Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Ascent to Growth

I genuinely believe that most people want to get better in their professional role and they find comfort in growth. Who doesn’t want to make a difference while moving up the career ladder?  However, I say most because complacency, lack of motivation, or not being passionate about the work or the job can inhibit a drive to seek ways to improve.  Since the minority falls in this category, let’s focus on the majority.  For many of us, we are continually seeking out ways to grow and improve professional practice.  Even though the desire is there, and efforts are made, challenges arise.  These come in two primary forms: excuses and people. Let me elaborate on both.

People are our greatest asset, and when we invest in them, success likely follows.  There is no “I” in team, and to achieve goals as a system, the support of many is crucial.  Sometimes though people can play a role that works counter to what we set out to accomplish either at the individual or organizational level.  As much as they are essential in any culture, there are times when they can also impede growth. For reasons that vary, some people are not happy where they are or with the success of others.  What results are concerted efforts to undermine and derail the pursuit of improvement.  

It is essential to recognize both subtle and not so subtle behaviors exhibited by others as you strive to grow. These might be masked by platitudes that get you to rethink putting in the needed time and effort to improve your craft or to move a culture forward. Be confident in who you are and where you want to go. Don’t fall victim to the insecurities, fears, and unhappiness that other people might be grappling with as you work to get better. Even as you strive to learn and improve, a true leader also helps others do the same.  It is okay to focus on yourself when the situation calls, but in the end, helping the people we work with grow is just as important as what we do for ourselves. The process of achieving goals is much more fulfilling when it is a collaborative effort. 

In the words of Jim Rohn, “Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.” Now this quote might seem a bit harsh at first read, but if you view it with an open mind, you will see that it is quite accurate. In many cases, we believe we can’t accomplish a task or implement an idea because of the perception that a challenge is too difficult to overcome, or the idea might have failed in the past.  In either case, our mind starts to develop a myriad of excuses as to why something won’t or can’t work.  Common impediments include not enough time, lack of money, or too many mandates and directives. Guess what…these are never going away. Growth will never occur if the will to tackle these, and many other impediments aren’t there. If it’s important to you, then you will find a way. If not, then you will make an excuse. The key here is to focus on solutions, even in the face of some difficult challenges.  

Change is hard at both the individual and organizational level. The ascent to growth will not always be easy.  Maybe it’s not people or excuses that get in your way. Perhaps it is your own mind, which can be the fiercest adversary you face on the path to getting better. Confidence and belief are two of the most powerful forces that help to keep us focused on achieving goals.  Just remember this.  You are only limited by the barriers you develop for yourself. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Path to Efficacy

Organizations, schools, and districts that are successful all lead with efficacy in mind.  The same can be said for teachers and administrators who can effectively implement ideas and strategies in ways that result in improved learner outcomes. To put it simply, efficacy can best be defined as the degree to which set goals are achieved.  The path to achieving it begins with a belief in oneself.  Albert Bandura is one of the most famous researchers in the area of self-efficacy, which can best be described as an individual's belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.  To put it bluntly, if people don't believe in themselves, then achieving goals will be near impossible.  Thriving cultures focus on empowerment, support, feedback, and autonomy to take risks to build self-efficacy.

The next logical step is to move from an individual belief to one that is embraced by the majority.  This is referred to as collective efficacy, which Bandura defined as "a group's shared belief in its conjoint capability to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment" (Bandura, 1997). It cannot be overstated how much this element contributes to student achievement. Below is a summary from an article by Jenni Donohoo, John Hattie, and Rachel Eells. 
Rachel Eells's (2011) meta-analysis of studies related to collective efficacy and achievement in education demonstrated that the beliefs teachers hold about the ability of the school as a whole are "strongly and positively associated with student achievement across subject areas and in multiple locations" (p. 110). Based on Eells's research, John Hattie positioned collective efficacy at the top of the list of factors that influence student achievement (Hattie, 2016). According to his Visible Learning research, based on a synthesis of more than 1,500 meta-analyses, collective teacher efficacy is three times more powerful and predictive of student achievement than socioeconomic status. It is more than double the effect of prior achievement and more than triple the effect of home environment and parental involvement. It is also greater than three times more predictive of student achievement than student motivation and concentration, persistence, and engagement.
Understanding the critical role self and collective efficacy play in determining the successful attainment of goals lays out a path for achieving efficacy as a whole, something that I expand greatly on in my book Digital Leadership.  Achievement is important, but there are many other facets of school culture that can be improved.  The process can be best articulated through the strategic planning cycle pictured below.

Begin with the end in mind (i.e., goals) while aligning to a shared vision and collective mission. It is then essential to determine specific outcomes, strategies, and measures & targets.  Professional learning, funding, and an array of other supports are crucial to not only stay on the path but also to arrive at the intended destination. The final piece to the puzzle is the results, which can be determined through both qualitative and quantitative means. It cannot be overstated that in the end, it's the degree to which goals have been achieved that ultimately leads to efficacy.

The strategic planning process provides a logical path forward, but there are also many other elements that come into play. In a previous post, I highlighted items in terms of digital initiatives, but upon further reflection, I feel they are worth revisiting as each is important whether or not technology is involved. For anyone that has led change efforts from the trenches, you will more than likely be able to relate to the following.

Questions should lead to more questions

Questions provide context for where we want to go, how we'll get there, and whether or not success is achieved.  Having more questions than answers is a natural part of the initial change process. Consider the following in this order:
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How will we get there?
  • How do we measure success?
  • How did we do?
  • How can we improve?
Research fuels the "why"

Having a foundation and a compelling reason to change is where research plays a pivotal role. It provides a baseline as to what has been found to really work when it comes to student learning and improving culture. We can look to the past in order to inform current practice. If efficacy is the goal, embracing a scholarly mindset to inform and influence our work, not drive it, is critical.

Practicality leads to embracement

It is hard to move any initiative or idea forward if people can't see how it seamlessly aligns with what they already do. The key here is embracement as opposed to buy-in.  If it's not practical, the drive to implement new ideas and practices wanes or never materializes.  

Evidence provides validation

The only way to determine if goals have been met is through evidence. To discount this shows a lack of understanding as to what real change looks and feels like in education.  Evidence can come in many forms, but in the end, it should clearly paint a picture that the ideas and strategies implemented have resulted in a better, more improved outcome.  A combination of data and artifacts will tell you and anyone else whether or not goals were met. 

Accountability ensures success

What's measured gets done, plain and simple. Accountability is prevalent in every profession and is not something that should be feared or loathed in education.  The key is to establish protocols (checkpoints, check-ins, walk-throughs, observations, evaluations, portfolios) that ensure everyone is doing their part and is provided feedback on the way leading to accountability for growth.

Reflection propels growth

I love the last question that comes at the end of the strategic planning cycle, and that is how can we improve.  Since there is no perfection in education, this is a question we should always be asking and reflecting on. 

The path to efficacy can be an arduous and frustrating journey.  No one likes to spend time coming up with goals, and associated action plans only to have them not come to fruition.  Developing a strategic plan and following through based on the elements described above will help get you there, but staying on the path also requires teamwork, communication, patience, and professional learning.  In the end, when success is achieved, the journey and time spent are well worth it. 

For more on the topic of efficacy check out the short video below.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Eells, R. (2011). Meta-analysis of the relationship between collective efficacy and student achievement. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Loyola University of Chicago.

Hattie, J. (2016, July). Mindframes and Maximizers. 3rd Annual Visible Learning Conference held in Washington, DC.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Learning Never Stops

Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” – Abigail Adams

How do you make, not find, the time to learn and get better? Often the number one impediment in this area is fitting it into our busy schedules.  Trust me; I get it.  There never seems to be enough time in the day to do what needs to be done both personally and professionally.  The only piece of advice I can give you that has worked for me is to take a critical lens to how you currently use your time and try to carve out at least fifteen minutes a day. Easier said than done, right? The best course of action is the focus on the “what if” instead of the “yeah but” aspect when it comes to time.  If it’s important to you, then you will find a way. If not, then you will make an excuse. 

In a perfect world, your organization, school, or district provides not only the time but also relevant options of which you want to be a part.  Even though this is a great start, there have to be other associated elements to make it a valuable and worthwhile endeavor.  One-and-done events might get everyone pumped up and excited, but what comes next?  The same can be said about drive-by professional development. Like change, learning is a process, not an event. There should always be a long-term plan following any keynote or workshop. When it is all said and done, the best experiences are ongoing and job-embedded so that the needed support, application into practice, feedback, and accountability for growth lead to actual changes to teaching, learning, and leadership. These elements also go a long way to scaling both practices and initiatives. 

So, what does meaningful professional learning look like? Take a look at the image below from Sylvia Duckworth to see what educators really value and think about what needs to change in your school or district. 

Let me now get back to the time issue that kicked off this post. I really dig the quote from Abigail Adams as it applies to both formal and informal pathways. It is essential to acknowledge that learning can happen by chance, but when it comes to professional improvement, seeking out opportunities to grow is what actually results in changes to practice.  Making the time is only one piece of the puzzle.  The other is ensuring what has been learned leads to improvements in teaching, learning, and leadership.  

For the purposes of this post, let’s put aside more traditional pathways that are either provided to educators or ones that are sought out, such as conferences and workshops. The digital world now provides all of us access to some fantastic opportunities. Here are some no-cost (or relatively low-cost) options.


Improved bandwidth and increased access to technology have helped learning through webinars gain in popularity.  Many publishers and professional organizations offer these free of charge to their membership.  While every webinar is broadcast live at a set time, what makes them very appealing is that they are archived for convenient viewing.  The ability to stop and restart compensates for many of the challenges educators face when it comes to making the time to learn.  Some providers even make certificates of completion available.  I highly suggest you take a look at edWeb as they have been a leader in this space for many years. 

Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Social media allows any educator to learn anytime, anywhere, with anyone they want. Access to resources, ideas, strategies, feedback, and conversation as well as the ability to ask and answer questions is readily accessible with an array of devices.  Herein lies the power of a PLN. It is like a human-generated search engine on steroids that is at your beck and call. You select how much time to dedicate, who to connect with, and what tools to use. It’s all about YOU! To learn more about creating or improving a PLN, click HERE.

Book Studies 

Reading is such a critical aspect of one’s personal and professional growth.  I have yet to meet an educator who does not see the value in reading to improve his or her craft. Whereas the other two options are no-cost, engaging in a book study means you have to front some cash for the book.  Many organizations, schools, and districts will participate in a book study throughout a period of time, typically focusing on a chapter or two a week. Technology tools such as Voxer, Twitter, Instagram, and live video platforms have now afforded people from all over the world to read and learn together. 

Nowadays, many books come with study guides to assist both individuals and groups reflect upon the ideas and strategies presented as well as to develop action plans for implementation. In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I included the book study right into the text to better serve educators.  At the end of each chapter, you will find a series of discussion and reflection questions to not only push one’s thinking but also to be cognizant of applying what has been learned. If you or your group uses Digital Leadership for a book study, let me know, and I will participate digitally as best I can. You can either share the hashtag (#) or invite me into the Voxer group for asynchronous participation. I am also willing to video conference at the end of the study to answer any questions. Just let me know!

Learning should never stop, and the ideal way to grow is choosing a pathway(s) that works best for you. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Future of Work

The future of work should be on the top of everyone’s mind as it is smacking us right now in the face.  As I have previously written, we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution, where rampant innovation and exponential advances in technology are changing the societal landscape.  We are seeing professions being redefined or outright eradicated.  Here is a fact.  Millions of jobs are and will continue to be, lost as a result of artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and automation.  So, what does this all mean? Below is a synopsis from the World Economic Forum (WEF):
As technological breakthroughs rapidly shift the frontier between the work tasks performed by humans and those performed by machines and algorithms, global labor markets are likely to undergo significant transformations. These transformations, if managed wisely, could lead to a new age of good work, good jobs and improved quality of life for all, but if managed poorly, pose the risk of widening skills gaps, greater inequality, and broader polarization. In many ways, the time to shape the future of work is now. 
The WEF goes on to summarize five trends that everyone needs to know about to be ready for this paradigm shift.
  1. Automation, robotization, and digitization look different across different industries
  2. There is a net positive outlook for jobs – amid significant job disruption
  3. The division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms is shifting fast
  4. New tasks at work are driving demand for new skills
  5. We will all need to become lifelong learners
There is a great deal to unpack here.  To begin, let’s focus on the most critical overreaching element. Change is not only on our doorstep, but it is about to kick the darn door in.  As a parent, this terrifies me as both my children will be thrust into this world very soon. There is some good news, however.  In the midst of the 4th and eventually the 5th Industrial Revolution, there will be millions of new jobs.  Will our learners be ready?

The question above is meant as a catalyst for reflection.  The future of work requires new skills, and it is up to K-12 education to lead the charge in this area.  Skills are not enough, in my opinion.  Yes, we want learners to have the requisite skills to meet the needs and demands inherent in the 4th Industrial Revolution. More importantly, it is our duty and the role of education to ensure that they are competent. Here are some of the thoughts I shared on this in a previous post:
Competencies outline "how" the goals and objectives will be accomplished. They are more detailed and define the requirements for success in broader, more inclusive terms than skills do. There is also an increased level of depth that considers skills, knowledge, and abilities. To succeed in the new world of work, students will need to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, and on-the-job ability. A skill is a practical or cognitive demonstration of what a student can do. Competency is the proven use of skills, knowledge, and abilities to illustrate mastery of learning by solving problems. 
The image below outlines the critical competencies (left side) that students will need in the future of work and how educators can make sure they develop them (right side).

Empowering our learners to think critically and solve real-world problems is paramount. However, as the WEF notes, lifelong learning is a must for all of us, not just the kids we serve. To meet the demands and expectations for work now and in the future, we must commit to professional growth. It is vital to make the time to learn and grow as opposed to finding the time. If we rely on the latter, chances are it will never happen.  Lifelong learning can come in many forms, but in my opinion, the most practical and time-friendly option is the creation and use of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Using social media allows all of us real-time access to the most relevant ideas and knowledge that can be immediately implemented into practice to prepare learners for their future better.

The time is now to move the needle on needed change. The longer we wait, the greater the risk for those we serve – our kids.