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?
"Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence." - Anonymous
Have you ever met someone and in a matter of minutes you got a pretty good feel for their character?
As a family we stepped out of the sweltering heat and into the confinesof the U.S. Capitol. This was our first visit inside and we were looking forward to a guided tour. We gathered at the back of the line and then we were routed into five different lanes. As we began filtering to lane five a gentleman in a red jacket approached and motioned us to lane four with him. He introduced himself as Ron and handed us our head phones. He then took a moment to make sure they were working properly.
Our group consisted of approximately 15 people. Ron gave us a quick overview and then told us he would try to get us into a couple areas that are, “not general access points.” Within a couple minutes Ron made us all feel valued and special. He wasn’t simply, “herding cattle”, he was going beyond the call of duty.
Our first stop was in a semi-private room with the bust of Abraham Lincoln. Ron went into great detail about the display and the significance. It didn't take long to realize the extensive knowledge that Ron possessed. After another stop he led us into the Rotunda.
Immediately upon entering the Rotunda I was speechless. Looking at the works of art made it all very real. Ron shared several significant pieces of information and he even stopped us twice to have us notice members of Congress walking through the Rotunda. Ron’s ability to share fact, with historical perspective, and embed wit was astounding. As he talked to us he looked at us, he answered our questions, he was 100% present in our experience.
As our tour drew to a close, I gravitated to the front and began talking with Ron. I told him I was impressed with his knowledge and expertise of the Capitol. He looked at me and said, “I take great pride in my work.” I responded, “I can see that and so can your colleagues.” I then shared with him that I spontaneously said to another guide, “Ron is good!” His colleague looked at me, smiled, nodded, and said, “He’s the best.”
After Ron heard this he paused. He looked at me and said, “Thank you. Thank you for your interest in our country and thank you for your kind words.”
Ron then discreetly shared a few inside tidbits with me about the House of Representatives. He then ushered my family through a private walkway and that was the last I saw of Ron.
Throughout our tour I learned amazing facts about dead spots in the floor, a change in artists in the Rotunda, the subtle flaws in the artwork and the deep history of the Capitol. I left FAR better than when I entered. This was the mark of a terrific tour.
Moments later we stood in line for a behind the scenes viewing of the House of Representatives, yet all I could think about was wishing I had another tour with Ron. His professionalism, insight and pride really made an impression on me.
As I reflect on my visit to the Capitol I pause and think of the experience. What characteristics show you that a person is genuine, invested and takes pride in what they do? What experience do you provide for the people you serve?
Our World would be a better place if we had more people like Ron. Invested individuals that take pride in all they do.
What will people say about the experience you provide?
As a classroom teacher, one of my biggest frustrations was late work and work simply not handed in. I struggled with how to report this. Years ago my report cards would sit in front of me and I'd have to put grades in. I found myself thinking about effort, responsibility and attitude. I was wrong. It shouldn't be my biased opinion on those things, it should be a true reflection of what the student knows.
Frustration One: I'll admit I used this phrase in the past...School is a job for students. Really? I was wrong. The "Real World" includes compensation, typically in the form of money. The "Real World" people lose jobs for failing to work. Students aren't paid and students certainly aren't fired. Instead of saying you are preparing them for the "Real World", why don't we understand, relate and differentiate to optimize students potential in our classroom. Let's not relate it to the so called "Real World". If students don't do an assignment we as educators need to figure out why. Is it a lack of Resources? Time? Understanding? Why did the student not do the assignment?
Frustration Two: I'll admit, I've stated the phrase, "We must prepare our students for the future." I do believe this, but understand what this means. Preparing students for the future is teaching them how to be life long learners, how to problem solve and how to be a contributing citizen to society. My frustration lies in people saying students must learn _____ to be successful. The blank could be anything, the point is we should be teaching students how to find the answers and to think critically.
Frustration Three: I'll admit I've uttered the phrase, "Giving a student a zero will destroy their self-esteem or self worth." Really? I guess it could, but I believe that students would rather get a zero with no effort, than a 30% with effort. The student that tries and fails is much more likely to lose self-esteem. They've invested time and effort, a 30% would clearly show that they do not understand the concept.
Belief One: All kids can learn. I've always believed this. I've also always believed that a big part of teaching is motivating and engaging students. I love listening to Kevin Honeycutt and hearing his story about how he got a troubled student to embrace learning in his classroom. He said on day one, "HEY, this is a challenging classroom, do you have my back?" The student looked perplexed, Kevin restated, "YOU GOT MY BACK?" The student then proceeded to get the attention of the class, by yelling..."YO EVERYBODY! SIT DOWN, MR. HONEYCUTT IS READY TO TEACH!" From this moment forward the troubled student was no trouble for Mr. Honeycutt. The message here is, Trust Kids and you may be surprised what can happen.
Belief Two: Knowledge is power, but a clean slate can be more powerful. I remember starting each school year and looking at my class list. Every year I'd have teachers bend my ear with information about how challenging a student is. Immediately my perspective was skewed. I found value in the clean slate. In the end I think there is a happy medium. Some information is helpful.
Belief Three: The true value of a zero. My belief is that educators that give zeros (and I was one, at one time), are not assessing knowledge or understanding. Educators that give zeros are assessing responsibility and effort. PERIOD.
My report cards always had room for teacher comments. I ALWAYS filled the box with comments. This was my professional statement about the student. This was my opportunity to explain the students character strengths and weaknesses. The actual report card was just student knowledge, not my personal biases. I don't believe zeros should be given. I believe all students are capable of understanding on some level. I always believed it was my role to find a way for a student to "show me what he/she knew".
Educators have a challenging job. We must teach students content, help them become life long learners, engage them in problem solving and deeper thinking. Plus help them become the best person they can be. It really is the "whole child" approach. I embrace this, and I also believe that responsibility and effort are critical, I just don't think they should be the deciding factors in a students grade.
I can visualize the students I had that always turned in assignments late or didn't do them. I would conference with them, I would try to relate, I would try to motivate and engage. One student stands out for me: Austin. Austin treated school as social hour. He participated when he felt like it. At first I was frustrated with Austin. Then I learned about his life, I invested in Austin. After I invested in Austin I found it was easier to motivate him and he didn't want to let me down. Austin and I played chess when his work was done, he would teach me yo-yo tricks, and he even decided to sign-up for my after school cross country club. After I invested in Austin the zeros disappeared. I found a way to reach him. I believe all kids can be reached. Teachers are key, can you unlock a challenging student?
This week's big question: Grades are a communication tool to students and parents, do your grades reflect knowledge or effort?
For eight years I've been a principal. One thing I've learned over the years is the dynamic of Me versus We.
It's human nature to focus on yourself above all other things, but this can be the demise of a school, organization or family.
Have you ever been a part of a team and you just knew individuals weren't giving their all? Have you ever been a part of a team and thought, "I'm the hardest worker on this team?"
Sure you have.
I bet these thoughts created resentment, frustration, and anger.
My biggest struggle as a leader is constantly trying to get the most out of everyone.
What I do believe is to get the most out of people leaders need to:
Recently I received a piece of mail that made me pause. I opened the bulky manila envelope and pulled out the packet of papers. Instantly I could tell the package was full of older documents. Then I read the hand-written note at the top of the packet.
"Ben, we are purging old documents and we thought you'd like your transcript and file."
Interesting enough, I put the documents back in the folder and didn't look at them for nearly two months.
Then for some reason I decided to go through the packet. I studied my high school transcripts. I re-read the comments. I chuckled at some of my class choices. Next up, I sifted through my middle school career. Finally I finished up by looking at my elementary notes.
The first thing I'd like to share is, I was NOT the model student. As I prepared to begin kindergarten all the notes had concerns. I was recommended for an additional year of Pre-K and then I was recommend to repeat kindergarten. Evidently I was NOT where I needed to be as a five year old.
Second, if you look at the comments they ranged from good all-around student to capable of doing better. One can only imagine how these two comments could be attached to the same student...hmmm.
Third, as I completed 7th grade I was ranked 34th out of 86 students. Pretty much middle of the pack. As I graduated high school my final ranking was 16th out of 68. From an outsiders vantage point that would be considered acceptable. However, closer detail showed something a bit different.
Looking back at the classes I took from 7th through 12th grade I immediately saw a pattern. In some classes I played the game. I complimented my teachers, I raised my hand, I stayed after to get support, I was polite and friendly. In other rooms, with other teachers, I didn't, play the game. I was distant, I attempted to fly under the radar and quite often did just enough to get by.
For those wondering, I didn't experience a traumatic event and I was generally an upbeat, happy kid. The answer isn't as difficult as one may try and make it. My success came down to personal connections and respect. If I connected and respected my teacher I played the game and in turn, I almost always received an A or a B. The flip side was, sometimes I didn't respect my teacher and therefore, I didn't play the game. In these classes I would struggle to get to the 80% mark. Often times these classes ended up being C's and occasionally a D.
My frustration with school is that I do believe the game still occurs.
This is why school is fractured. Educator bias, subjectivity and final grades that still reflect attitude and effort happen all too often.
The solution? Let's STOP the Game of School. Here are some solutions -
Solution 1 - Eliminate the archaic system of grading. If you are still averaging percentages the simple question is why? Research and current best practice show a tremendous shift to standard based grading or competency based grading. This goes for all levels of education. Here is an article to reinforce this solution. Click here.
Solution 2 - Compliance should not equal academic success. Some of the greatest achievements have come from individuals that were willing to be disruptive. Yet, the school system of today rewards compliance and negatively labels disruptors. Don't believe me? Check out what Thomas Edison's teacher said about him... Thomas Edison, brilliant scientist and inventor, was thrown out of school at age 12 because he was terrible at math and unable to focus. His teacher said, ‘he was too stupid to learn anything.’
Solution 3 - Learning MUST become more personalized. Teaching to the middle or giving a one size fits all, all the time, is poor practice. This method widens the gap between haves and have nots, it also reinforces the Game of School Approach. If schools don't shift to a more individualized method they are doing a disservice to a large population of students. Need more information on Personalized Learning? Click here.
Solution 4 - Schools must create more authentic forms of learning. Task management and busy work do not engage high levels of learning. They reinforce compliance. Too often schools supply a heavy load of work to occupy students and stifle creativity. The best forms of authentic learning are intertwined with projects and service learning. This type of learning can appear messy, but it also makes the teacher more of a facilitator. Check out this post. Teach the Way You Wish You Were Taught
Solution 5 - Reward the best educators. Do we really still use pay scales to have everyone in lock step? What my experiences have taught me is, not all people are the same. Some doctors are better than others. Some lawyers are better than others. Some educators are better than others. Can you imagine if education was (in a small way) similar to athletics? Free Agency? Signing Bonuses? Multi-Year Contracts? If the system encouraged greatness you would see more people driving their own professional development. You'd see more people challenging the Status Quo. You would see more people motivated to stay in education because they are great...not simply reaching for the finish line.
Okay, maybe solution five is a pipe dream. But think about it, do you truly believe all educators should be paid similarly?
Ultimately, I'm fed up with the Game of School. In classrooms across the country a student that looks the part, acts the part, is polite and puts forth effort will likely be rewarded. It makes me wonder, are most schools designed to reward extroverts?
"A good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life." - John Wooden
I've always been a huge believer in feedback. Then after reading the research by John Hattie I found feedback to be even more critical. Check out the research here.
That being said, giving feedback is a skill.
Recently I took in a 7th grade boys basketball game. Last year I co-coached many of the boys that were on the floor. I really wanted to see the growth that they've made as players and young men. I was honestly not expecting a polished game. If you've ever watched a middle school basketball game you realize it is raw, discombobulated and definitely lacks flow. As the game unfolded I watched how the boys played defense off the ball, communicated on the court and what they did when the play broke down on offense. What I witnessed were a few positives and some things that definitely needed work. However, this is to be expected, right?
At the conclusion of the game the home team walked away with a solid fifteen point victory. But I don't think wins and losses are that critical at the 7th grade level. My belief is about learning, improving and developing chemistry.
Several boys came out of the locker room and into the stands. One boy plopped down next to me. I gave him a fist bump and told him I really liked how he played help-side defense and took a great route around a screen to get in-front of his man. I finished by reminding him to use his dribble to open up passing lanes to the post. Then he gave me the strangest look.
He said, "I didn't play well." My response was simple, I told him he did some things well and needs to stay aggressive. He again said, "I didn't play well."
I finally caved and asked why he thinks that? His response left me agitated.
He informed me that after the game the team went into the locker room and sat on the wooden benches. He was untying his shoes and the coach pulled them all together. He then read the players their personal stat line and instructed them to watch the upcoming game that was set to begin shortly.
The boy looked at me and said, I had one rebound and two turnovers. I didn't play well.
All I could say was, "You helped your team get the victory, that is the most important stat."
In my mind I was deeply frustrated, what was the coach thinking? At the peek of my frustration my friend, Kenneth Durham really brought a good perspective. To paraphrase Kenneth, he stated: I understand your frustration, and I would add, isn't this ironically similar to educators focusing on grades?
I thought about it for a second...Kenneth was spot on. As educators we stick a number or letter on a paper, but do we give honest, supportive feedback? If we as educators don't, we are no better than a coach reading a stat line.
The question remains, what is the best way to deliver feedback? Here are four best practices.
First, feedback should be timely.
Second, be specific with feedback. Giving generalities will not help anyone.
Third, it is critical to be positive and sincere. The best leaders deliver feedback with empathy and understanding.
Fourth, focus on the process over the results.
It is safe to say my former players may not receive stellar coaching this year, however, as educators we can be better. Let's not mark up papers and stick a letter or number at the top. Let's help our students learn, grow and continuously improve. Your feedback has the ability to make all the difference.
Challenge to readers...
In the comment section I'd love to hear you share a story connected to feedback you've given or received.
Mr. Gilpin is a people first educator that is focused on serving others, building relationships, student engagement and empowering staff.