Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Isn't all feedback positive?

"I can't wait to hear some positive feedback!"

What do you mean by positive?  Do you want to hear only the good things?  What if there are some points of constructive criticism that will improve your efforts?  Do you want to hear those too?

For years, I have heard from lots of folks that sandwich-style is a great way to provide feedback.  Say something good, then share the area for growth, then end with something good.  Does sandwich-style really work?  Supposedly, it shows there is more positive than negative and it puts the "bad" feedback in the middle.

For some people, it doesn't really matter how many good things are shared, they will only hear the growth area.

Is there a better ideology for feedback?  I think so.  Create a culture where relationships and trust are strong enough between educators so that any feedback is considered positive!  Develop and grow a true culture of camaraderie and growth.  Make it so that everything you do for kids is open for feedback and improvement.  A friend recently told me that the best way to hear the positive side of things from everyone is simple: No matter the relationship, assume positive intent.  In other words, hear feedback as if it was spoken from the heart, regardless of who gives it.  Regardless of the tone of voice.

Tell me that my morning starter rocked!  Tell me that the transition to the next activity was terrible!  Tell me that I need to speed up the progression of a lesson!  Tell my anything that makes me better at what I do!  If I choose to hear your feedback as positive, I win.  If your comment makes me ask myself a good question, I win?  If your words help me improve my practice, I win!

After hearing you, I have a decision to make.  Will I choose to act on your feedback or not.  I can't unhear it but I can choose to do nothing with it!  If we have a relationship with a huge emotional bank account balance, it won't bother you if I don't heed your advice.  If we simply have a professional relationship, it shouldn't bother you if I choose not to act on your words.  Regardless of our relationship, if I make improvements based on your feedback, you have helped me!

Either way, I will appreciate your words.  I will use them to think about, to question, or to investigate my own practice.  The important thing is that we trust each other, we respect each other as talented educators, and we both want to be better and better every day!

Friday, January 22, 2016

At my old school... (2.0)

"At my old school..."  People at the new school hate these words!  Especially if they hear them all the time.  They don't want to hear it!  They don't want to hear about how much better everything was at your previous school!

"At my old school...," sounds like such a slap in the face.  As if the way that things work at the new place aren't good enough!  Every time folks from the new school hear those words, they get defensive because the way things are at this place have worked fine enough for several years now.  Quit judging your new home based on your old home.

And while we are talking about it, quit asking why we do things the way we do things!  You wouldn't ask unless you thought this way was terrible!  I know you are judging us!  Don't come here telling us everything is bad and everything you did at your old school is better!


That new teacher sure does come with a different set of experiences!  I bet we can learn a lot from her.  She seems to know what she is talking about and has been at several different schools and districts.  My career has only been here.  A new perspective may be just what we need to make improvements!  We have been doing so many things the same way for so long, it is good to have someone on board with ideas for making things more effective and efficient!

I like that she asks us why we do certain things in certain ways.  It tells me she is interested in understanding the rationale behind our way of doing things.  At first, it seemed like she was questioning us a lot.  But now I see that just makes sense for a new person!  Now I see that she really does accomplish most things our way.  

What that really means is that she only makes suggestions for improvements when she has experienced a better way.  Sounds like a teacher to me!  We always steal ideas from each other!  Why would it be different when she offers us something to steal!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

At my old school...

Since 1994, my career has taken me through several incredible schools!  Every school had some great teachers, passionate about their students and passionate about excellent education.  Every school also had some that were not so great.  I have also been a part of a few campuses that didn't fit me too well. Most of those loved status quo rather than continuous improvement.  It is probably safe to say that I wasn't a fit in their eyes either!

Regardless, every campus had strengths that deserved to be shared.  One campus truly took care of the whole child.  Students were little humans above all!  Another campus utilized data to drive instruction better than NASA.  One campus blew me away with their constant innovations and collaboration.  

Within classrooms, strengths were everywhere.  One teacher made math journals come to life.   Another teacher constantly pushed the edge of higher-level thinking with her students.  Yet another caught the heart of every single student.  One made excellent learning look so gloriously simple yet it was always engaging and challenging!  Another truly gave ownership of the classroom to her students.  Strengths could be found on every campus!

We all know that educators are the best of borrowers.  Some say we are the best of thieves.  We love taking great ideas from other teachers, giving them a little remix, and making them our own!  And when we do borrow or steal, we gladly give credit to the giver.  It isn't about credit, it is about doing something that improves learning.

So what happens when someone new comes along?  A new teacher joins a campus after success in another school, another district, another state, or even another country?  New teachers bring their own strengths and experiences.  They bring their own biases and opinions.  They also bring their own assumptions and their own gaps in knowledge.

When the new teacher models something that the campus considers to be new and wonderful, teachers copy it and use it.  We borrow that bit of goodness and make it our own!  We may ask questions about it and seek to learn more.  We may share our successes with others and give credit to the newbie.  After all, better is better, and better is worth sharing!

The new teacher probably has questions too.  The thing is, questions from the newbie are often met defensively.  Folks that have been around for awhile often see these questions as derogatory.  The newbie asks, "Why do we do it that way?  In my old school..."

A process may work just fine in the new place, but the previous place used a process that was extremely effective.  If the new teacher simply puts the better process into action, others copy it and love it.  If the new teacher questions the new school's process, it is often seen as negative.  Why?

Each one of us is a product of our experiences.  I am the educator that I am because of my experiences.  My learning experiences, my teaching experiences, and my life experiences made me the person I am.  Same for you.  Same for your school.

If it is your goal to wake up today and be better than you were yesterday, don't be defensive when new folks ask why something is done a certain way.  Instead, ask yourself the exact same question, "Great question!  Why exactly do we do it that way around here?  Do you know a better way that we should consider?"

When someone says, "At my old school...," don't roll those eyes.  Instead, ask questions and see if there is something in that story worth borrowing.  If your new person has ideas worth stealing, be grateful for all that is offered, whether they offer it by showing you, or they simply ask you why something is done a certain way.

When someone asks, "Why do we...," it probably means there is a suspicion that a better way exists.  If someone says, "Maybe we should...," it means the suspicion of a better way is strong. When someone questions the processes, see it as a great opportunity to question them too!  When someone says, "At my old school...," listen with open ears and an open heart.  You might just find your own improvement!

Tomorrow, I will add a post with the same message.  I wrote two and could not decide which one to post!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I'm sorry you feel that way

A long time ago, I was taught that an apology can go a long way towards repairing a broken situation.  Just apologize so you can show that you care and that you are sorry for what happened.

I've kept this in mind for years and years.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.  Apologies during a disagreement work best when they are heartfelt and they are include admission of a mistake by the apologist.  For example, "I'm sorry I didn't handle that situation well.  I did a terrible job of hearing your needs.
 I should not have ignored you.  I should have listened to your needs better and found a way to help you."

Apologies during disagreements are meaningless when they don't acknowledge your own actions.  The most common is, "I'm sorry you feel that way."


If we are really close, I can appreciate the sentiment.  If we are friends or family, and you want me to know that you feel badly for the way I feel because you care about me, those words make sense.  If we are really close, telling me you are sorry is really just commiseration or sympathy.

If we do not have some type of close relationship, please don't apologize for the way I feel.  "I'm sorry you feel that way," is not an apology.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Skill or will?

Wanna get something done?  Is it a big something?  Is it new, different, or exciting?

Are you trying to improve something or create something new?

Do you see a need?  How will you fill that need?

Sometimes I know exactly what I want to happen in order to make something better.  Sometimes I don't have a clue what needs to be done, I just know that things can be better!  Most of the time, I elicit the brains of the great people around me to get things done well!

Sometimes I have the skill and sometimes I have the will.  Sometimes...some of both.

When you prefer to do things on your own, you better have all the skill.  If you want something done really well, all you need is the will to get it done...and good people around you with the skills.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

First nods

Who are your campus leaders?  I'm not asking about the principal or the AP.  Not the leadership team.  Not the chair of the hospitality committee.  Who are the teachers that others look at for those first opinions on change?  Who are the ones that guide the opinions?  Who are the teachers that are looked at for the first nods of approval or disapproval?

These folks may be the first to speak during every group discussion or they may not speak at all.  They may be the most tenured teachers on campus or perhaps they are new and they have quickly gained huge amounts of respect due to their enthusiasm and success.  They may have earned it through student success and a passion for teaching or perhaps they earned it by a no-nonsense attitude and a willingness to hold on to the status quo.  These unofficial, yet valuable leaders make a difference.

Their opinions drive attitudes.  They drive motivation.  They drive organizational growth.

Who drives on your campus?  Is it the innovators?  The movers and the shakers?  Or is it the TTWWADIs?  Is it the passion-laden teachers who will literally do anything for their students and their school?  Or is it the clock-watchers?  The ones who just wait for that bell to ring?

Most importantly, regardless of who the leaders are, what can we do to grow more leaders that are full of passion for excellent education and absolutely love learning?