Sunday, November 27, 2022

What Example Do You Set?

While there are some exceptions, most people do not like to be told what to do, especially when it comes to change. Not only does this often lead to resentment, but it can also inhibit people from doing their best work. I am sure many of us can recount numerous instances during our careers when directives have been leveled down by a leader(s). We end up following through with them in many cases because we are subordinate instead of empowered. The latter drives sustainable change leading to transformation at scale. Isn’t that what we all want? 

I shared the following in Digital Leadership:

Leadership is not about telling people what to do but instead taking them where they need to be. Setting an example through your own practice illustrates to others that change is a shared endeavor. It is about the collective, where a title, position, and power don’t give someone a pass. When it all is said and done, leadership is about action, not talk and opinion (or memos and emails in my example). Setting an example and modeling is the first step. The next is a combination of support, accountability, and evidence that leads to efficacy. When everyone sees how the change(s) actually improves teaching, learning, and leadership, the path to sustainability starts.


Image credit

The images above tell a powerful story and many of us have seen them in various iterations. Just because you have a title doesn’t mean you are a leader. Motivating and inspiring the masses to be a part of something where there is a shared belief in the endeavor relies on being part of the solution. While telling, dictating, or bossing people might invoke some short-term results, lasting change materializes when the leader sets the example. Modeling is a powerful strategy. However, rolling up your sleeves and doing the work side-by-side with your people in certain situations will pay dividends time and time again. No matter which path you choose, here are some ideas to consider:

  • Teach a class
  • Facilitate professional learning
  • Participate in your own PLC with staff
  • Create pathways for staff to provide you with routine feedback
  • Write curriculum
  • Curate and share evidence of how your work impacts outcomes

Where do you see an opportunity to set an example? What would you add to the list above? The bottom line is as simple as it is profound. Don’t ask others to do what you haven’t done or are unwilling to do yourself.  

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Developing Resilience in Learners

The pandemic leveled down an array of lessons that should pave the way for future success. One that sticks out to me as the most critical is how resilience got us through one of the most disruptive events we have ever experienced. Adversity, like never before, compelled us to not only change but also to persevere in the face of countless unknowns. While the path was fraught with obstacles, we learned to overcome them together through innovative means. Herein lies the essence of reliance and how important it is in a world that will only become more disruptive.  

Since the impact of this quality is relatively straightforward, it is critical that schools cultivate it in learners of today and tomorrow. Marilyn Price Mitchell shared the following in an article for Edutopia:

Research has since established resilience as essential for human thriving and an ability necessary for the development of healthy, adaptable young people. It's what enables children to emerge from challenging experiences with a positive sense of themselves and their futures. Children who develop resilience are better able to face disappointment, learn from failure, cope with loss, and adapt to change. We recognize resilience in children when we observe their determination, grit, and perseverance to tackle problems and cope with the emotional challenges of school and life.

Here are some ways to develop resilience in learners:

  • Develop tasks that promote cognitive flexibility
  • Create a culture of empathy
  • Allow the solving of real-world problems 
  • Prioritize social-emotional learning
  • Use failure as a springboard to grow
  • Foster gratitude in and out of the classroom
  • Teach conflict resolution 
  • Provide opportunities for self-regulation 
  • Balance collaboration and independence
  • Model coping strategies 

One of the best ways to develop resilience in learners is to empower them to be disruptive thinkers, which I define as the ability to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems. An array of strategies can be used, such as problem and project-based learning, performance tasks, personalization, independent open courseware studies, internships, and capstone experiences. While these ideas represent larger endeavors, resilience can be nurtured every day in the classroom using two means that I discuss in detail in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

  • Moving to Quad D using the Relevant Thinking Framework
  • Getting students into the learning pit

The images above illustrate how lesson components such as questions, tasks, and assessments can be constructed in ways to develop resilience in all learners. Ultimately, they will be better equipped to deal with disruptive forces that are sure to materialize. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Are You Juggling or Leading?

All leaders most likely view themselves as jugglers. Who could blame them when there are always multiple areas to address and the fact that the buck stops with them when it comes to making big decisions?  Here are just a few:

  • Accountability
  • Morale
  • Meetings
  • Professional learning
  • Stakeholders
  • Achievement
  • Budget
  • Crises

The act of juggling requires concentration and focus. If you place all your attention on one ball, the chances of keeping the rest in the air are very slim. If you watch any juggler, you will see that person looking straight ahead. The reason for this is to veer away from focusing on the movement of each individual ball, with the goal being to keep them all in the air. Basically, a juggler does not focus on the balls as separate entities but instead as a whole. 

It is natural to want to be and do everything as a leader. While the intention is positive, it is difficult, if not impossible, to put the needed effort into multiple moving parts. Instead, the rule of thumb should be to do one thing exceptionally well before dedicating time and energy elsewhere. The question that then needs to be answered is, are you juggling or leading? The best leaders de-emphasize multitasking and attempting to keep everything in the air. They instead clearly visualize the most pressing and vital ball and prioritize one thing at a time. Juggling is secondary, while the ball in front of them is primary. 

It is hard to lead if you are constantly juggling. Consider the following to help keep your eye on the ball:

  • Honesty is the best policy. Know what you can handle in an effort to avoid stress, burnout, or things falling through the cracks. 
  • Make responsibilities clear. Think about what is needed in terms of time and resources. Leverage the power of delegation to empower others to focus on and attend to balls that are constantly in the air. Everything needs to be clarified. 
  • Prioritize to ensure success. Don’t shy away from dumping non-essential items. 
  • Seek advice. There is no reason to go at it alone. Be sure to elicit the counsel of those you trust. 
  • Plan accordingly. Never discount the importance of a strategic plan that takes into account all the elements listed above. 

If you want to be a juggler, keep that as a hobby. As a leader, zero in on the ball that is of the utmost importance to help you move change forward, support and empower your staff, and become the best iteration of yourself. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

The 3 C’s to Survive and Thrive in Disruptive Times

We blink, and things change. While disruption is not new in any sense, it is happening at a more frenetic pace for a variety of reasons. I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking:

With the exponential rate of change taking place in society, it is exciting to think about what the future may hold, despite many unknowns. However, we know that the future will be vastly different than what we are currently experiencing and that these changes will dramatically impact workforce expectations. 

Empowering our learners to think critically and solve real-world problems must be a cornerstone of our mission as educators. However, lifelong learning is a must for all of us, not just the kids we serve. 

Disruption, in the eyes of many, has a negative connotation and leaves people frustrated and afraid. It can also push others outside their comfort zones. No matter the impact, the aftermath of disruptive events can set the stage for innovative change by focusing on the “3 C’s” – convalesce, conceptualize, create.


Recovery is often needed after disruptive events, which was clearly evident in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. It can also occur when we experience any exponential change, as we see with advances in technology. Support is imperative, but also there is a need to ask the right questions so that lessons learned can pave the way to develop ways to improve teaching, learning, and leadership that lead to better outcomes for all. Consider the following as you convalesce in the face of disruption:

  • How has disruption impacted our practice both in positive and negative ways?
  • Why is it important to take action now to improve practice? What happens if we don’t?
  • What additional information or support is needed?

Leadership using an empathetic lens is critical to any recovery effort. A clear vision and plan are needed in addition to modeling the appropriate attitudes and behaviors to make difficult decisions. Equally instrumental is the ability of educators to reflect on the effectiveness of current practices and look for opportunities to grow. No matter your role, convalescing in disruptive times requires agility, improvising, collaboration, and problem-solving.


Experiences, both good and bad, set the stage to determine appropriate action. In the age of disruption, convalescing often provides us with innovative ideas that can lead to positive change. The challenge is how to move these forward in ways that lead to a better normal. Conceptualizing means developing a practical way to implement an idea. It is not enough to simply have the idea as they are a dime a dozen. To conceptualize, educators must develop models of how such an idea might be made manifest itself into changes in practice. A sound plan of attack is crucial, or else the idea will fizzle.

Questions are a powerful tool in the conceptualization process. They can be kept simple enough to spark needed inquiry while helping develop the necessary context to transition an idea into reality. Here are some to consider:

  • Why is this idea needed or beneficial?
  • How will this idea improve professional practice and outcomes?
  • What will tell us whether or not the ideas were successfully implemented?


In my mind, this is the fun part. Disruption affords all of us the opportunity to take calculated risks in an effort to create a better way to teach, learn and lead. The first two C’s set the stage for actions that have the potential to radically transform our practice by seizing upon lessons learned through adversity. It is easy to brainstorm ideas and mentally envision how they will pan out over time. The difficulty is moving them through action. Below I offer a few ideas, but these only scratch the surface. Consider creating a:

  • lesson that infuses high-agency strategies (voice, choice, path, pace, place) not currently being used.
  • opportunity for students to use technology in a purposeful way aligned to effective Tier 1 instruction
  • strategy to use data in the classroom
  • vision for personalization in your school or district
  • virtual option for students
  • plan to afford teachers more time to learn
  • process that results in high-functioning PLCs

Where do you see an opportunity to create better opportunities for those you serve?

Any idea that makes it to the creation stage must also be ready to implement, reflect, and revise as needed. Disruption can be a force for good with the right mindset and plan. When an opportunity arises, no matter the form, be ready to pounce.