Archive for the 'Motivation/creating energy' Category

Educators’ attention and energy linked to leaders’ emotional intelligence

Dennis Sparks

“Big Idea”: Continuous improvement requires that leaders effectively manage their attention and energy and the attention and energy of the school community. 

A key to the successful management of attention and energy is leaders’ emotional and social intelligence.

A leader’s emotional intelligence determines to a large extent where the school community directs its attention and energy.

Attention can be dissipated or have a laser-like focus on a small number of essential priorities.

Leaders’ emotional intelligence also creates or destroys energy within the school community, energy that is essential to the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.

Here are some popular posts from the past year that more fully explain this idea:

“Cultivating the problem-solving ability of others”

“Creating energy for continuous improvement”

“Ways to avoid unproductive, dispiriting meetings”

You can find additional posts on emotional intelligence here.

 

Eliminate clutter that depletes energy and anchors the status quo…

Dennis Sparks

Mental clutter interferes with the clarity of our thought and depletes our energy.

The clutter of too many items on our “to-do lists” and appointments on our calendars interferes with our focus and efficiency.

Ron Sherman takes this idea to another level in a blog post by describing the challenges caused when clutter clogs a school:

”…a building that couldn’t breathe under the weight of all the stuff in it.  And at a deeper level, I understood that it was a school that couldn’t develop it’s own culture and identity, it couldn’t move forward into it’s own future, because in many ways it served as a museum, and repository for others’ long-forgotten materials.”

Just as our minds can be museums of outdated ideas, our offices, classrooms, and schools can be repositories of objects that anchor the status quo.

What clutters your mind, office, classroom, or school, and what steps can you take today to reduce it?

[Belated Canada Day best wishes to my Canadian readers, and Happy 4th of July to everyone in the United States. I will be taking a mini-sabbatical for the next few weeks. My August posts will tie together some of  the themes and issues raised in essays during the past year.]

 

Why “crazy busy” is, well, crazy

 

Dennis Sparks

In a culture that venerates overwork, people internalize crazy hours as the norm.  —James Surowiecki

I have heard people say they are “crazy busy” with a kind of pride that indicated they viewed it as a badge of honor. Exhaustion is viewed as a status symbol, and productivity and self worth become dangerously intertwined.

There are only two things wrong with “crazy busy.”

The first is ‘crazy,” which is self evident. Administrators and teacher leaders who are stressed are toxic. Not only does that stress negatively affect their performance, it infects the emotional lives of others and undermines their performance

The second is “busy.” Many of us—me included—thrive when our lives feel full and rich. We would rather have too much to do than be bored with too little to do.

However, busy also carries with it the possibility that there is no down time in one’s professional or personal lives, that we move from one activity to another without opportunities for restoration or reflection.

So, the next time you hear someone say that he or she is “crazy busy” or some variation of that theme, invite that person into a dialogue about whether that state of affairs is good for them and for others.

And don’t allow “I don’t have choice” to put an easy albeit superficial end to the conversation.

Go deeper, without judgment, to help your colleagues consider the effects of such craziness on themselves, their families, their colleagues, and their students.

What do you do to avoid feeling “crazy busy”?

 

Ways to avoid unproductive, dispiriting meetings…

Dennis Sparks

There are few things more dispiriting than unproductive meetings. 

A veneer of polite conversation disguises a lack of serious and deep analysis. Conflict about important assumptions and points of view are avoided or minimized.

When such meetings are the norm rather than the exception, the energy required for the continuous improvement of teaching and learning is depleted rather than created and sustained.

Here are several recommendations offered by Dan Rockwell to avoid those problems and “ignite meetings”:

1. Build relations with team members that enable candor. Distance produces fear; connection courage.

2. Systematize dissent. Require the entire team to speak for and against the issue on the table.

3. Ask those who originate ideas to explain why they won’t work.

4. Develop three solutions and have everyone defend all three.

What is missing from Rockwell’s list?

The biggest problem in professional development is…

Dennis SparksThe biggest problem in professional development is that administrators and teachers significantly underestimate the amount of effort and time required to create the new habits of mind and behavior that are necessary to provide high-quality teaching and learning for all students.

One of the best and most accessible explanations of the challenges of shaping human understanding and practice is provided by Alan Deutschman in Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life in which he explains that people are influenced to change through three linked elements he describes as relate, repeat, and reframe. 

Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships that inspire and sustain hope and provide support.

That means that:

• Teachers work in teams rather than in isolation and are accountable to one another for continuous improvement rather than to district offices or state education agencies.

• Teachers relationships exhibit high levels of trust and appreciation rather than distrust, blaming, and negativity.

• Teachers speak with candor and courage rather than evading discussion of important issues.

• Teachers are hopeful and energetic rather than victims of a “slow-death spiral” of distrust, anger, and stress.

You can learn more about promoting continuous improvement through positive relationships here.

Repeat means learn, practice, and master new skills until they become habits. 

The cultivation of new habits requires intention, attention, and persistence across many weeks or months until mastery is achieved, a task often complicated by the tenacity of old habits.

The development of new habits begins with an initial learning that explores new ways of thinking and acting. It continues with the repetition of those thoughts and behaviors (often in the face of opposition from people who prefer the old habits) until new ways of thinking and acting have become routine.

An example of what may be required for leaders to alter their own behavior—which is almost always a precursor to influencing the behavior of others—is provided here.

Reframe means providing new ways of thinking about a situation. Because established frames resist facts and reasoned arguments, deep-rooted beliefs and conceptual frameworks must be identified and altered to support desired changes.

Conceptual frames are the mental organizers we use to think about things. Our thinking, and hence our ability to change, is limited by these deeply rooted, beneath-the-surface system of beliefs and ideas. While often difficult to alter, frames can be changed. The process begins with awareness of the dominant frame and its influence on practice, and continues by identifying alternative frames that better serve student learning.

Strategies for promoting reframing can be found here.

Although Change or Die is not explicitly about education, it explains why well-intentioned innovations more often expire than thrive.

A problem, Deutschman says, is that leaders too often rely on relatively ineffective change strategies—facts (human beings are not as rational as we think we are), fear (at best it’s a short-term motivator), and force (there are many ways it can be resisted) to promote change.

Instead, successful change efforts in schools:

• offer a sense of hopefulness that student learning can be improved through a genuine sense of community and teamwork that supports the implementation of new practices (relate),

• provide sustained learning to enable the acquisition of new habits of mind and behavior (repeat), and

• enable the development of new conceptual frameworks aligned with the innovation (reframe).

Do you agree that administrators and teachers often underestimate the intensity and duration of learning that is required to meaningful influence thinking and behavior?

Lois Easton describes how “Design Teams” can lead to productive meetings

Dennis Sparks

Too often the meetings that educators attend feel purposeless and unproductive.

With that perennial problem in mind, I asked Lois Easton to suggest a remedy, which she did in the form of a “Design Team.”

Here’s what Lois had to say:

Done with meetings that are torturous in the first place and lead to nothing? Disappointed in professional learning that robs resources (time, energy, and usually, money) and lead to no substantive change?

These gatherings of educational professionals may seem purposeless—and may, indeed, be purposeless in the sense that purposes are unspecified or unclear. Or, these gatherings may be minimally motivating.

In either case, there’s no action, and there are no results and, once again—reflecting onwasted resources—educators become cynical about meetings and professional learning.

Even if they are motivating, meetings and professional learning may lead to little or no action simply because no one has seriously thought about the support and accountability required to making change. It’s almost as if no one really expects that these processes will lead to action which leads to results.

One solution to this dilemma is the Design Team.

You can call it anything you want, but this team of people inside the group labors before,during, and after the meeting or professional learning to consider purposes, desired action, support, and accountability. These are people who, themselves, are engaged in making the changes—in their classrooms, schools, and districts.

The philosophy is that those affected by—and effecting—the change should have some say in how the change is made, how to support it, and how to be sure that the change is making a difference for student learning.

The Design Team: 

Meets before the meeting or professional learning to determine the need for a meeting or professional learning. Though they may work with a facilitator from within or outside the organization, the Design Team has a huge say in what happens.

Collects and analyzes data before they begin planning, using the question, “What leads us to want a meeting or professional learning?”

Circulates the results of their data discussions with their colleagues: “Here are the dataresults. Are these data important? For instance: Is it okay for 20% of our students not to graduate? Is it okay for 4th graders to dislike reading? Is it okay for girls to steer clear of math? Should we do something about these data? What do you recommend?”

Requests feedback and use responses to modify their work. They continue to use this feedback cycle throughout the work (ideally throughout a school year or more).

Drafts outcomes—what people will know and be able to do as a result of the meeting or professional learning—as well as overall purposes. They request feedback, even if only thumbs-up or down on the outcomes.

Continues to request and get feedback—and adjust accordingly—on everything else they do before the meeting or professional learning.

Considers the support that educators will need to make changes as a result of the meeting or professional learning. The Design Team advocates for appropriate resources for the work. It also identifies indicators for change at all levels. The team thinks about how the whole organization will know that the outcomes have been achieved.

Who serves on the Design Team?

1. The role should be voluntary. Anyone impacted by the contemplated change should have a chance to participate on the Design Team. Although it’s tempting to invite representatives from grade levels or subject areas to participate, don’t. Representatives tend to do what they are asked to do—that is, represent their factions. They may not see the “whole school” or the “whole district” as they deliberate. Invite everyone to participate.

2. To achieve continuity, ask members to serve a minimum time period (perhaps 3 months). Allow new members any time, as long as they will serve the requisite number of months.

3. Acknowledge that each time a new member joins the Design Team, the team is a new team and new members need orientation. This is not all bad; new members help continuing members deepen their understanding of the work. As they explain it, continuing members become clearer about what they are doing—or not. If not,new members give the Design Team a chance to repurpose or re-plan what they are doing.

4. Keep the team as large as it is, naturally—if it is too bulky, have meetings for all team members so they can all keep the “big picture” in mind, and then smaller action team meetings to get the work done.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Even if there is no doubt about an strategy or outcomes, run it by the whole group (everyone else in the school, for example). Keep things transparent.

6. Consider providing released time for Design Team members so they can meet.

During the meeting or professional learning, the Design Team provides a way for afacilitator or convener to keep tabs on what’s working and what’s not and to make adjustments.

After the meeting or professional learning (that is, if we can consider professional learning “over”), the Design Team monitors the indicators of change and the outcomes, reporting to everyone how the change is proceeding.

Design Teams—when well designed themselves—ensure that meetings and professional learning are carefully considered and consequential.

This post is adapted from Lois Easton’s book, Professional learning communities by design: Putting the learning back into PLCs, published by Corwin Press andLearning Forward.

5 essential skills for every leader…

Dennis Sparks

I have seen leaders rise or fall based on the presence or absence of one or more of the following skills:

1. The ability to discern and paraphrase the assumptions, values, and points of view of others with sufficient skill that those with whom they interact would report that their leaders accurately understand their perspectives.

2. The ability to effectively manage one’s feelings and to discern and respond appropriately to the feelings of others.

3. The ability to manage one’s responsibilities efficiently and with integrity, which includes but is not limited to email and social media, short and long-term planning, and task and project management.

4. The ability to effectively delegate meaningful responsibilities to others in the school community without micromanagement by providing appropriate support and skill development to ensure success.

5. The ability to facilitate meetings (or when appropriate delegate their facilitation) that achieve their stated purposes and are satisfying to participants.

Do you agree that these are essential skills? What skills have I missed?


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