Sunday, September 15, 2019

Bringing Out the Best in Others

It’s no secret that great cultures bring out the best in people and in turn, this leads to systemwide success. Success is a fickle thing, though. There might be specific indicators that are used to quantify whether an organization is good or even great, but there is no set recipe that I know of as to how to accomplish this feat. What I do know is that it is not the result of one person or department. When change happens and leads to improved outcomes, it is the result of the collective. One person, however, can be the catalyst for this type of change through a variety of strategies that empower the masses to be more than they feel they can be. Lolly Daskal outlines eight realistic ways to bring out the best in people you either work with or serve.

  1. Appraise them carefully
  2. Model the way
  3. Believe in their success
  4. Provide feedback
  5. Give them power
  6. Offer public praise
  7. Give autonomy
  8. Lead from within

The above advice is spot on and can serve both teachers with their students and administrators with their staff. Each strategy leads into some much more significant elements of school culture. Thus, I decided to create an acronym that outlines how to bring out the best in others.


Belief is a superpower, in my opinion. Empowering others to believe in something bigger than themselves leads to the embracement of new ideas and strategies. Without it, the chances of implementing and sustaining change are net to zero. Belief in our learners also goes a long way to getting them to willingly engage in more challenging thinking and application of learning.

Empathy means, quite simply, showing to others that you genuinely understand what they are going through. It is vital for us to imagine ourselves in the position of our students, staff, and community members. This gives us a better perspective on the challenges and feelings of those we are tasked to serve. Better, more informed decisions can result from “walking in the shoes” of those who will be most impacted by the choices that we make. A culture of excellence is created through relationships built on trust and sustained through empathy.

Selflessness means putting others before yourself through both talk and actions. It is about helping those around us or within our care and not looking for any type of favor to be returned or recognition. The messages sent through selfless behaviors build people up in more ways than you will ever know. By selflessly serving others, a culture of respect and admiration will be created. Even if you are in a position to hold others accountable, remember that you are just as accountable to them. Selfish behaviors, on the other hand, do everything but bring out the best in others. Nobody is willing to give themselves up or work harder for someone who is only about themselves.

Trust might be the most critical element when it comes to bringing out the best in others. In the words of Brian Racy, “The glue that holds all relationships together — including the relationship between the leader and the led — is trust, and trust is based on integrity.” Without trust, there is no relationship. If there is no relationship, no real learning or change will occur. It is critical to reflect on how we not only improve but also develop trust in and with the people with whom we work.

As you reflect on your role as either an administrator or teacher, think about how your actions bring out the best in staff and students respectively. More importantly, where is there an opportunity for growth?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

10 Ways to Empower Educators

What motivates you to be your best, take risks, and seek out opportunities to improve?  I’d be willing to wager that there are an array of responses you would give to this question. As such, I am going to try to sum it all up with one word or concept, depending on how you look at the actions that create this feeling.  Empowerment is the secret sauce.  I genuinely believe that you get more out of people by building them up as opposed to knocking them down. I love the following quote from Laura Garnett:
Leadership is shifting from telling everyone what to do to empowering others to come up with the best and brightest ideas that have either never been thought of before or implemented and acted upon in a respective environment. It’s about caring for and instilling a sense of belief in others that leads to greater confidence in one’s abilities as well as the place where he/she works or learns. This is how you empower people to be their best.
Empowerment isn’t just about making people feel good but more importantly valued.  It’s in this state where a vision, mission, and goals can actually become a reality as there is a unified desire to succeed.  Consider this from Brian Tracy:
Once you empower people by learning how to motivate and inspire them, they will want to work with you to help you achieve your goals in everything you do. Your ability to enlist the knowledge, energy, and resources of others enables you to become a multiplication sign, to leverage yourself so that you accomplish far more than the average person and in a considerably shorter period of time. 
So how can you empower others? It’s not as hard as you think. Below are some simple ways to create a culture of empowerment:
  • Be present during conversations (eye contact, body language, devices away)
  • Provide timely, meaningful, and specific feedback
  • Say thank you when the opportunity arises
  • Distribute praise equitably and away from yourself
  • Model what you expect
  • Speak less and listen more
  • Provide the autonomy to take risks
  • When making decisions utilize consensus as much as possible
  • Exhibit sincerity when complimenting others
  • Co-develop professional learning opportunities that best meet the needs of all

Never underestimate the impact that the above strategies can have.  Consider this thought from Archie Snowden:
To empower someone is to give them the means to achieve something.” It makes them stronger and more confident, ready to take control of their life and to also be an advocate for themselves. 
In the end, it is all about giving the people you work with (educators) or for (learners) a greater sense of purpose in what they do.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

It Won't Work...Or Will It?

When we look at various aspects of society, there is always an innate desire to improve through innovation. However, there seems always to be impediments to this process. Perhaps it is the little voice in your head that says any new idea or strategy is a waste of time, as it has no chance to succeed. Maybe it is the collective voices of colleagues pushing you to abide by the status quo and not rock the boat. Throw in fear, complacency, or a myriad of other excuses and the pursuit of innovative practices either wane or never transpires. You will never know what could have been if you don’t take the chance to try something new. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out all of the innovations that people thought wouldn’t work below.

Pretty interesting right? At one point, all of the ideas above were deemed crazy or doomed to fail. Each has been a disruptive force that has changed how people watch movies, book hotels, listen to music, access information, get assistance, store files, or get from one place to another. Many lessons can be learned from past innovations that have reshaped culture and society. For starters, you need to believe in an idea or strategy that might be obscure or shunned upon now. Sure, it might not work, but history has taught us that some of the greatest successes of all time resulted from failure. Always base any decision to try something new on the premise that is it better for your learners and will ultimately improve professional practice.

Another element to consider is moving beyond the misconception that innovation in education has to do with technology. I often look at two ideas that were implemented during my time as a principal that had very little to do with tools or gadgets and everything about improving either school culture or the learning experience for our kids. From a cultural end, we developed learning academies, a school within a school model, to move away from an environment where we continued to do what we had always done. The result was three distinct academies, open to all learners regardless of GPA or label, where they not only pursued a distinct area of study of interest to them but also ultimately graduated with ten to fifteen more credits than the state of New Jersey required.

Grading is another entity that is ingrained in many schools and districts. Some have gone so far as to get rid of grades, which in my opinion, is both innovative and disruptive. Sometimes learning is devalued by a number or letter. We tackled the grading culture when it became apparent that we were failing too many kids. After looking at the research and forming a committee, a new policy was put in place. The result was a 75% decrease in failures over three years, increased achievement gains, and a graduation rate that was one of the tops in the state. Both the academies and grading example are not to say that technology doesn’t play a role. The true innovative nature of tech isn’t to tool or program, but instead how the teacher uses it in a way to improve learning outcomes for all kids.

As I have written in the past, innovation is more than an idea that purports to be new or better. The differentiator is that there is an actual result to substantiate a claim. When looking at the examples in the image, or the ones I provided, there is clear evidence that an idea morphed into something that led to improved results or even a new status quo. There should always be a willingness to innovate that is substantiated with significant changes to learning.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Return on Instruction (ROI) Revisited

The pursuit to improve never ends and nor should it. With all of the disruption we see as a result of the 4th Industrial Revolution, changes to how we educate kids have to be considered. The result has been districts, schools, and educators making a great deal of investment in an array of ideas, strategies, and solutions with the goal of improving learning for all kids. Obviously, this makes sense, and I am all for it. However, caution must be exerted when there is an urge to purchase the next “silver bullet” or embrace ideas that sound great on the surface but have little to show in terms of evidence of improvement at scale. Results, both qualitative and quantitative, matter, and this is something that everyone should be mindful of.

Over the years, I have not shied away from discussing the need to align ideas and strategies to research as well as evidence that shows in some way that there is an improvement in student outcomes. Seems fair and reasonable, right? You would think so as the teacher and principal in me know full well that results matter, especially when dealing with increased mandates, initiative overload, limited time, and lack of money. Herein lies why the allure of the “next best thing” is so compelling, and everyone is so quick to jump on the bandwagon. Just because something sounds or looks good doesn’t mean that it is, plain and simple. This applies to what is seen on social media, in marketing assets, and at conferences. Being a critical consumer is more important than ever. I’d even go as far as to say that it is our duty, something I elaborate greatly on in Digital Leadership

However, it is essential to go beyond just the consumption aspect as outlined above and be just as critical during the implementation phase. A sound strategic plan, not online focus, on where you want to go and how you will get there, but also a set of measures for success and a determination of how things went. A few years back I tackled this through strictly a technology lens and brought forward the concept of a Return on Instruction (ROI); borrowing from the term “return on investment” synonymous with virtually every profession.  In retrospect, this was shortsighted and not encompassing of all the many competing and complementing elements that are pursued simultaneously. Below is my evolved take:
 "When investing in technology, programs, professional development, and innovative ideas, there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes." 
If you take a look at my original post, you will see that evidence comes in many forms, not just data. The bottom line is why make an investment to improve teaching, learning, and leadership but have nothing to show for it? That would prove to be quite frustrating, to say the least. To be clear, I am not talking about fluffy ideas or opinions, but actually substantive changes to practice that lead to real change. So how can you determine an ROI? Some guiding questions that might help are below:

  • How have instructional design and pedagogy changed?
  • How has the scaffolding of both questions and tasks changed?
  • How have student work and products changed?
  • How has assessment changed?
  • How has feedback changed?
  • How has the use of data changed?
  • How has the learning culture changed?
  • How has leadership changed?
  • How has meeting the needs of students who need specialized supports changed?
  • How has professional learning changed? 

The questions above will be answered differently as each district, school, and educator is unique as well as the respective culture. The key is to think broadly about financial and time investments to determine if in fact, they are paying off. Both are important. Another aspect to consider is realism. In the end, results matter.