Sunday night. I watch the final putt during the PGA broadcast and I glance at the clock. It says 6:20.
I look out the window and see the sun slowly dropping in the sky. I get a bite to eat and then just after seven I start the walk to Grandpa's house.
Growing up is complicated. In one moment you think you have all the answers. The next moment you're a mess.
The truth is, most of my life I've held my myself to a very high standard. I haven't allowed myself to take risks. I haven't allowed myself to mess up. Failure has never been an option. I've been my own toughest critic. That's the truth.
As a teenager I was very focused on figuring things out. I wanted to grow, and I was also in a hurry to grow up. For the most part I was Mr. Dependable. Sometimes this made life feel easy and sometimes it didn't.
For many a summer night I would make the trek to Grandpa's. I'd stop in the kitchen and say hello to Grandma. I'd grab a cookie or two from the jar and head into the living room to see if he was up for an evening round. He always was.
Those evenings were easy, they were a true highlight of my youth. We talked golf. But it was more than just golf. I also listened to the stories. I listened to the subtle life lessons. And I developed a true appreciation for the story. Even today those that know me know, there is ALWAYS a story.
We would get out there and talk about shots. We'd talk about visualizing. We'd talk about nothing. And amazingly, talking about nothing was exactly what felt right to this teenage boy. There was no preaching or lectures, just unconditional support...and occasionally he'd pull another ball out of his pocket when I needed to improve on the shot I just hit.
I remember those dusk rounds. Most of them were just full of one liners and lots of practice. But there was one evening that I was agitated. And I remember it was about a girl. But you know what I also remember, my Grandpa didn't try to fix anything. He just did a little listening and let me be. I think as a teenager this is what I wanted. I just wanted a safe space. A space I could just forget my troubles and be.
During a tricky part of life my Grandpa provided consistency, stability, and the unconditional support that I didn't fully understand until I got older.
I still remember playing college golf and having our conversations swirling through my mind. It grounded me and gave me peace that is hard to explain.
And now life changes. My Grandpa is headed to a better place. He's going to be reunited with Grandma. The feelings that swirl in my mind are a mixture of sadness, memories, and guilt. The brutal truth is, when my Grandpa began to experience memory loss, I faded. Selfishly I wanted to preserve my memories. I wanted to keep the best memories, instead of ALL OF IT.
Life continues to teach me lessons. But one thing I've learned is a true appreciation for people in my life that don't judge.
I still have tough stuff. I still deal with holding myself to such a high standard. Truth is, I struggle to do it.
But today I lean on this...
And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind...
Never knowing who to cling to when the rain set in...
And I would've like to known you but I was just a kid...
Your candle burned out long before...
Your legend ever did
I'm going to always tell myself the best stories when I think of my Grandpa. We all need people that provide us unconditional support. Thank you Grandpa. You will always live in my heart.
"Sometimes it takes the relationships that don't last forever to teach us the lessons that will."
I'm a believer that experiences can be the greatest teacher of them all.
Early in my career as principal I struggled with some things. One of the greatest challenges I had to figure out was, and still is at times, why people would treat me differently on Monday compared to Sunday?
I was a young thirty something, new principal. I truly didn't know what I didn't know. I never intentionally tried to rule with an iron fist or give an ultimatum of my way or the highway. However for all the smiles and attempts to build relationships something just wasn't clicking.
The first time I felt it was on a Monday evening well after the bell had dismissed students. As I sat in my office I was reamed on the phone by a parent. This was the same parent that I shook hands with at church. This was the same parent that was eager to reach out and share their excitement that I was the Principal at Warner.
And now I'm the villain? What changed?
I slumped in my chair and didn't even know who to talk to. It was getting dark outside and I just put my head in my hands.
A few weeks later a similar situation arose. A friend came to me and shared some of the demeaning comments that were being shared about me in the community. If I could have seen my own face I'm sure it was one of bewilderment and confusion. I had not even been at this for 5 months and I was being backstabbed and hung out to dry.
I vividly remember the hurt and pain I felt. I stopped going to church. I kept praying, but I couldn't handle sitting next to people that would be kind on Sunday and treat me like trash on Monday. On the outside I put on a brave face, but inwardly, I was breaking.
But again I didn't share the struggles because a part of me was ashamed that I was failing. Thank goodness for a couple of friends that provided some reassurance and a lifeline.
The first was my good friend, Jimmy Casas. He gave me some tough love and simply told me that I had to stop letting negative people take up space in my own head. His exact words were, "You're letting them live rent free in your head!" He was right.
The second was Joe Sanfelippo. Joe has a unique ability of finding the humor in most situations. In this instance Joe made fun of me. At first I didn't know how to take it, but then he added, "You can't take everything so seriously. People's opinions of you aren't your business." I had never heard that, but in a humbling way he was correct.
I also began to pay very close attention to what was right in front of me. After a challenging beginning of my principalship I chose to be fully transparent and to do my very best to live in the moment. Do you know what came easiest? Loving the kids.
I rediscovered my why by connecting with our kids each and every day.
Now as I have years of experience under my belt I take a slightly different approach to backlash and trolling. A wise woman once said, "When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don't stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high."
When you put yourself in a position of leadership you will encounter adversity, pushback, anger, sadness, and so many more challenges. But you always have a choice in how you respond. To me, true leadership is rising above our differences and finding a way to leave our world better than we found it.
Life has taught me many things and here is one more thing I expect...I'm not done learning and I'm not done growing. I hope you will see adversity as an opportunity. Some of the best life lessons come from the biggest obstacles.
My journey has not been easy, but it has made me the person I am today. And for that, I'm forever grateful.
"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."
- John Wooden
Four years ago today Brad Gustafson and I had our first UnearthED podcast published. I've thoroughly enjoyed interviewing friends, leaders, and change makers. But towards the end of the year a conversation changed me.
We had just concluded recording a show and our producer, Errol had a "coming to Jesus" moment with us. Even as it was directed to both of us, I felt him talking into me. Since that conversation I've done a lot of reflecting (maybe soul searching). The questions I've asked myself have included -
What do you stand for?
Who is the real you?
If you could say or do anything what would you say or do?
What are you afraid of?
The truth is complicated. The circle of people that know me best would probably say, "Ben has a story to explain every decision/choice." Funny thing is...I do. So here is my story on why the truth is complicated.
It all begins with a question. Do you consider yourself a risk taker?
Outwardly I would tell people absolutely yes, but upon further inspection maybe I'm not. I enjoy trying new things, but most of my risks are calculated and I've already determined worst case scenarios in my head. This then begs the question, is it really a risk?
To be clear, I'm not reckless. However, I believe it would benefit me to be more loose. But this is actually very hard for me. I pride myself in being professional, consistent, reliable and trustworthy. But what this can project is, plain, boring, conservative and safe. Is that bad? Inwardly, I don't think it's bad, but it can feel stiff or uptight.
Do you ever have moments where you REALLY like your frame of mind? The moments you feel you can say anything and there is a sharpness, a clearness to your thinking. Every so often I find myself in this spot, but I can't seem to figure out how to emulate it. I share that because it is in this state of mind I feel free, witty, and a better version of myself.
What Is The Truth?
The truth is when I can't control the outcome or I fear being negatively judged I will always go into my Uber Professional mode. This is safe for me. It's also predictable and boring.
What I need to improve on is a willingness to fail. Too often my fear of failure causes me to revert into my shell of cautiousness. I believe I have a growth mindset, but I also despise failing and I'm definitely my own toughest critic. Shoot I often compare the 25 year old me to the current me (who does that?).
Some time ago a good friend introduced me to Brenè Brown. For months I read her books and listened to her talks. All along the way I learned the value of vulnerability. But, I'm still learning. I'm still on this journey. It makes me think of the quote by Jim George, "It's not how you start that's important, but how you finish."
Last year I challenged myself to improve at serving others. I pushed myself to get into better physical shape. I committed to being more vulnerable. And so here's the truth. I'm still working at all of it.
I'm tirelessly working to be a better version of me. I know I need to take the hand-cuffs off and be okay with stinging criticism, with a willingness to not be so guarded, with a daring mentality that I can recover from failure.
The conversation with Errol was one of those moments that rarely happens. You hear the truth, you feel hurt, and you know you're at a crossroad. Choice A)...feel resentment and anger. Choice B)...it's time to get better.
I'm choosing to not fear the truth. The truth can be complicated but my goal is, courageously be the best version of me.
"Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it."
- Steve Maraboli
Where does innovation come from?
One might say, innovation depends on materials and resources.
Another might say, innovation depends on leadership. Does the system/culture allow for creativity and autonomy?
Still another says, innovation is all about training. Does the individual feel equipped with the professional development and tools to be innovative?
However, none of this is where innovation truly begins. The story begins as a young teacher on a family vacation.
Years ago as a beginning teacher I believed I could change the world! Each day I prided myself in developing lessons that made learning and school a joyful occasion. I quickly discovered, having a strong and engaging lesson made teaching more fun. When I was having fun in the classroom my students reaped the benefits.
But here's the truth. I had one computer in the classroom (an old 2000 Compaq). I had an overhead projector. I was part of a school system that put a huge emphasis on test scores. I had every excuse to simply teach to the test with a text book.
Then as my family visited The Gateway Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion I discovered something that transformed my belief on being innovative. The museum had Traveling Trunks that educators could have sent all across the United States.
Days later the trunk arrived at my classroom. For the next two weeks I was a kid in a candy store! I created hands-on lessons that the students couldn't get enough of. The learning was truly dynamic! The best example comes from dealing with a couple of challenging students.
Day in and day out a few of my young men would be reluctant learners. They frequently avoided applying themselves and dodged most measures of accountability. And then the trunk arrived!
It didn't take long to see these young men light up when they saw furs, coins, medallions, maps, and more. The students were excited to learn. I can't begin to describe how this completely changed me as a teacher. I saw and experienced a direct connection between innovative, engaging lessons and the entire learning experience. As an educator, I was hooked! I was hooked because my students loved learning.
Too often I hear innovation connected to technology. I'll be the first one to embrace technology, but the true Birthplace of Innovation is a person's mindset. Each individual has to have a will and desire to do these three things:
Now is the time to break through the barriers and try new things. You may not have all the resources you think you need, but the real question becomes, do you have the mindset to be innovative?
"We are all a work in progress."
The year was 1995. I was working at the Country Club of Jackson and I was loving the independence of having my own car. Technically I classify the teenage me as a fairly typical kid that stayed out of trouble. My normal route to work took me 8-9 minutes and I think I drove the same route hundreds of times. But then one day things were a bit different.
(Let's keep in mind this is before cell phones.)
As I was driving to work early on a Saturday morning I was admittedly pre-occupied. I still remember thinking about a girl and fidgeting with the radio.
Next thing I know I look up and hammer a mail box. It went flying 20 feet into the air.
In that moment I was scared to death. In a blink of an eye I chose to drive away and go to work.
The rest of the day I was constantly looking over my shoulder and internally my stomach was in knots all day long.
Now here's the truth. For four days I felt this heavy weight of guilt. Yet I did nothing. Then on day four I walked to the front door and knocked.
More on this later...
On a recent run I asked my good friend, "do you believe in second chances?" My friend chuckled. He then blurted out, you're an educator...of course you believe in second, third, and fourth chances.
The question now becomes, do you believe in second chances?
There are three schools of thought when it comes to giving second chances.
One, people can change, no one is perfect. We should give second chances.
Two, by giving multiple chances we are enabling.
Three, some acts do not deserve second chances.
Admittedly, I'm a believer that people can change. Recently, ESPN chose to hire Ryan Leaf after an ugly history of drugs, theft, prison and burglary. You can read the story here. Personally, I applaud ESPN. Giving Ryan Leaf an opportunity, a fresh start in the booth is a risk, but it says a lot about their belief in people.
Life is interesting. Can I tell you a couple things I've learned?
First, I've learned that being magnanimous makes a person feel better about themself. Simply put, being able to forgive is healthy for us.
Research states: "There's nothing wrong with healthy anger, but when anger is very deep and long lasting, it can do a number on us systemically," he says. "When you get rid of anger, your muscles relax, you're less anxious, you have more energy, your immune system can strengthen."
In one meta-analysis, for example, Yoichi Chida, MD, PhD, found that anger and hostility are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, and poorer outcomes for people with existing heart disease (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2009). "When you stand up to the pain of what happened to you and offer goodness to the person who hurt you, you change your view of yourself."
Second, I do believe people can change. I refer to the Ryan Leaf story. Admittedly, Ryan spoke of meeting a veteran in prison and that relationship led him on a road of recovery.
As human beings we are prone to making mistakes. Some mistakes can be fixed fairly easily and other mistakes leaving lasting scars. I challenge you to think about yourself. Are you able to give second chances?
I'm glad I knocked on that front door. But you know what I'm even more grateful for? The person that answered accepted my apology and allowed me to share my remorse and make it right. Each day I try very hard to not judge people. Everyone has a story and everyone's journey is filled with both successes and failures. I choose to have a heart that believes in second chances.
Does a student in your class need a second chance? Does a colleague need to be forgiven? We can all benefit from forgiving and choosing to support people on the journey of life.
"Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing." - Lawrence Bossidy
Before I get too far into this post I need to clarify that I do believe there is a significant difference in caring what others think and being aware of how oneself is perceived.
An area of leadership that I have tried very hard to grow in is supporting staff. Years ago as I transitioned from the classroom to the principalship I believe most people saw me as an individual that connected well with students. That connection with students made it a bit easier to be on the same page as parents. Unfortunately I don't believe all staff felt supported along the way. This was never my intention, but it was the reality.
Why is this important?
I ask, how are you perceived? Are you approachable? Do people seek your thoughts? Do others view you as positive or negative? Are you outgoing or reserved? Do you know your own strengths and weaknesses?
What this is truly about is self-awareness. Self-awareness is one of the 5 critical components to emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence involves the ability to understand and manage emotions. Experts agree this type of intelligence plays a vital role in an individuals ability to succeed. Emotional intelligence is connected to every form of decision-making process you can think of.
Recently I listened to an Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast focusing on Enneagrams. If you're anything like me this word was, or is, foreign to you. From one point of view, the Enneagram can be seen as a set of nine distinct personality types, with each number on the Enneagram denoting one type. It is common to find a little of yourself in all nine of the types, although one of them should stand out as being closest to yourself. This is your basic personality type.
After listening to Andy's podcast I was strongly compelled to take the test and find out more.
To my core I work with people. It is inherently important to me to continue to grow and be the very best I can be. However, your growth will be limited if you do not have an open-mind, growth-mindset and most importantly, an honest understanding of yourself.
Before I get to the results I should share a recent story that brings light to self-awareness and empathy. This past year in some ways was extremely challenging. In one particular classroom the teacher and I participated in numerous meetings with families, social workers, doctors, and Intermediate School District personnel. In most meetings I take a very similar tactic. I listen. As I listen I try very hard to read the situation and figure out what the problem is, what questions should be asked, and what options could possibly improve the situation. However it is important to understand that I'm not aggressive, I'm patient. This approach has left staff members feeling unsupported, as if I didn't have their back. Even in this moment it pains me to share that. I never wanted a staff member to feel this, but that was the reality.
I share this because it circles back to the significance of self-awareness. How are you perceived?
My belief is knowledge is power. An increased awareness provides the opportunity to grow oneself. What you do with the information is entirely up to you.
At the end of the day I took the Enneagram test. I'm now diving into the report because it is important to me to increase my own self-awareness. Personally, I think the test has me pretty pegged. But that is only step 1. The real truth will be how I use the information to grow.
How self-aware are you? Do you know your own blind spots? Do you know your own tendencies? Do you know your strengths? I encourage you to take the time to become more self-aware. If you're interested here is a link to an Enneagram site.
"Strength lies in differences, not in similarities." - Stephen Covey
The very first time it happened was 8th grade.
I was a solid student. I tried hard to please my teachers. I participated in class and truly worked hard. For over eight years I felt that my teachers believed in me, liked me, and thought I was a good kid. One big part of my desire to please my teachers is that I never wanted to disappoint them, because I knew they believed in me.
Then I arrived in 8th grade.
I had one particular teacher that quite frankly was a mean person. He talked down to kids. He read the newspaper at his desk while we did worksheets. And if he did talk to you it was only to yell at you. I hated his class and because I hated his class I began to hate Science. But then I got in trouble and things really changed. I was finishing a pop quiz and the rule was to pass them to the people in front so they would end up in the front of the room (making it so the teacher didn't have to walk around). As I prepared to pass mine forward I noticed I forgot my name. I pulled the paper back and wrote my name. The teacher accused me of being a cheater and ripped my paper up right then and there. I remember wanting to cry but instead I just put my head down completely defeated. I knew that teacher didn't like me. I knew that teacher thought I was a trouble maker. I knew that teacher didn't believe in me as a person or a student. So what happened? I did the bare minimum for the first time in my life. There was no desire to do my best. My goal was to get by, and don't get noticed. I didn't participate, I didn't talk and I began to dislike school.
Simple Truth: Boys and Girls are VERY different.
What research says about boys is this:
I could keep going, but I think you get the point. There is a gender gap. So the question is, how do we improve this?
Here are two ways things can begin to improve. Let's go back to my beginning story. What I believe about the majority of boys is this, they want people to believe in them! This may seem simple, but it's not. Boys want to feel as though there teacher or coach or parent has complete belief in them. Boys sense doubt and often times this creates anxiety. The anxiety can manifest into anger, sadness, withdrawal, or avoidance. If you connect with a young man, develop trust and truly believe in the best of that young man you are significantly more likely to have that boy run through walls for you. Boys want to be believed in.
A perfect example, I have a fourteen year old son that right now he believes one of his teachers sees him as a trouble maker. His number one goal is to simply go unnoticed and get by. How sad! He's 14 and learning isn't the focus, it's simply survival and move on.
Second, it takes a true art in dealing with boys that make mistakes. My best advice is to deliver consequences out of honor rather than obedience. I would encourage adults to not make a list of rules, rather than a list, define 2-3 clear expectations. Let's be realistic, boys will make mistakes. When a mistake occurs the purpose must focus on restorative practices. For example, a boy defaces property or litters. Restorative practices are critical. It should begin with, the truth. Next comes an apology to show remorse. The third and final step is to make things right. In this situation the student should work with a custodian to see the problem from another persons point of view. This builds on honor, not obedience.
Years ago I watched a Ted Talk by Rita Pierson. Click on her name to watch it. This is still my absolute favorite Ted Talk to date. To quote Rita, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like." If we as a society are going to help boys succeed in school we must acknowledge that there is a problem. Then start doing something about it.
Think about your school or classroom. Is there a difference in behavior? test scores? attendance? suspensions?
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Life can be strange. One minute you feel confident, fulfilled and joyful. The next minute you can feel depressed, negative and unappreciated.
Late Fall of 2016 I found myself scouring different sites for what I believed would potentially be, "a fresh start". I had convinced myself that I needed a change to get my mojo back. I thought a new position would re-ignite my spark. For the remainder of 2016 and the first half of 2017 I was updating my resume and keeping my eyes and ears wide open.
Over the course of a year I had stretches where I felt like the normal me, and I also had weeks that I was negative and distant. The people closest to me could see it. They knew I was not myself, but when confronted I didn't have a real good answer. My normal response was something about being busy and feeling stressed. Truth be told, it was a lot of little things that led to a loss of passion. But if I'm really honest it was one main thing...
I was selfish.
For years I prided myself in building relationships with people. I blogged, I did podcasts, I presented, I connected with people all across the nation. And then slowly I became my own worst enemy. I would see social media posts and compare myself to others. I would read books by my friends and feel the need to do the same. I lost my way. I felt undervalued. This led to negativity, deflection and less patience.
It's important for me to state, during these dark days I still tried very hard to pick myself up. I sent cards to friends, I visited colleagues, I met with community members, I volunteered on committees, I coached my son's sports teams and I vacationed with my wife and family. Not all days were full of despair. However, many days I felt exhausted in the evening. I had held it together the best I could during the day and I was simply emotionally whipped.
Overcoming the Darkness
By default I'm a very reflective and analytical person. Roughly a year ago I went to my doctor and had my yearly physical. At the end of my appointment I decided to ask him about depression. Was what I was feeling normal? Was it depression? Was it a mid-life crisis? My doctor was very understanding and we talked for several minutes. In retrospect this was the first step in getting back to being me.
Step two happened this past summer. Our district went to Chicago for a conference. Joining me were several terrific teachers. After each session each one sought me out to share another game changing idea to make Warner even better. Trouble was, I loved their enthusiasm, but I feared for how things would go when school started. I feared pushback and the day to day struggles. For over two weeks I fought with myself. How could I best support my enthusiastic teachers, but not make too much change for the rest of the staff? I wrestled with this for weeks and I must have been awful to be around. I was wanting to please everyone...this was a recipe for disaster. The focus needed to shift. Unfortunately, I didn't have all the answers. But as I reflect, this was a key piece of the journey back to me.
Step three occurred at a very unlikely time. I was on a morning run with two good friends when I blew my calf muscle. I was on the verge of devastation. It was going to take me away from exercise and physical fitness. Yet luckily I discovered I could ride my bicycle. For the next 5 weeks I became a bike rider and in turn, I began listening to audiobooks. In five weeks I finished eight books. I loved it! I found a light in what I first thought was darkness. Part of the light was my good fortune in reading The Positive Dog and The Energy Bus.
Step four occurred in mid-October of 2018. I was at my breaking point with pushback. I was beaten down with naysayers and those subtle digs about change, leadership and too much too soon. It was that weekend that I had a long voxer conversation with a trusted friend. That conversation led me to stay the course. It wasn't about pleasing everyone. It was about doing what was right.
Step five was in early November. This was the final piece for me.
Two events happened. The first was completely by happenstance. I took a few minutes to peruse social media and I stumbled onto this challenge. The challenge stated, Can you go 24 hours without complaining. Not even once. Then watch how your life starts changing.
I'll spare the details, but I chose to take the challenge. Furthermore, I'm taking that challenge every single day. At the same time that I stepped up to the challenge I also read an article on educator burnout. The article talked about demoralization. After reading the article I couldn't help but think and reflect.
What I believe is, when most people choose a profession/career they understand that not all days will be easy. They are realistic that, over time, it will be normal to experience joy, sadness and stress. Lastly, when most people begin a career they do so to serve and make a difference.
My belief is this (and this led to my turnaround), if you are focused on your own stature, happiness, prestige or benefits you are likely to experience unfulfilled expectations. You will be disappointed. You will feel unsupported. You will feel unappreciated.
However, if you focus on serving and helping others you will constantly be aiming to support and help make the people around you better. This will create more joy and purpose in your life. Shifting to a mindset of serving will make every setback an opportunity.
My hope in sharing is to show that I'm far from perfect. I want to strive each day to lead with my heart and to be a person that serves. I'm lucky, I've rediscovered my purpose and what's ironic is, I realized, it's not about me.
This week I had a moment that truly made me reflect on a lot of things. I took a moment to sit down and chat with Nicole Kelly ... @PowerofPE and I really benefited from our talk. Nicole and I discussed the change from Science to Physical Education as well as the overall culture and climate of Warner. Then Nicole made a comment that has stuck with me, she said, "Our greatest strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses." I thought about this and I believe she is exactly right!
Let's think about this statement, Your Greatest Strength can also be Your Biggest Weakness:
What if your strength is organization. In turn your weakness may be OCD or inflexibility.
What if your strength is your drive and determination. In turn your weakness may be that you don't listen to others and you may not be the best teammate.
What if your strength is loyalty. You may be loyal to a fault and unwilling to change or move forward.
What if your strength is your mathematical mind. Your possible weakness is that it comes easy for you and you struggle to explain it clearly to others that don't understand.
What if your strength is your kindness and care for others. Your weakness may be the inability to accept criticism and deal with conflict.
This is a small sampling designed to get you to reflect on yourself. Is your greatest strength your biggest weakness?
Check out this article by Dr. Brunner: 10 Flaws That Can Derail Good People
We're all human, we're all flawed and we all make mistakes. By human nature we try to improve our weaknesses. Sometimes I want to fix several flaws at one time...this is next to impossible. So how do we go about improving ourselves? This is what I've discovered through reading books, listening to podcasts and watching Ellen Degeneres!
1) Self-Reflect: Reflecting on situations promotes growth. You must be honest with yourself in this process.
2) Stop Comparing: Be the best YOU! Everyone has idiosyncrasies, embrace them and don't try to be someone you aren't.
3) Laugh At Yourself: Thank You Ellen! Humor can heal the soul. When you make mistakes be willing to laugh at yourself. Remember we are all flawed.
4) Learn From Others: It takes a big person to admit they don't have all the answers and that they need support/help. Learning from/with others creates strong bonds.
5) Remember this quote: Good is the enemy to great. - Jim Collins
Try as I might I'll never be perfect. The world would be a boring place if we were all perfect. The best approach is to understand and try to improve. Thank you Nicole, thank you for helping me reflect on an issue I've pushed to the back for too long.
This week's big question: How well do you accept criticism? Do you have a kryptonite?
Last week I participated in the first annual #nErDcampBC. This took place in Battle Creek, Michigan and was wonderfully organized by @colbysharp @sharpsgalore @Suz_Gibbs @BrianWyzlic @mentortexts @daydreamreader @glo & @donalynbooks. I thoroughly enjoyed#nErDcampBC! There were so many intriguing sessions. The second session of the day that I attended was titled Reflection with Evaluation. This session was being led by a student from Albion College. Her name was Becca. The group attending this session was small, but excellent. Everyone was sharing and listening. I was the lone administrator in the room, but I was fine with this. My goal was to share some of the things I currently do and receive feedback. I also wanted to hear what other schools are doing with evaluations.
The first question that was brought up for discussion was, "As teachers, are you honest with your administrator about your weaknesses?" Becca asked the question and she then went on to share that her mom is a teacher in Detroit and her mom struggles with this. At this point in the conversation I listened, but I also thought of Warner Elementary.
I remember this year when a teacher told me she was struggling with Everyday Math. I remember when another teacher sat down with me and we discussed integrating technology as a way to increase engagement. I thought back to the time when another teacher told me that standard based grading was not going as smooth as they hoped for. I also remember a teacher openly asking me for input on reading. I relished these conversations! This is collaborating and being a true PLC school.
Then I listened to other teachers sitting in our session. The stories were very different from my thoughts. The comment that stuck out to me the most was, "I'm afraid to be honest with my principal because in the past I've been dinged on my evaluation for sharing my weaknesses."
This comment struck me as sad. The comment also struck me as courageous. The overwhelming opinion was that teachers cannot be honest with principals for fear of being penalized for their honesty.
I pondered these responses. What percentage of teachers are honest with principals? I'll admit I googled this. I couldn't find a definitive answer. I think this raises a bigger issue: Is Honesty the best quality? I had a great teacher growing up his name was Mr. Rod Hardy. Mr. Hardy was my HS Gov't teacher. I was fortunate to also have him as my golf coach. I remember a time when Mr. Hardy talked to our class about honesty in politics. He told us that an honest politician is tough to find, but when you find one you can be assured they are revered by the people. He then gave examples of honest politicians, he mentioned George Washington, Abe Lincoln and a few others. He then went on to say that our times are different. Mr. Hardy pointed out that past generations truly valued "their" word and character meant more. I listened intently. Mr. Hardy and I talked often, sometimes in class and sometimes on the golf course. I looked up to Mr. Hardy, he was a good teacher and a great person. I'll never forget a comment he told our class, "An honest man doesn't have to remember what he said." At first I didn't get it, but then it clicked!
To get back on track, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting? I believe this is a culture question.
So how does the cycle end? Here are my thoughts:
1) Educators must view evaluations as a growth tool.
- Too often I hear horror stories of Principals using evaluation as a punishment tool or as a way to force people out. Strong administrators must have the courage to have difficult conversations. I've learned that I must choose my words carefully, but I must be honest.
2) Teachers must honestly reflect.
- I attended MACUL this year. I listened to many dynamic speakers, but I won't forget one message. Nobody is PERFECT! We all make mistakes. This is true. I do believe some teachers view themselves as A+ teachers. I believe there are many highly effective teachers, but I would say a perfect teacher does not exist. No one is perfect. As I say this, I believe it is vital that teachers continuously reflect. Through honest reflection will come growth. Ask yourself, what went well? What could I have done differently?
3) Shift the culture.
- This begins at a local level, but then it must grow. I believe each building needs to have a growth mindset, a willingness to take risks, an open forum for collaboration, the willingness to honestly share and an administrator that is in classrooms often. After this is established the culture must grow! The community needs to hear "our" story. Education is the best profession in the world! We must share all the good and change the negative perceptions! It starts small and builds. Educators need to be telling "OUR" story. If we continue to let the media or legislature tell our story we will continue to be beat up.
4) It should NOT be about test scores.
- Teacher evaluation, Principal evaluation, Schools and Districts should not be graded on test scores. I believe this is when things went downhill. Standardized tests to my knowledge were never designed to be high stakes tests. Unfortunately they are. I don't know how, but this needs to change. There is so much more to a child's education. It shouldn't be about test scores.
The question was, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting? I believe some are. I also believe this is a shame. The cycle must end.
When you sit down in the fall will you set goals that push you to improve? When you search for PD will you be honest with what your weakness is? Will you share your story this year?