Archive for the 'Motivation/creating energy' Category

Taking a fresh look at the fundamentals…

I started this blog in 2010. 

Since then I have published 452 posts that have produced hundreds of thousands of views and more than 1,500 comments that have enriched and deepened our collective understanding of those topics.

Readers are system and school administrators, teacher leaders, and “retired” educators who often continue to contribute to schools and their communities in a variety of ways. They share a desire for intellectual engagement, contrarian ideas, and a deep concern for the well being of children and public education now and in the future.

Perhaps most of all, they are resilient, at least those I know personally—that is, many have been challenged by and learned important lessons during difficult times and persisted in their work in the face of often daunting obstacles. One way they demonstrate that persistence is reading this and other blogs, among many other activities that stretch their thinking and practice.

Over my career as a teacher leader, school and school system leader, and executive director of NSDC (now Learning Forward) I have worked with thousands of individuals and teams in a variety of settings—among them K-12 schools and system offices, universities, teacher unions, and non-profits.

No matter the setting or decade (or even century), several common leadership themes emerge in that work: 

• establishing trust and productive teamwork in cultures of continuous improvement,

• being persons of integrity, 

• solving complex problems that have no straightforward solutions, 

• influencing colleagues who may not wish to be influenced, and

• engaging others in ways that produce meaningful, sustained professional learning and commitment to long-term purposes and goals.

What are the implications of these experiences and my 452 posts as I think about the future of this blog?

In the course of my work with groups a number of “fundamentals” inevitably arise: planning and conducting effective meetings, having candid conversations about important topics, influencing beliefs, creating respectful and productive relationships, deepening understanding of new ideas and practices, and developing new habits of mind and practice.

As I review blog posts from previous years I am aware that particular essays have addressed those topics in ways that resonated with readers who continue to return to them many years after their publication. 

A primary focus this school year will be bringing back some of those posts to new readers and others who may benefit from considering these ideas again from a fresh perspective. In addition, new posts will be added to the mix as important issues arise in the months ahead.

I look forward to taking this journey into the known and unknown with you as we reprise the fundamentals and explore emerging ideas and practices. 

What does it mean to be a strong man?

I have temporarily suspended my sabbatical because I recently heard a story that got me thinking about what it means to be a strong man.

The story goes that a very rich and very, very powerful person (some would say the most powerful person in the world) felt disrespected and made to look weak and it was necessary for the very rich and very, very powerful person to respond forcefully to demonstrate his strength and dominance over the person regarded as disrespectful and over everyone else. 

That got me thinking about what it means to be a “strong” man. (I say “man“ because both individuals in the story are men and because Father’s Day is upon us.)

A strong man:

• Does not need to tell you on a daily basis how smart, intuitive, and very, very powerful he is. Because a strong man is  confident in his strength he does not need to constantly remind others of it.

• Protects those who are vulnerable and in need of assistance.

• Acknowledges mistakes, expresses regret, and apologizes when necessary. 

• Demonstrates his power by consistently advocating for all of humankind, now and in the future, not just for his own family and tribe. 

What would you add or subtract from my definition of a strong man? In what ways would that definition be the same or different if it were describing a strong woman?

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?

Are you a “tuner” or a “spinner?”

At first glance, “spinner” and “tuner” seem like another way of saying extrovert and introvert.

But the explanation of these terms offered by David Brooks, drawing on the work of Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein, offers fresh insights into these temperaments.

Brooks explains the distinction this way:l

“The spinner is the life of the party. The spinner is funny, socially adventurous and good at storytelling, even if he sometimes uses his wit to maintain distance from people.

“Spinners are great at hosting big parties.

“They’re hungry for social experiences and filled with daring and creativity. Instagram and Twitter are built for these people. If you’re friends with a spinner you’ll have a bunch of fun things to do even if you don’t remember them a week later.

“The tuner makes you feel known. The tuner is good at empathy and hungers for deep connection. The tuner may be bad at small talk, but in the middle of a deep conversation the tuner will ask those extra four or five questions, the way good listeners do.

“If you’re at a down time in your life, the spinners may suddenly make themselves scarce, but the tuners will show up. The tuners may retreat at big parties, but they’re great one-on-one over coffee. If you’re with a person and he’s deepened your friendship by revealing a vulnerable part of himself, you’re with a tuner….

“Now if you are looking for friends, the spinners are great. But my questions for the class are: If you’re looking for a life partner, should you go for your same type or your opposite? Should you marry someone who meets your strengths or fills your needs?

“My guess is that if you can’t find someone with both traits, marry a tuner, even if that gives your relationship a little extra drama.”

In Western culture extroverts are celebrated for their outgoing natures and large social networks.

Introverts, on the other hand, are often described as shy, “in a shell,” and even anti-social, qualities for which they are sometimes judged and even shamed.

As an introvert I often find myself explaining and even defending to extroverts (and sometimes even to introverts) the important qualities introverts bring to work settings, families, and friendships.

The notion of “spinners” and “tuners” adds another dimension to that explanation.

What is your experience with these two temperaments and how they are viewed by society and within your work and personal lives?

What are our “basic” needs?

As I have spent time in recent years listening to the life stories of individuals who were in hospice care I realized that their stories of resilience often had roots in the unmet needs of childhood.

Many of those needs clearly fit into Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” which began with the physiological requirements of life and continued with safety, love and belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization needs. (He later added cognitive, aesthetic, and transcendence needs to the list.)

But some of their stories revealed unmet “needs” that, while implied in Maslow’s hierarchy, are worthy of special emphasis:

• Being seen and known for who we really are,

• Feeling accepted and appreciated for those qualities, and

• Being treated with dignity and respect.

Because those needs emerge during our earliest years, they have important implications for schools.

Therefore, it is essential that principals and teachers:

• Create classrooms that ensure that all students are known, appreciated, and respected; and

• Establish school cultures that satisfy teachers’ needs in those areas because without such a culture young people are far less likely to have those needs met in their classrooms.

In your experience, what do people “need” to lead physically and emotionally healthy lives, and what roles do schools play in satisfying those needs?

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?


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