational Technology says…”leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”

Where will these leaders come from?

pete

Leadership and the Two Handed Set Shot

I’m a tall person and from my earliest years was drafted into the world of basketball. I had a fair amount of success on the court ranging from high school and college teams to various tournaments and Men’s leagues. I’ve coached at the HS level and when my children were born, I was privileged to coach their tyro teams and as they got older, their AAU clubs.

When kids are young and shooting basketballs in their driveways they have to generate a lot of motion and energy to get the ball up to the hoop which is 10 feet high. After all, they’re little, and that’s pretty far up. They grip the ball with two hands and heave it over and over again, until it starts to rattle in to the basket. After lot’s of this kind of practice they get pretty good at shooting this way. It serves them well when they are playing alone or just shooting around for fun.

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Then comes the day they want to take themselves to the next level. They want to play the game of basketball. They want to play on a team competitively. It’s here that they run into a coach like me. One of the first things I try to do with these young players is to teach them to shoot more effectively. I let them know that the two handed set shot that they have perfected is not going to serve them as they move up the ladder in the basketball world. It’s too easy for a defender to block the shot. It takes too much time to shoot it. Watch any high school, college or pro game and  you will see is the one handed jumper, not the two handed set shot that rules the game.

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So, I take the time to teach them and have them practice this new and more effective method of shooting. For them it feels clumsy and all wrong. They clank shot after shot off the backboard. They can’t seem to get it near the basket. They get discouraged. When I look out of the corner of my eye (when they think I’m not paying attention), I can see them shooting their two handed set shots and swishing them in. It feels good to them. It has brought them success to this point.  I know what their thinking,  “If I can make the shot with two hands, why change?”

Some of them get the message that they need to learn and master this new way of doing things, others don’t. Some work through the discomfort of abandoning something familiar and practice the new and uncomfortable way of doing it. Over time it becomes embedded in their muscle memory. It becomes their new normal. They are prepared to compete at higher level than ever were before. Their commitment and practice pays off.

Others, for whatever reason, stick with the old and familiar ways and are not successful at the more competitive levels and, in time, drop off the team and leave basketball completely.

I believe there is a lesson here for leaders.

Most of us are self-taught. We use what we know and what talents we have to succeed. One day we are promoted, or we run into an difficult individual, dysfunctional organization, or a challenge that requires us to move to a new level. We need to up our game. We need new competencies to succeed. For some of us, it’s just too uncomfortable to change our old behaviors. We like our two handed set shot. The first few times we try some new leadership behaviors they flop, like the kids’ first one handed shots clanking off the backboard. We may decide that the problems aren’t with us, it’s with the folks who are giving us the problems. Their the ones that need to change.

A few of us, stick with it, realizing that the challenges that vex us are calls for us to abandon the behaviors that are not serving us anymore and to learn and practice new behaviors that will allow us to succeed as the game gets more competitive. We may find a leadership coach to help us perfect our ‘one hander’. We may find a friend who can support us as we deal with the discomfort of mastering something new. It can be daunting at times; but one day we find ourselves leading effectively and the one handed shots are raining in from all over the court.

So, are you going to keep shooting the two hander, or move on?

pete

Leadership Presence

At some point in your career you may have experienced a leader who we say has ‘presence’. What is ‘presence’? Are some lucky people born with it? Can it be learned?

We gravitate naturally to leaders with ‘presence’. They seem to have some intangible quality that draws us to them. They engender trust much more quickly than we would expect. We give them the benefit of the doubt. We are willing to follow them; not blindly, but much more readily than with others we know who are in leadership positions.

What is it that creates this attractive ‘presence’ that serves them so well as leaders?

It’s not their intelligence. There are lots of intelligent people who we’d never follow.

It’s not their way with words because there are many glib tongued educators that we would never trust as leaders.

It’s not their sense of humor, or their good looks, or their emotional IQ.

All of these qualities may be found in a leader with ‘presence’; but there is another domain that figures in greatly and that is the domain of the body.

The tag line for my blog and web page is:

‘Learning is a journey of the body, mind. and the heart.”

So is leading.

Leadership books often talk about matters of the mind and heart; but rarely speak of the body, so let’s examine the importance of having the ‘body of a leader’.

A Superintendent of schools addresses his administrative leadership team at the beginning of the school year, his shoulders are tense, his voice high and tight, and his breath short. No matter what words he speaks, his listeners are unconsciously hearing another message…”I am not grounded. I am saying things that are not coming from my heart.” The Superintendent’s body is not building trust. It was working against him.

A leader avoids eye contact and thus communicates that he isn’t fully engaged. It seems like he is hiding something. Unconsciously, I might ask myself, why would I want to trust someone who isn’t fully engaged, someone who seems to be hiding something?

A leader stands with his shoulders rounded and bowed in a concave circle. He sends a message of timidity.

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A leader has a body that is stiff and inflexible. Unknowingly he is communicating stiffness and inflexibility to others.

A building principal is full of distracting winks, nods, and pats on the back. He creates a feeling in some that he isn’t really serious and grounded in his beliefs and actions.

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A longtime Assistant Superintendent  holds his chin out and high; giving off just a whiff of arrogance.

There are so many leaders who seem totally disconnected from their bodies, as if it were only a vehicle to carry their heads from place to place.

When a leader doesn’t face you straight on when they are talking; the message may be that I’m busy and I’m not really listening to you.

There are many, many other ways that our bodies communicate messages to others. Our bodies are windows to our hearts and minds. If we are truly grounded in our purpose, if we are authentic, present, open, and connected to others; our bodies will communicate this. When our bodies, hearts, and minds are aligned and in sync, then we are living from the ‘sweet spot’. We have leadership presence. We embody what we believe. Unconsciously, others feel it, and it helps to build trust more quickly.

I believe strongly that we can develop and build an effective leadership presence. It takes a deep commitment and quite a bit of practice. Often it takes the help of a leadership coach or a committed friend; but it can be done.

If we want to transform education, we will need leaders who not only know what changes need to be made; but embody their beliefs so that they are able to inspire and motivate others to take action and to make difficult changes.

pete

Leadership Help from the Supernanny

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I have to admit that I watch the reality show called “Supernanny”. If you arent’t familiar with the show the concept is pretty simple: the Supernanny (family consultant) is invited into a family by parents that are being driven nuts by their children. I began watching the program as a guilty pleasure; but soon I realized that it was an excellent tutorial on good leadership consulting

“Say again?”

Let me give a simple example. Three pre-adolescents kids are running wild, throwing toys and fighting with each other. Mom is doing her best to maintain order; but the kids are doing as they please. When she tries to discipline them two run away,; and the one who stays behind hauls off and smacks her. Her husband works long hours so she is trapped with her uncontrollable kids all day. To make matters worse, they won’t go to bed. Mom is at her wits end and driven to tears.

It may not be obvious, but many of us in positions of leadership are dealing with very similar issues, although age and professionalism generally damp down the direct defiance and outrageous displays of misbehavior (think slapping). Over the last decade I have worked with many leaders who are trying to manage dysfunctional teams where members are sabotaging each other, or the leader, or the direction of the organization. They generally do this covertly, but the effect is not much different than the effect the disrespectful and misbehaving children have on their mother…the leaders get frustrated, angry, and a feel like they are ineffective.

I’ve felt this feeling of helplessness myself and have to admit that when I called in a consultant to help I was really saying,

“Please, SuperNanny, fix this team! They aren’t acting the way I’d like them to act. They aren’t listening. They aren’t cooperative. They aren’t reasonable. No matter what I try to do, nothing works!

So, in comes SuperNanny!

Interestingly, she rarely begins working with the kids. The kids will come later. She always begins by working with the parents, the leaders. Her first order of business is to help the parents understand that they are accountable for how their children are acting. If the parents don’t like the situation, then they need to change their own behaviors, which will in turn shift the behaviors of the kids.

The clip below shows parents that accept their accountability and are open to change their behavior. Supernanny, the consultant, helps cut through their rationalizations and stories about why things are the way they are, and acts as a mirror so that the young parent leaders can see themselves and their situation more clearly.

Many parents and leaders have difficulty accepting their own accountability.

“Look at how well I treat them. Now look at how bad they treat me. It is not my fault. It’s them. Fix them!” or another common reaction, “How dare you say I’m accountable! You don’t know me, or this situation, that well. You’re a consultant that has only been here a short time. There is no way that you see the whole picture!”

Regardless, of the reaction, until the parent leader is ready to embrace their own accountability, SuperNanny isn’t going to get very far.

One of the best expositions of the concept of leadership accountability took place on a show where the child was an adolescent who engaged in fierce outbursts with her father. Dad would say something and the daughter would respond angrily which got Dad even angrier. His response would throw more fuel on the fire and soon the whole conversation would spiral out of control.

To help him see what is going on the Nanny takes some toy bricks, one color representing Dad and one color representing his daughter. On each brick she tapes a brief snippet of their words; Dad’s on this brick and his daughter’s on the next brick. She continues to line the bricks up, while continuing to alternate colors to represent the back and forth that takes place when they fight. She asks Dad to push the first brick over. One by one each brick falls and knocks over the next successive brick until they are all down.

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“That’s how your conversations spiral out of control” she explains to Dad.

“Now to change this pattern we change how you behave. We can’t force your daughter to change. I want you to take the brick with your own reaction on it out of the chain of bricks. Now, push the first brick.” He pushes the first brick with his daughter’s words on it and because he has removed his own ‘reaction brick’ from the sequence, his daughter’s brick falls harmlessly. All the other bricks remain standing.

“Yes, I get that! Changing my reaction and my behavior everything changes!”

Ah! And when the parent leader fully comprehends their accountability…

….Supernanny is ready to go work on improving the dysfunctional situation.

pete

The Mirror

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Our local PBS station is having its annual fund drive and recently ran a lecture by Deepak Chopra. The entire show was thought provoking; but one concept stood out for me. The idea went something like this; I paraphrase…

“Your life is a reflection of you.”

Now that seems innocuous enough; but there is more to it than meets the eye. What I believe he is saying is that if your life has lots of drama, conflict, frustration, and anger. It’s a reflection…not of others; but of you.

Wow! Now that hit a nerve!

For the last month or so, I have found myself with a bit of a negative outlook. I’ve been complaining about some of the folks in the consulting engagements I’m leading. I can feel myself getting increasingly frustrated with the dysfunction I am finding in so many schools and school districts. I’m discouraged with the pace of educational change, and I have been more easily drawn into non-productive conversations.

Is this all a reflection of me?

I think it is. I have been out of touch with my daily leadership practices, so I find myself more easily falling back to my old and familiar, automatic behaviors. These old habits of thought and action don’t work for me anymore. In fact, when just a tiny bit of my old self-righteousness or arrogance shows up, it creates a big mess.

In truth, I have been restless with the pace of my own personal change. I keep getting close to breaking through with a book I am writing and then I choose to let myself get distracted with lots of commitments and consulting. Weeks go by and the book slips out of sight, except that my inner voice won’t let it disappear completely. The more I ignore it, the more I am aware of it. Sounds crazy; but that’s the way it is for me.

So, it’s a vicious cycle. If I let it, my mood gets very self-critical.

Which leads me back to ‘life as a mirror’. Is it any wonder that, when I am frustrated with myself, that I would express frustration with others? And, if I feel negative and discouraged with my own pace of change, that my dealings with others would mirror that negativity and discouragement? Yes, I believe the conflicts and the drama I am experiencing in my life right now, are simply expressions of my own inner drama. It is my own inner ‘critic’ wreaking its familiar havoc.

I know better than to let this happen, I guess that is part of my frustration. It’s so easy to blame the folks that seem so dysfunctional, because in some cases, they ARE. It’s easy to blame the bureaucracy of schools because they ARE bureaucratic and slow to change. It’s easy to blame the administrators who manage rather than lead, because there are so many of them.

All these problems and issues are very real. They exist on their own; but how I choose to deal with them is MY choice. I can be critical, angry, negative and discouraged; which creates conflict and closes doors; or I can choose to deal with these issues with an open heart, with understanding, self-confidence, and gratitude… which opens doors.

Fortunately, I can choose to take a different path at any time. Yesterday, I began my leadership practices again. I believe it was the return to those practices that opened the way for me to write this reflection. Each new day, each moment, is an opportunity to make a different choice for myself. I think that that is extremely empowering and filled with hope.

It’s very easy to get lost on our journey. Sometimes all we need to do is look in the mirror, the mirror that Deepak Chopra talked about… the mirror that is our life, for clues to locate ourselves in our travels.

pete

Dysfunction

Definition: ” a consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system.”

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Dysfunction?

  • When it’s normal to attend meetings and pretend to go along with the flow and then leave the meeting and complain about it… and undermine the decisions that were made…it’s dysfunction.
  • When it becomes commonplace to pretend to trust each other and at the same time secretly solicit information and opinions from others because of a lack of trust… dysfunction.
  • When people who work for us, or around us, are not competent but we ignore it because they are ‘nice’ people…dysfunction.
  • When the administration and staff are okay with stapling new cover pages on old technology plans to meet compliance deadlines…dysfunction.
  • When we have standards and norms and they are routinely ignored…dysfunction.
  • When we write a beautiful mission statement and we all know, collectively, that there is a ‘snowballs chance in Hell’ that it will ever be achieved and most likely will be forgotten after being written …dysfunction.
  • When it is part of the culture to expect people to talk about each other critically and secretly…dysfunction.
  • When it is normal for the school culture to be cynical, critical, and dismissive of new ideas, vision, and change…dysfunction.
  • When people commit to things and then don’t keep their commitments and it’s okay with everyone…dysfunction.
  • When the staff feels they’re just mushrooms growing in the dark! Dysfunction.
  • When we can’t talk about our team and our possibilities because in our school culture we look at the world ‘us and them’…dysfunction.
  • When it’s common in our school to turn our backs and say, “Not my job!” Dysfunction.

People are people and from time to time we might behave poorly, it’s part of being human. We aren’t proud of our slip up; and we make up our minds to do better next time; and most of us do

What is most troubling is when we allow these things to become so common they seem normal. They become part of the culture. We don’t expect better. It’s just the way things are. We accept it. We live with it.

It may be that some of these behaviors have become normal in our situation; but they come at a price: lot’s of drama, lot’s of distrust, anger, and frustration.

We know better. We can do better.

It takes courage to confront the dysfunctions of a school culture. It starts with stepping forward to say that we can do better, that we should hold ourselves to higher standards. It takes a commitment to create those standards as a team, and monitor how well we live up to them.

In order to transform teaching and learning, we need to deal with the cultures which exist in our schools, otherwise, change will be a long time coming.

pete