Archive for the 'courage' Category

Addressing the “final 2%”

Learning produces physical change in the brain. —James Zull

I once read a critique of strategic planning that said it too often failed in its “final 2%,” that is, the part of the plan during which new ideas and practices are implemented by the people who do the frontline work of the organization.

That critique seemed equally valid for large-scale efforts to improve professional learning in schools.

Here’s a metaphor that may be helpful:

Imagine the United States investing trillions of dollars on a new and massive interstate highway system. 

Imagine all the time and energy and resources required to create legislation to authorize and fund the project and to pay engineers to design it and surveyors to lay out its course. Land would have to be purchased, contractors selected, and the roadway constructed.

Now imagine after years of planning and construction, the highway is complete, east to west and north to south in every state in the land.

But only one thing is missing—the off-ramps into the tens of thousands of towns it bypasses. It is essentially a highway to nowhere.

Those off-ramps are the final 2% of the highway project, the part that if not successfully executed negates the value of all that preceded it.

Like the first 98% of the illustrative highway system, schools and schools systems do a great many things in the name of professional development that may be important and even essential but in and of themselves do not affect learning and relationships in schools. 

Among these activities are establishing policies, forming planning committees, creating new positions, hiring individuals to fill those positions, and adapting union contracts to promote professional learning.

Unfortunately, leaders are often so exhausted by these activities that little energy remains for the most demanding work of all—implementing the new ideas and practices that are the final 2%.

In addition, leaders may underestimate the demands of designing and conducting the cluster of sufficiently robust learning activities that, as Zull points out, literally change the brains of teachers and administrators for the purpose of continuously improving teaching and learning.

These activities engage teachers and school leaders in solving challenging problems within the unique context of their schools and deepening their understanding of new practices.

The final 2% also includes the day-to-day demanding work of principals and teacher leaders in shaping school culture, meeting by meeting and conversation by conversation. These activities address the interpersonal challenges of leadership—the unpredictable and often emotionally-laden experiences that have a significant effect on human performance and relationships.

Four particularly powerful learning processes—speaking and listening with the intention to learn, reading, writing, and having critical conversations—are fundamental in both promoting professional learning and in creating cultures of continuous improvement.

While speaking isn’t often thought of as a source of learning for the speaker, teachers and school leaders can learn from their own speaking when they pay close attention to both their own words (a kind of metacognition in which the speaker monitors his or her own thinking for confusion, unexamined assumptions, and logical inconsistencies) and the effects those words have on others. 

Committed, attentive listening by educators deepens their understanding of the subject at hand and the perspectives of others. It is also an essential first step in influencing the views of others, an orientation that Stephen Covey described as “seek first to understand.”

Careful reading promotes educators’ learning as they make comparisons with what they already understand and believe, raise new questions for exploration, and thoughtfully consider implementation challenges. Such reading enables leaders to be engaged with the minds of individuals they may never meet. 

Because writing is thought made visible, it promotes learning by enabling teachers and school leaders to refine and examine the logical consistency of their ideas and to determine the most concise and precise means for their expression. Journal writing and blogging are two common and especially powerful means for such reflection. And blogging also enables leaders to open their minds to the perspectives of readers who offer their views in response.

Critical conversations are the means by which respect and civility are practiced, trust is established, diverse perspectives are shared, and cultures shifted. Without them, it is impossible to initiate and sustain continuous improvement efforts.

The goal of these learning activities is to produce complex, intelligent behavior in all teachers and leaders, to enhance professional judgment, and to create school cultures that enable quality teaching for the benefit of all students.

In your experience, what activities produce lasting and meaningful change in the brains of educators and in their professional relationships?

Words matter

We need look no farther than current news headlines to see that leaders’ words can cause harm by inciting hatred and provoking fear.

But we can also can find examples of words that uplift and inspire.

My February 2016 post spoke to this issue, and my next post will address what administrators and teacher leaders can do to create and sustain civil school cultures.

Here’s what I said in 2016:

Words can injure, or uplift and inspire

A hospice patient in her 60s whose life story I was videotaping told a sad story from her childhood about an adult who had said cruel things about her, words that produced a depth of pain that was still sufficiently strong that she felt compelled to talk about it at the end of her life.

“Some people say that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never hurt us,” the patient told future generations of her family. “I want everyone who sees this to remember that that is not true. Words can hurt us.” 

Words matter not only because they affect our feelings but because they can alter how we view ourselves—whether we see ourselves as valued or unimportant, respected or disrespected, competent or incompetent, included or excluded.

While words can injure, they can also uplift and inspire. Most of us can recall things that significant adults in our lives said that encouraged and sustained us—the right words at the right time.

The words spoken by teachers, principals, and parents can have a particularly strong resonance across a lifetime, for good or for ill.

Which words encourage and sustain you? Which words disempower?

What is resilience, and how do we get it?

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. That line of Hemingway’s is famous for good reason. What sticks in most people’s minds is the phrase “strong at the broken places.” It’s also important to remember his qualifier: many. Not all. Not all of us are strong at the broken places. To be strong at the broken places is to be resilient. Being broken, by itself, does not make us better. Hardship can create a helpless person or a heroic one. – Eric Greitens, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life

Is resilience simply a synonym for perseverance or strength in the face of hardship? Or is it just another way of looking at concepts like grit or emotional intelligence?

Is resilience something we are born with, inherit from the early modeling of elders, or acquire as a result of challenging life events?

Does it mean “recovery” to a previous way of being after a disrupting event, or does it mean “growth” to a stronger, more resourceful way of life?

Can we cultivate resilience in ourselves in preparation for life challenges by intentionally stretching ourselves into a new and even transformative way of being?

What is resilience?

The Resilience Research Centre defines resilience as a return to normalcy:

“Most commonly, the term resilience has come to mean an individual’s ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development,” the organization says.

Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, see resilience as learning how to live effectively in a “new normal”:

“[A]ny number of sudden and serious disruptions might cause you to be ‘flipped’ over the threshold separating your present context and a new one…. Unfortunately, many of these thresholds may be crossed only in one direction: Once forces have compelled you into a new circumstance, it may be impossible for you to return to your prior environment. You’ll have entered a new normal.”

An example: Individuals who have lost a loved one to death often use the term “new normal” to describe their lives after the loss.

On the other hand, Eric Greitens, in Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, views resilience as an expression of growth:

“Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength—if we have the virtue of resilience….

An example: After a traumatic life event such as a divorce or loss of a job some people say in retrospect that “it was the best thing that ever happened to me” because it enabled possibilities that were not previously seen.

For my own purposes I have synthesized this working definition:

re·sil·ience\ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ noun: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after misfortune or disruptive change

That is, resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, sometimes in a new and stronger form, to not only survive, but at least in some circumstances to thrive.

In many ways resilience is an organizer for understanding and integrating the qualities that enable individuals and organizations to persevere and sometimes thrive in the face of change and even hardship.

Those ideas and practices include but are not limited to emotional and social intelligence, positive psychology, a growth mindset, and grit, ideas and practices that can be found in many of my posts.

Perhaps the most important question is: Can we develop resilience in preparation for life’s inevitable challenges?

The Mayo Clinic says we can:

“Resilience won’t make your problems go away — but resilience can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress. If you aren’t as resilient as you’d like to be, you can develop skills to become more resilient.’

In Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy reach a similar conclusion:

“New scientific research suggests that personal, psychic resilience is more widespread, improvable, and teachable than previously thought. That’s because our resilience is rooted not only in our beliefs and values, in our character, experiences, values, and genes, but critically in our habits of mind—habits we can cultivate and change.”

Perhaps resilience is no more complicated than this:

• In life we have hard times. Sometimes we recover from them, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes when we recover we are as strong or even stronger than before.

• Resilience may stimulate growth. Such growth requires reflection on our experiences and perhaps actively seeking and acquiring new ways of thinking and behaving.

• If we are fortunate, we learned along the way from role models—for instance, family members or mentors—who teach us through example and provide encouragement and hope.

As you think about your own resilience or the resilience of those close to you, do you see examples of growth to new levels of strength and competency? 

In your experience, can resilience be intentionally cultivated?

Teachers are our first responders

I can no longer listen to the names and abbreviated life histories read out on radio and TV after yet another massacre of children

A New York Times article offers this straightforward explanation for mass shootings such as the one that occurred last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida:

“After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society….

“‘In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,’ Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. ‘Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.’”

I don’t know if the United States has crossed a line from which there is no return because too many politicians have calculated that the sacrifice of children’s lives is an acceptable cost to bear so that Americans can possess 300 million guns, many of which are designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible.

When elected leaders lack the political courage to place reasonable limitations on gun ownership because of their fear of the gun lobby, teachers become this nation’s first responders both during and after these tragedies.

I try to imagine what it is like to be be a teacher who knows that no community is immune from gun violence as he or she seeks to reassure students that their schools are safe places.

They cannot help but see the faces of their students and of their own children in the  images they view on television.

How, I wonder, do teachers take care of their students and themselves and each other during times like these?

Do you believe in epiphanies?

epiphany/[ih-pif-uh-nee] 

noun: a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you

Do you believe in epiphanies?

I do.

I’ve had them while doing things as diverse as walking or driving, reading or staring out the window, having a conversation, or even while listening to keynote speakers at conferences.

Sometimes someone said just the right thing to me at the right time.

But epiphanies are not a change strategy that I would count on for me, for others, or for organizations.

Few epiphanies alter what we think and how we behave on a daily basis.

While guidance and inspiration can be drawn from epiphanies, they are seldom sufficient to produce meaningful and lasting changes in beliefs, understandings, and behavior.

Such changes almost always require sustained learning about complex subjects that includes deep and often courageous conversations within a strong team or other community about the implications of the new ideas and practices and how to solve the inevitable problems that arise in their implementation.

Anything less is simply insufficient.

Nothing I am saying here is new. In fact, it is decades or even centuries old.

But, inexplicably, it is far from common knowledge, yet alone common practice, except, perhaps, by resilient people.

Two questions:

What epiphanies, if any, have made a lasting difference in what you think and do?

In your experience, what structures (like teams or learning communities and dedicated time for them to meet) enable epiphanies to become standard practice?

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful 2018….

Taking personal responsibility

We teach children to take responsibility for their actions.

And we expect the same from adults.

A hallmark of resilient people is their willingness to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

But what exactly does that mean?

A person I regard as wise once told me that he found it very useful to hold himself 100% responsible for whatever happened in his life.

Not that he didn’t believe that others had a share of the responsibility, nor that “fate” hadn’t played a role, but rather that when he assumed 100% of the responsibility he did a much more thorough job of searching for the things that were within his circle of influence.

When he did that, he told me, others were far more likely to own their appropriate share of responsibility for the problem.

I have found that advice helpful over the years in countless situations.

While not all problems benefit from that way of thinking, most do, at least in my experience.

So, for today, assume 100% of the responsibility for a problem.

Within your circle of influence, what specific actions will you take to prevent, minimize, or solve a problem that would otherwise be easy to blame on others?

Can organizations survive dysfunctional leaders?

Imagine, if you can, an organization (or country) that has selected a leader who not only lacks the necessary technical knowledge and skills to do his job but also possesses one or more of the following qualities:

1. a consistent liar

li·ar: ˈlī(ə)r/noun/

a person who tells lies.

2. delusional

de·lu·sion·al: dəˈlo͞oZH(ə)nəl/adjective/

characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder.

3. a tyrant

ty·rant: ˈtīrənt/noun/

a cruel and oppressive ruler

4. a plutocrat.

plu·to·crat: ˈplo͞odəˌkrat/noun/

derogatory/a person whose power derives from their wealth.

5. a bully

bul·ly1: ˈbo͝olē/noun/

a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

verb/

use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Under what conditions can such an organization have hope for its future?

• If it has sturdy structures (for instance, a respected governing document, such as a Constitution; the rule of long-standing policies or law; an effective means of holding the leader to account, such as a strong and independent press; and a resilient culture with widely-shared principles and values that are continuously nurtured),

• If there are mechanisms for curtailing the power of or removing the leader from his position before irreparable harm has been done, and

• If individuals speak and act with courage and remain hopeful because the organization has survived other challenging circumstances.

What is your experience with the resilience of organizations whose leaders possess one or more of those qualities?


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