Archive for the 'influence' Category

What’s the biggest problem in professional development?

What would you say is the biggest problem in professional development?

• Leaders do not provide sufficient time and other resources for it because they do not understand its importance?

• Teachers lack motivation for professional learning for a variety of reasons?

• Administrators and teacher leaders don’t know enough about effective professional development to plan and implement meaningful programs?

Here’s how I answered that question in May 2014, an answer that seems as valid today as it did then:

The biggest problem in professional development is…

The biggest problem in professional development is that administrators and teachers significantly underestimate what’s 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.

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 with practice 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?

Finding our best selves in other people

We are usually happiest and make the biggest difference in the world when we most consistently act on behalf of our highest values, use our most important strengths, and treat others with respect—that is, when we are our best selves.

And the positive emotions associated with those experiences motivate us to be that best self again.

Our best selves can also be inspired by people who display qualities we wish to cultivate in ourselves.

Ask yourself: “What would [insert the name of a relevant person you respect] do in this situation?”

The answer to that question can guide us in becoming our best selves in times when those qualities are most needed.

Which people, near or far, inspire your best self?

Note to readers: I will be taking a sabbatical from blog writing during the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes to everyone for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under).

Giving others the gift of their genius

I’ve had conversations with people in which they sought to display how smart they were. Some tell you directly that they are geniuses. Others try to convince you by talking at great length about obscure subjects using big words.

I’ve also had conversational partners who helped me experience my own resourcefulness and wisdom.

In their presence I felt deeply heard and appreciated, and through my interaction with them I found greater purpose, clarity, and direction.

With such individuals we think thoughts we did not know we were capable of thinking and see opportunities that previously eluded us.

I encourage you to offer others the gift of their genius one conversation at a time.

It is perhaps the greatest gift we can give one another.

What conversations today will lend themselves to giving such a gift?

What is your preferred style of conversation?

Most of us have one or two favorite styles of conversation.

1. Some people prefer fast-paced, serial monologues during which what each person says may or may not be linked with what the previous speaker said.

2. Other people like to recount the facts of their days.

3. Still others tell stories.

4. Some people prefer to ask questions.

5. Less common, in my experience, are people who prefer conversations in which they and others disclose important but often invisible things about themselves.

6. Even less common is a conversational approach in which speakers offer a point of view in the spirit of dialogue, not to convince others but to stimulate their thinking and to better understand their points of view. In short, to be influenced as well as to influence.

Style 1 seems ego based. Style 3 offers speakers a way to share experiences through compelling (hopefully) narratives that move beyond recitations of facts, while style 4 is driven by curiosity.

I personally find styles 5 and 6 the most engaging because they enable participants to move beneath surface appearances and understandings.

While resilient people are often skillful in blending styles (for instance, telling a story, asking an open and honest question, and seeking a deeper understanding through dialogue), most of us rely on one or two approaches.

Which style or styles of conversation do you prefer?

The attributes of resilient people

Resilient people:

• often had early role models—family members, teachers, and mentors—who guided and inspired them during difficult times.

• have a willingness to learn from their experiences in ways that others who have had similar experiences do not.

• possess ways of thinking that empower themselves and others. For instance, they are likely to believe in the importance of sustained effort in achieving important goals over talent alone.

• display skills that help them manage themselves and interact with the world in productive ways.

Lolly Daskal offers a list of such skills:

1. Knowing yourself. “If you’re aware of yourself and how you function in the world, you’re in touch with how you feel, and you know your strengths and weaknesses,” Daskal points out. “You also know how your emotions and actions can affect the people around you.”

2. Building relationships that are satisfying and productive. “Human beings are naturally social creatures–we crave friendship and positive interactions just as we do food and water,” Daskal writes. “So it makes sense that the skills involved in building and maintaining relationships are never going out of style.”

3. Active Listening. “When someone is speaking it is vitally important to be fully present and in the moment with them,” Daskal notes. “Whether you agree with the speaker—whether you’re even remotely interested in what they’re saying—focus on their words, tone and body language and they’ll feel heard….”

4. Expressing empathy. “Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is a key element in building trust…,” Daskal explains.

5. Giving feedback. “Providing effective feedback in a useful format and context benefits both the giver and the receiver,” Daskal writes. “Leveraged properly, feedback can lead to real growth and development. And effective feedback will always require a person-to-person connection.”

6. Managing stress. “The skill of being able to manage stress—our own and that of others—will never be obsolete…, Daskal concludes. “Create a line of defenses against stressful situations that you cannot control—use your network, be sure to get enough exercise and sleep, and learn to relax.”

Resilient people combine some or all of the above into habits of mind and behavior that enable them to focus their energy on living out their most important values and purposes.

What qualities, in your experience, distinguish resilient people?

Why good policy is necessary but insufficient to improve schools

Policy turns out to be a pretty lousy tool for improving education because policy can make people do things, but it can’t make them do them well. And, when it comes to improving schools, doing things well is pretty much the whole ball game. —Frederick Hess

Policies that serve an organization’s most important goals are essential sources of institutional resilience.

Having said that, I believe that there are limits to how far good policy can take us in the direction of creating quality teaching for all students in every school.

One of the best things that can be said about good policy, I think, is that it drives out the kind of irresponsible and sometimes mean-spirited policies that harm students, dismay teachers, and destroys public education.

But while good policy can move the education system in the right direction, it cannot ensure the quality of day-to-day improvement efforts in schools.

For that, skillful administrative and teacher leadership is essential.

Frederick Hess writes: “Policy is a blunt tool, one that works best when simply making people do things is enough. In schooling, it’s most likely to work as intended when it comes to straightforward directives—like mandating testing or the length of a school year. Policy tends to stumble when it comes to more complex questions—when how things are done matters more than whether they’re done.”

Hess adds: “Our schools and systems were never designed for what we’re asking them to do today—to rigorously educate every child in a diverse nation. Making that possible will indeed require big changes to policies governing staffing, spending, and much else. That’s why I’m a school reformer. But policy is better at facilitating that kind of rethinking than at forcing it.

“School reform isn’t about having good ideas—it’s about how those ideas actually work for students and educators. This can be hard for those gripped by a burning desire to make the world a better place in a hurry….

“Ultimately, serious and sustainable school reform needs to be profoundly pro-doer. When talkers wax eloquent about students trapped in dysfunctional systems, they often forget that many teachers feel equally stymied.”

For example, policy may mandate:

• Evidence-based forms of professional development for all teachers and administrators (a good idea), but not the quality of professional learning that ensues from it and whether that learning leads to sustained improvements in teaching.

• Mentors or instructional coaches for new teachers (good ideas), but not the quality of the mentoring or coaching experience for all new teachers.

• That instructional teams or professional learning communities exist in schools (good ideas), but not the quality of their deliberations nor the results of that work on teaching and learning.

Ultimately, the effective implementation of such policies requires motivated, skillful leadership by administrators and teacher leaders. Such leadership can be set in motion by good policy, but it can be sustained only by enabling forces within school systems.

At the core of leaders’ work is the creation of school cultures of continuous improvement and teamwork, which, even under the best of circumstances, is a demanding responsibility.

While good policies are necessary, they are insufficient.

Policymakers may legislate, but ultimately it is the skillful, tedious, and often overwhelming day-to-day work of administrators and teachers that will determine the quality of teaching and learning for all students.

What is your experience with the effectiveness of local, state, and federal policies in improving teaching and learning for all students?

Multi-generational resilience

Whatever struggle we have gone through remains, at heart, a human struggle. When we see our struggles in the stories of those who have gone before us, we feel less alone. We begin to see that there are sources of wisdom all around us. —Eric Greitens

Over the years I have supported dozens of hospice patients who near the end of their lives told and preserved their life stories for future generations.

These individuals often didn’t see their lives as having any special significance, but agreed to tell their stories at the urging of family members.

Although they never used the the term resilience, they shared stories of overcoming and the sometimes difficult lessons they had learned, stories that inspire and guide as they honor the storytellers and bear witness to their struggles.

“Knowing our history can make us more resilient, especially when we understand our connection to the people who went before us,” Eric Greitens writes in Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.

“[S]torytelling is not just a way to remember what happened; it’s a way to understand what happened. When you tell a story, you give an event meaning. In storytelling we bring past, present, and future together in a way that helps us to make sense of events and make sense of our lives….,” Greiten adds. “We honor the dead by living their values. Through our efforts, we ensure that the good things they stood for continue to stand even when they are gone. Our actions become a living memorial to their memory.”

To that end, I encourage you at every opportunity to ask elders to tell stories about personal or family resilience.

Listen deeply with empathy, and, when appropriate, encourage reflection on the lessons that might be drawn from the stories.

What life lessons did you learn from your ancestors or elders?


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