Archive for the 'Motivation/creating energy' Category

Good advice


In Louise Penny’s mystery, Bury Your Dead, a senior police inspector tells a junior colleague that he will benefit in his career if he learns to say: “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I need help. I don’t know.”

With the U.S. Thanksgiving Day on the near horizon, I would add: “I am grateful.”

Many problems in our personal and professional lives would disappear or be significantly diminished if we learned to regularly say those things, one at a time or in various combinations.

What do you think—good advice?

Schools are intensely interpersonal


“[T]he transmission of knowledge is not done in a vacuum. The quality and influence of relationships has a tremendous influence on how and what is shared, and with whom.”

Tarsi Dunlop

Schools are intensely and unrelentingly interpersonal. That’s why the continuous improvement of teaching and learning requires strong relationships founded on trust.

And that’s also why “reforms” predictably fail when they are based primarily on technical remedies such as high-stakes testing and poorly-designed teacher evaluation systems.

A recent study supports those conclusions:

“What we have found over and over again is that, regardless of context, organizational success rarely stems from the latest technology or a few exemplary individuals.

“Rather, it is derived from: systematic practices aimed at enhancing trust among employees; information sharing and openness about both problems and opportunities for improvement; and a collective sense of purpose….”

High-quality teaching and learning for all students requires that administrators and teacher leaders develop school cultures that have at their core high levels of integrity, mutual respect, and trust, attributes that are challenging to cultivate and even more challenging to sustain.

Leaders who ignore this challenge or minimize its demands will fail in their most important responsibility—the creation of school communities in which everyone thrives, no matter their age or role.

Being nudged out of our comfort zones


My first principal told me that he thought his job was to “fine tune” the teachers on his staff. At the time I wasn’t particularly eager to be “tuned,” but I have since come to think about it differently.

Depending on where we are at a given point in time, all of us, I think, can benefit from being nudged out of our comfort zones in one direction or another:

Nudged toward sociability or toward solitude and quiet.

Nudged toward routine or toward the non-routine.

Nudged toward new learning or toward the consolidation of what we’ve already learned.

Nudged toward trying new things or toward increased appreciation for what we already have.

The implications are endless.

We may be nudged by the example of others. We may be nudged by an invitation or a demand.

Whatever the source, our lives will be enriched when we pay close attention to and even welcome the occasional nudges that inevitably come our way. And when our lives are enriched, we enrich the lives of others.

Being our best selves


Sometimes I compare myself unfavorably to others.  “Why can’t I be more like so-and-so?” I wonder.

And I’m sure that if I tried really hard I could be a bit more like that person.

But more often than not, I realize that it would be better for me to invest my time and energy in developing my unique talents rather than becoming a shadow of someone else.

All of us contribute more to the world, I believe, when we are our first rate selves rather than a second rate someone else.

Likewise, people of all ages thrive when they are encouraged to be their best selves.

People report that they are most satisfied with their work and lives when they use their talents for worthy purposes.

Just as we each have unique talents, we each have unique opportunities.

Because there is no one exactly like us in the particular situations in which we find ourselves, we each have unique opportunities that arise throughout our lives to make a difference that no one else can make.

When do you thrive?

What are the qualities of relationships that encourage you to  be your best self?

What other conditions promote those qualities?

School culture matters


School culture is an incredibly powerful but often invisible force that shapes a school community’s work. It is more powerful than new ideas and innovative practices.

Administrators and teacher leaders who ignore school culture or underestimate its influence will almost certainly fail in improving teaching and learning for all students.

While school culture may be largely invisible, some of its qualities can be discerned by observers who are attuned to them.

In an earlier post I suggest 9 symptoms of a problematic school culture.

Among the most common of those symptoms are that:

• the most honest conversations happen in parking lots rather than meeting rooms,

• in just a few years new teachers begin to sound and act like veterans who are resigned to the status quo and deeply entrenched in their ways, and

• educators feel more professionally connected to followers on social media they have never personally met than to grade-level, department, or PLC colleagues with whom they share students and common purposes.

In another post that focused on desirable cultural shifts I wrote:

“[N]ew cultures [cannot] be created by leaders acting alone. Indeed, a primary characteristic of high-performing cultures is that leadership is distributed throughout the school community. That means that new, more effective cultures are co-created by leaders and community members, especially teachers.

In that post I identified several shifts that occur when school cultures move in a positive direction:

confusion and incoherence regarding important goals, ideas, and practices to clarity and coherence;

leadership centered on a single individual to leadership developed and distributed throughout the school community;

resignation and powerlessness to hopefulness and collective sense of efficacy;

low levels of trust to high levels of trust;

• a focus on deficits, negativity, and complaint to strengths, positivity, and appreciation;

professional isolation and dependence on outside authority to results-oriented experimentation founded in teamwork and community;

accountability to external authorities to accountability to one another for achieving important goals; and

episodic, superficial professional development to team-based learning embedded in the planning, assessment, and continuous improvement of teaching and learning for the benefit of all students.

I encourage you to read and study these essays and to have candid conversations with colleagues about the culture of your school or school system and to determine what can be done with urgency to strengthen it.

You can read more about school culture here.

Emotions are contagious

Dennis Sparks

Emotions are contagious. Leaders’ emotions are particularly contagious.

That’s why I read with great interest a sign posted in a long-term care facility:

“Emotional Contagion is the transferring of emotions from one person to another. Residents with Alzheimer’s Dementia have a heightened sensitivity to emotional contagion. They tend to mimic the emotions of those around them. This is a way for them to connect with others even if they’re not able to understand their current situation. If we as caregivers are anxious or upset, residents will pick up and copy the same emotions even if we think they are not aware. Being calm and happy while providing care may go a long way in keeping our residents calm and happy as well.”

Like Alzheimer’s patients, individuals in high stress environments have a “heightened sensitivity to emotional contagion.”

And, unfortunately, many schools, for a variety of reasons, are pressure cookers of stress.

That means that it is essential that administrators and teacher leaders pay special attention to whether they are anxious or upset and do all that they can to bring their best selves to school each day so that they spread positive emotions rather than negative ones.

I offer 8 suggestions here for leaders on ways they can bring positive energy to their school communities.

What have you found helpful in bringing your best self to school each day, whatever your role may be?

Three essentials for creating energy through planning

Dennis Sparks

To a large extent, school leadership is about creating and focusing the energy of the school community on a small number of important priorities.

Carefully-designed and well-executed plans are obviously a key factor in providing that focus and maintaining enthusiasm for the work across many months and perhaps years.

But plans that cannot be altered when alterations are warranted discourage those affected by the plans and dissipate energy.

In my experience there are three essentials for creating energy through planning:

1. Making a plan: The process of planning creates energy. Even simple “back of the envelope” planning can create a sense of direction and motivation.

2. Changing the plan: Almost always the implementation of a plan will produce learning that appropriately leads to adjustments in the plan.

In addition, conditions often change from those that were present when the plan was made, particularly when it is a multi-year plan.

A useful mantra is, “Make plans, but hold those plans loosely.” Persevering with a plan that is clearly not working depletes energy.

But it is also true that frequently and capriciously changing plans depletes energy. Knowing when to stay the course with a plan and when to change it is an essential aspect of the artistry of skillful leadership.

3. Consistently applying “next action thinking: Plans that don’t produce and maintain momentum are bound to fail.

An essential ingredient in the successful implementation of a plan (and for that matter of professional learning) is the ability and discipline to determine the specific next action when a current activity comes to an end. Once momentum is lost, it may never be regained.

What have you learned about successful planning and the implementation of those plans?

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