Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Same Question, Different Reaction

I was recently asked, "What would the people you work with say about you in your role as principal?"

The first thing that popped into my head, "They would say that I like to ask questions!"  Indeed, I do like to ask questions.  I like to hear about the rationale behind ideas.  I like to hear about the barriers that may be in the way.  I ask question to learn more about what is going on.

The challenge with some questions is that they mean different things to different people.  The easiest example is the question, "Why?"  For some people, this little three-letter word automatically flips the defensiveness switch.  If you are asking why, you must not trust me and my decisions and you think my words are not OK.

Within a solid relationship, this one usually does not cause a defensive reaction.  But it can.  For example, two strong, thoughtful, and energetic teachers I worked with for several years approached me with a question about team teaching.  They were very excited!  These two had been on the campus leadership team and had led several successful initiatives.  They were seen as true campus leaders and I felt like they knew I respected their work and their thoughts immensely.  They were very comfortable engaging in professional discourse and they had enjoyably indulged my why a thousand times!

They asked if their whole team could try a new arrangement for teaching and learning.  Just the thought of taking a risk and trying something different was awesome!  I loved the fact that they wanted to explore ways to improve what was happening for their students!  I listened to them explain the logistics for few minutes, then asked them about their rationale, "Why will this arrangement be better for your students?"

I had asked these two teachers the "Why" question many times in the past and they typically loved answering it because they confidently knew their business!  They didn't mind answering why!  These teachers, the ones that I felt like I had a great relationship with, had previously shown no problem with my why.

This time however, their faces changed a little, and they approached their response with a bit of hesitancy. As usual, they had some really good answers to the question, but they did not have their typical level of confidence, so their reaction to the question wasn't the same as usual.  No bright smiles this time. Rather than excitedly telling me about their plans, they hemmed and hawed a little bit.  They didn't like my why.  I am sure the fact that I had had not immediately approved caused a great deal of the difference in their reaction.

Knowing these two, they would have made it successful regardless of my question.  They usually did!  However this time, I left them with two outstanding questions to think about.

  1. How will you ensure that you build relationships with every single child just as well as you usually do in a self-contained classroom?
  2. How will you ensure that your lesson planning remains fully collaborative like it is now?

It didn't take too long for this group to approach me again with the same request, "Can we team teach?"

This time, I didn't even need to ask, "Why?"  I could tell that they had really thought out the the answers to that question.  When they presented their rationale, their reactions were quite the opposite of the first request.  They were excited and confident.  They had already thought through the why.  They had really done the thinking and talking to make sure that their plan would have the very best chance to work well!  Bright smiles and brilliant ideas abound!

My why didn't bother them this time!

In hindsight, knowing the talent and passion for doing great things of these two teachers and the entire team, I should have responded to their question with an immediate and emphatic, "Yes!"  Then I should have engaged in some other good questions to hear more about it.  Also looking back, I can say that they made their team better by working hard to build relationships and by using their collaborative strengths to plan for incredible instruction!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Did you paint the outhouse?

I have read a bunch of Tweets recently about the power of 1% improvements.  I have also read several articles and blogs about using consistent, incremental improvements to make things extraordinarily better over time.

Likewise, there comes a place in the timelines of a  process to simply overhaul the entire thing.  If something is ineffective and needs more than a tweak, 1% adjustments won't get it done!

As you evaluate your systems and processes, don't simply tweak when the system needs an overhaul.  And don't reinvent the whole thing if a little bit of polish will make a noticeable improvement.

Most importantly, never ever describe a few minor changes as a completely "New and Improved" process.  Likewise, never ever tell folks that there are only a few minor differences when the entire process is newly unfamiliar.  Both cause eyes to roll.

Like my favorite ag teacher once asked me when I tried to describe an exciting change, "Did you slap a new coat of paint on the outhouse or did you install indoor plumbing?"

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

No Conflict? No Innovation. Know Conflict? Know Innovation!

Karen Valencic said, "Without conflict, there is no innovation."  Indeed, we tend to make our greatest innovations when we are left with no choice but to do something different.  If the "different thing" works, it is an innovative success!  If the "different thing" does not work, do we still call it innovative???  I think we should.

What about those who operate on the edge and do new and different things on a regular basis?  What about the trendsetters?  Where is their conflict?

I believe it comes from their passion and their relentless pursuit to improve.  Even when a lesson goes well, these are the folks who push to do better.  They may find a new app that will increase student engagement and focus student dialogue on the learning target.  They may create a new project for students based on a neighborhood problem.  They may ask the questions that nobody else asks.   They are the ones who constantly challenge the TTWWADI mentality.  They might even cause a few folks to shake their heads in disbelief.

These teachers first moved their desks out of rows and into small groups so that kids could collaborate.  It is almost a challenge to find desks in rows in 2015.  These are the same ones who first tried teaching kids to read in small groups with appropriately leveled texts.  Twenty years ago, these teachers were trendsetters.  Today, guided reading is the norm.  These trendsetters wrote grant proposals to buy iPads for their classrooms way back in 2010 so their students could access relevant and timely information globally, rather than from outdated encyclopedias.  These days, educators are fully aware that technology needs to be in the hands of students!

Teachers who make things happen find their own conflict.  Unlike folks who cringe at the thought of conflict and change, these passionate educators smile at the challenge of doing things differently!  They relish the thought of doing something better!  They innovate!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Where are you going?

Do you know where you are going?  Do you know how to get there?  Have you determined that your journey is the right thing to do and you do not intend to let anything stop you?  Are you certain that you are actually on the right path and that your critics are simply offering another perspective and not necessarily the best perspective?

Most importantly, are you still willing to hear the words of your critics...just in case there is something to learn from them?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Simply complicated

It may be as simple as choosing YES or NO.  It may be as simple as STAY or GO.  Maybe you simply need to choose between THIS or THAT.  Whatever decision you need to make, if the different parts of your brain and heart argue for both sides, that decision becomes complicated.

When your brain and heart are very much in agreement, the simple answer remains simple.  Even if the actual decision involves many factors and the ramifications impact lots of folks, a complicated decision seems simple.  What seems clearly right, is simply right, regardless of the complications.

Monday, June 1, 2015

I know what I know, but I still don't know!

Have you ever walked into a new place for a new job, met lots of nice people who asked you tons of great questions, and you answered almost every question with, "I don't know," even though you probably knew the answer at one time in your life and you will soon know the answer again?

Before walking in,  you knew you were as ready for the job as you could possibly be and you felt confident that you would find success in your new place.  You knew that your prior experiences prepared you well for this new challenge and your passion for the work compelled you to excel...yet once you arrived, there was so much you didn't know.

Once you walked in and began to talk with people, you realized that they are also passionate about this profession and they know how take care of business in an excellent manner.  They may be looking to you for answers but really, they already own the knowledge and are willing to help you learn.

Doing something for the first time, again, forces you to remember how much you need to rely on the experts all around you.  Thank you, experts!