Sunday, September 26, 2021

A Five-Step Process for Resolving Conflict

When it comes to a thriving school culture, many factors can derail progress. While lack of resources, too many mandates, unclear vision, and a lack of accountability might be at the top of the list, I feel that conflict, especially internal, possesses the greatest threat to achieving goals and improving outcomes.  While this has always been a part of human nature, it is interesting to observe how it plays out at an individual level. Some people avoid conflict at all costs, while others actively look to incite it for reasons that don't make much sense. Regardless of one's stance on the issue, the result can erode culture. 

I wish I could say that conflict is avoidable, but the fact of the matter is that it is not. Conflict materializes when one person or group perceives that someone else or others have taken actions to adversely affect something that is cared about. The adverse effects can include lapses in productivity, leaving for another position, work disruptions, falling behind on deadlines, absenteeism, and emotional stress. It goes without saying that none of these potential outcomes are positive. Thus, it is crucial for all educators to have a plan to address conflict using a proactive approach. While the purpose of this post focuses on adult interactions, the same methodology explained below can be used to help resolve issues between students. 

"When you have a conflict, that means that there are truths that have to be addressed on each side of the conflict. And when you have a conflict, then it's an educational process to try to resolve the conflict. And to resolve that, you have to get people on both sides of the conflict involved so that they can dialogue." - Dolores Huerta

Here is a simple five-step process that can be used to resolve conflict.

Identify the issue or problem: Typical catalysts include gossip, unclear communication, insensitivity, bullying, misunderstandings, and poor work ethic. As mentioned previously, some people live to start and sustaining conflict. If this is the case, it is vital to be proactive in dealing with these people so that they don't constantly erode culture.  Sometimes the best resolution, in this case, is termination. 

Determine the feelings at play – Every catalyst that sparks conflict is fueled by various feelings such as anger, animosity, hurt, embarrassment, fear, and frustration. Knowing what feelings are being triggered is critical for the next step.

Figure out the impact of the issue or problem – Earlier in this post, I identified some general negative impacts associated with conflict. Other topics such as individual performance, group dynamics, relationships with students and families can materialize. Once the specific issue or problem is identified, a course of action can be put in place. 

Facilitate a mediation: Once all pertinent information is gathered, get people in a room, allow them to air their concerns, ensure there is equity in terms of speaking time, and listen intently without passing judgment. Mediation is about both parties airing their grievances to set up reconciliation through an agreed-upon resolution.  

Work to a resolution – Here is where you need to be actively involved and embrace the role of negotiator.  A solid first step is to help the parties understand their way of dealing with conflict.  Only then can a resolution be achieved.  Consider using the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI).  There are five major styles of conflict management—collaborating, competing, avoiding, accommodating, and compromising. The end goal is to have each party agree on a resolution where they see a mutual benefit and the impediment to a positive culture is removed.

Effectively identifying, understanding, and managing conflict is critical to both organization and individual success.  In the end, the overall goal is to control issues that can spiral out of control. However, conflict resolution can also lead to setting up more positive outcomes related to culture once people or groups learn to understand and appreciate one another more. After all, some of the best ideas materialize through conflict. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Closing the Digital Divide with an Emphasis on Learning

Sponsored post

Bridging the digital divide is a monumental task. It begins with providing learners with access to devices and high-quality Internet. For all the challenges it has placed on school systems, the pandemic managed to close the gap in this area significantly.  I watched some districts go 1:1 in a matter of days while also providing mobile hotspots for disadvantaged students.  While this represents a good start, there is much more to the process if the goal is to impact learning. With access to technology, there needs to be an equal focus on supporting educators on how to use it in a purposeful way that leads to improved outcomes.  Here is where Verizon is stepping up.

Connectivity is a lifeline to progress these days for students. Verizon is not only working to increase access to close the digital divide, but they are also providing critical support to improve learning. To that end, they recently launched Verizon Innovative Learning HQ, an amazing next-generation learning portal that is completely FREE! Highlights include the following:

  • Standards-aligned lesson plans across an array of content areas: There is a great deal to explore here. Each lesson contains an estimated time for completion, materials, technology to be used, and appropriate grade level. There are also learning outcomes aligned to Common Core, ISTE, and Next Generation Science Standards. As I explored, I also discovered full-length courses that students can take.
  • Augmented and virtual reality apps (AR/VR) – Engagement is always on the minds of educators. With these tools, students can dive deeper into concepts while also collaborating with their peers. Using the camera on a mobile device, augmented reality overlays images/media over the real world. It is a social experience, as opposed to virtual reality, where a single student would wear goggles that would obstruct them from their surroundings. There is so much potential for these tools to engage and empower learners.
  • Professional development – Through a partnership with Digital Promise, Verizon Innovative Learning HQ provides self-paced courses that educators can take on topics such as remote learning, hybrid instruction, digital inclusion, and blended learning. If the relevancy of the topics wasn’t enough, there is also an option for educators to be recognized for their learning. A unique aspect provided by Digital Promise is the ability to earn micro-credentials for certain completed sessions.  These asynchronous learning opportunities offer much-needed flexibility to educators. For more resources on remote and hybrid learning, be sure to check out my collection HERE.

As the world continues to change, learners need equitable access while educators require the tools and support to create powerful learning experiences.  These disruptive times have taught us not to prepare learners for something but to prepare them for anything! To accomplish this task, they will need technology and the means to use it in a purposeful way that develops critical competencies.  As I shared in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, learners need to be empowered to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems. Hence the need to close the digital divide while making sure both learners and educators have the tools to support this goal.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Four Practical Ways to Blend

When it comes to blended learning, it is essential first to have an underlying understanding as to why this pedagogical strategy is valuable in the classroom. Let’s take a step back before diving into the nuts and bolts. Over the years, I have written a great deal about personalization, which is basically a shift from “what” to “who” as a means for students to demonstrate more ownership over their learning.  What is taught or on the test has little value if the diverse needs of learners aren’t addressed. The same could be said if all kids are learning the same thing at the same time in the same way.  

The path to equity begins with a vision where all learners get what they need when and where they need it, regardless of the learning environment.  This is the essence of personalization. While there are many strategies to personalize, blended pedagogies represent the most practical means.  While you don’t need technology to personalize, it is required to blend. Here is my definition shared in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms that makes a distinction between instruction:

Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace.

Over time through my extensive work with schools, I have identified the four most practical ways to personalize through blended learning.  These include station rotation, choice activities, playlists, and the flipped approach. While each has unique benefits, they all help move teaching and learning from a state of equality to equity. The image below is my attempt to capture these significant changes.

I realized that I have separate posts and images on all four of these blended learning strategies and thought it might be a good idea to curate this information that educators have found valuable to create a resource. Below I have briefly summarized each approach and encourage you to click on the link for more detailed information.  

Station Rotation 

Students are grouped based on data and move through a variety of set activities typically consisting of targeted instruction with the teacher, collaborative exercises, independent work, and online tasks that are personalized for individual learners. The teacher establishes a block of time for each station, and students visit each one during a class period followed by some sort of forma¬tive assessment.

Choice Activities 

These allow students to select a set number of activities to complete from numerous options. Typically, they are arranged in a choice board or must-do/may-do format. Often a teacher will differentiate by having different versions. Students do not complete all of the activities.


A series of individualized assignments that students work through at their own pace while following the path of their choice. As students complete a task, they either color in the corre¬sponding box on a digital sheet next to their name or check off each box on a paper worksheet. Unlike choice activities, all tasks are completed. 

Flipped Approach

Students watch a short, direct instruction video or consume other forms of content outside of school at their own pace while communicating with peers and teachers using online tools. While in school, students work to actively apply what they have learned through concept engagement and empowering learning activities with assistance from the teacher.

All the blended learning strategies listed above allow educators to better use their time with students while opening the door to more significant equity through personalization.  It is important to remember that instruction still plays an important role, especially in terms of setting up the blended pathway of choice. It is up to the teacher to determine when and the extent to which each strategy is implemented.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Trust is a Leader's Best Friend

When I began the journey to become a school administrator many years ago, I took the typical courses that were required.  These focused on topics such as school law, instructional leadership, change management, school finance, and curriculum development, among many others. While I felt adequately prepared when I finally became a building leader, I quickly realized how valuable the on-the-job training was to my growth. Truth be told, no book or course can replace authentic experience. 

Leadership is hard. Initiating and sustaining change is even harder. Below are some thoughts I shared a few years back:

It is difficult to adequately prepare any leader for the challenges they will face as well as the decisions that will have to be made.  There are so many unique variables that just cannot be taught.  It’s tough work knowing that difficult decisions will have to be made at times, including letting staff go.  Making decisions in a time of crisis is also a topic that is regularly explored in leadership courses.  The solutions addressed always sound great in theory, but their application typically isn’t very practical.   Talking the talk must be accompanied by walking the walk. That’s the hard part. It’s relatively easy for people to tell others what they should do. However, true leaders go through the challenging work of showing how it can be done. Accomplishments and success are earned through the actions that are taken that result in evidence of improvement.   Leaders know that it is not the work of one person that moves an organization in a positive direction but rather the collective efforts of all. 

Knowing the inherent difficulties in leading, it is critical to developing an understanding of what can stymie or ensure success.  Relationships are of utmost importance, but these do not materialize out of thin air.  Trust is a leader’s best friend. Recently my publishers Jeff Zoul and Jimmy Casas, shared their views on the topic.  I encourage you to give the piece a read, as it contains some valuable insight.  As I work as a leadership coach in schools, the topic of trust comes up all the time.  The following seven elements are critical in building and sustaining trust: empathy, delegation, consensus, transparency, autonomy, feedback, and communication. 

Empathy through kindness, compassion, and gratitude is fundamental to creating powerful relationships.  Whether it is a simple thank you, consoling a staff member, or handwritten notes of appreciation, using a consistent empathetic lens pays dividends ten times over.

Delegation builds capacity by empowering others to take a leadership role. If a leader tries to do everything by themselves, the result can lead to mistrust.  Look for opportunities to develop the leadership potential in your staff.

Consensus values the input of others when implementing large-scale initiatives. When warranted, use a committee approach or create a district or school-based leadership team that contains a wide range of staff to garner input. 

Transparency validates major decisions using research and data. When there is clarity as to why decisions are made, the seeds of trust begin to take root. Transparency also infers personal accountability by a leader if things don’t work out, as a unilateral decision is made when needed.

Autonomy creates a culture that promotes the freedom to take risks and fail forward. In Disruptive Thinking, I highlighted how autonomy helps educators move beyond their fears, which leads to a pursuit of innovative practices.  Additionally, influential leaders know when to get out of the way of their staff and let them flourish. 

Feedback that is timely, specific, consistent, actionable, and focuses on a dialogue sets the stage for growth. Trust develops when leaders are always looking for ways to help their staff improve or avoid pitfalls. 

Communication, when done effectively, relies on getting the right information out at the right time using the right medium.  While disseminating information consistently and with clarity is critical, non-verbal means such as listening and body language are just as, if not more, necessary.  As I shared in Digital Leadership, you won’t find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator.

All of the elements above help a leader build trust amongst staff resulting in a positive school culture. While there is no single silver bullet, consider where there is an opportunity for growth and the actions that need to be taken to either build or strengthen relationships through trust.