Thursday, October 5, 2017

October 4: One Hit Wonders

"Calling fishing a hobby is like calling brain surgey a job" Paul Schullery

"Take your passion, and make it happen" Irene Cara

Fishermen often have to work very hard to find the right spot, at the right time, to have success. There is a combined momentum of time, space, and climate one must learn to profit from any hole they select. In addition, you've got to be skilled and committed at a certain level to call yourself a fisherman. There is an intentional, routine, and consistent set of behaviors that make sense. The same can be said of leaders.

Wayne Gretzky is Wayne Gretzky becasue he was the most passionate, dedicated, hard working, focused, goal-oriented lover of hockey to ever play the game. He played at the highest level consistently and has set records that have lasted generations because he stuck to his formula for success. 1 Stanely Cup wasn't enough. Neither were 3...

I find it frustrating when leaders go to a state conference, pat themselves on the back, act as if they have "the" formula figured out, and then return to their district with a "One Hit Wonder". To me, a One Hit Wonder is a feeble attempt at hitting a home run with some new program for change or improvement in a fancy wrapper that knocks your staff over and leaves them wondering what is happening to them! Every year, tired adminstrators and teachers bring home one hit wonders and schools never change. Every year there is another Irene Cara! Oh, what a feeling these hits must leave your staff with? U2, on the other hand, is intentional, routine, know the program.

Maybe ironic, but I love Irene Cara. Irene's message is actually a timeless value statement. Don't look for one magic formula, or the same fishing hole everyone swears by. Let your passion guide you as a leader. Commit to what fires you the most, take it extremely personally, and teach yourself to be intentional, routine, and consistent with your endeavors. You'll find you don't need to seek the same programs or themes or vehicles everyone else does. You won't go fishing for that one big "One Hit Wonder". You'll become a fisherman of ideas and reel in the ones that matter most because you were relentless, focused, and committed as a leader. Leadership is no hobby. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September 7, 2017: User Friendly?

"Whatever you are, be a good one"
Abraham Lincoln

As the leader of a small, rural Ohio district in a county rife with poverty, I encounter many people who don't know what they don't know. What I mean is this: they don't really know who they are, what they have, or where they are heading. More important, they don't know what children today need and demand in terms of learning.

School communities aren't "user friendly" for kids- at the local level, the regional level, or the state level. At advocacy meetings around the state I am constantly reminded by other adults in political positions that "Ohio has to decide what it wants to be when it comes to public education."

I have the answer: Ohioans leading our legislature and our communities and our education committees and our think tanks need to stop worrying so much about what adults think will make schools more user friendly, and start thinking about how children would define the concept. In fact, they will tell you!

I recently took part in our community's elementary school's ten year anniversary celebration. A 5th Grader performed the emcee duties better than any adult I could have picked, and as she explained the service learning aspirations of the school, she told the audience point blank, "If you want to see what a bunch of ten year old's can accomplish, move out of the way and watch us go!" She wasn't joking. Her words speak to the controls in place over her education that we adults just can't seem to give up.

I was once told there are 3 kinds of poverty we deal with in Ohio:
1. Those who don't know they are poor and wouldn't label it as poor
2. Those who know it but don't want anyone else to know or label them
3. Those who know it and feel entitled to be cared for because of it

While I'm not sure I agree with these general categories, I have seen the cultures around Ohio's small towns long enough to know that the stereotypes exist. Observing school communities operating for decades AS IF they are something they aren't can be mystifying. But kids see right through it! I watch them graciously hand food over to their hungry friends every day in our cafeteria, meanwhile adults across the state can't figure out a way identify every hungry child because the adults' privacy matters too much. What's our problem?

With ever-shrinking enrollments, a lack of broadband access or technology tools, and brain drains of staff and graduates leaving by the hundreds, many small communities are missing out on opportunities they might never get back because they refuse to acknowledge the facts to change their outcomes.Why aren't more schools changing?

Many of the school districts in Ohio- over 430 of them- qualify as small and/or rural by nature. Yet they don't embrace what is around them. The lack of qualified manufacturers, tool and die makers, and precision agriculture employees shines a light on the biggest fallacy that exists in public education: that our adult leaders in communities around the state aren't to blame for the career crisis. It's a simple truth: if you don't make this kind of programming user friendly for students, you won't get these types of future workers.

The generational bias against students the past 10 years has been palpable, as all the sudden the adults have placed blame for this crisis on another generation as they react negatively to the consumerism in education that has sprung up all around us, and that they are responsible for.

Meanwhile, modern students are ready to embrace their learning, and to create the next productive American generation of whatever we actually need, if adults ever let it happen. Adults keep settling for "if it was good enough in my day, its good enough today", and perpetuating the "I walked up hill both ways to school" mentality that has nothing to do with the technology and knowledge explosion these students must navigate, and yet has caused Ohio severe damage over the past 30 years.

The lack of generational change, of reforming to become user friendly for today's students, has caused our communities to lose strength.

The simple fact is, schools are failing because they aren't relevant to their locale, and communities aren't reforming them FAST ENOUGH. We are so far behind in Ohio that one need look no further than the number of alternatives available online or through private charters to know we are asleep in our tiny towns, where conservative trustees and councils and boards tilt at windmills over the color of the baseball unis or the weeds in the parking lot versus the reforms needed to make their schools work - for their current customers.

Graham's journey to Future Ready is about engaging community, strengthening partnerships, and reforming our schools because our number goal is to personalize education for each student. That's always been the answer. Ask them. they'll tell you.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 9, 2017: Get your mind right for the future

"Press Pause. Get your mind right. Step up"  Tim Kight, Founder of Focus 3

I logged a lot of miles this summer. The miles and the learning along the way had my head spinning. I drove across small and rural America and it was inspiring. From Van Wert to Winona Lake, Genoa to Baraboo, Donaldson and the Dells, I got to see much of our country as I traveled by car to Winnipeg to meet my first grandchild, Lucas. The time was too short, my grandson too cute, and the questions that my wife and I discussed about what his future would be like were transforming.

We spent the following week driving to and from Philadelphia, where I attended the first National Principals Conference with my team and several colleagues. The ride was shorter, but as I made my way past Granville, Cambridge, Charleroi and Carlisle, my excitement grew to see our nation's early capital, Philadelphia. I spent time reflecting on the history of our great country, and the Craft Apprentice era that it's founded upon. Men like Ben Franklin were innovative and they were focused on the future. In all my research and readings about our Founding Fathers, one truth has stuck out over and over again: they weren't planning and teaching and writing and inventing for themselves. They were planning for the next generation, for their future.

In my conversations with our principals and innovators like Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray, I sought clarity about what it takes to become future ready, not for our teachers or our bus drivers or our parents, but for our learners. Sitting in sessions with leaders from California and Pennsylvania and Maine, the message struck over and over again was "break the mold".

Recently I had the opportunity to see Tim Kight of Focus 3 for the third time with a group of small and rural school leaders in our county. It was a charm. His R-Factor messages are simple, clear, and deep. For my mission, the message was clear. Adult behavior has to change for schools to change. Simple. Clear. Deep.

We need to "press pause" on what we have been doing the same for over 100 years in education that's not working, and "get our minds right". We need to evaluate our present circumstances and "step up" to change them for children, not for us.

I saw my grandson's future in our past as I walked through the cobblestone neighborhoods of Philly. The era of innovation and craftsmanship so important to Americans of yesterday are truly what we must model again today in schools. Learners need to be able to develop their passions and take a journey. They can't do that if adult behaviors don't change, if we don't give them keys to the kite.
Bridgestone Tires motto says it best, "your journey is our passion". Simple. Clear. Deep. My children deserve it. My grandson will demand it. I will step up.        

Monday, June 26, 2017

Planting Seeds Part 11: Power of the Collaborative

“Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever you were gonna do anyway.”  Iron Man

I eat breakfast at a wonderful spot called the Farmer's Daughter. I watch as the team of wait staff assist one another in a whirlwind of coffee pots, cinnamon buns, and omelets on Saturday mornings. I hear the laughter they share as they hustle through hundreds of patrons with a consistency of product that keeps them coming back time and again, just like me. It is a comforting spot, and there is an expectation of quality here. I haven't just literally gained weight here in this place. They have changed me- for the better. This is one place where the county networks.

One morning I met with a university representative here to discuss aligning our missions to deliver online learning with new methods. The next week its the career tech director to discuss shared services with a transport company. One morning it was the leader of the Chamber to talk about childhood literacy, another the YMCA CEO to talk wellness. It goes on and on. It's the spot for deals, and partners and dreams. The power is in the collaborative.

In my endeavors as a leader I have found one thing to be true above all others: no one can tell you no forever IF you have the power of a collaborative working alongside you. When it comes to changing education, some days it feels like you are pushing a boulder up a mountain. So why not get others to help you push? The collective power of partners works for the Avengers, so why aren't others doing it regularly?

There are three important elements to a collaborative:

1. You are a part of the whole and must share authority
2. You have to think of how others can benefit as much as you
3. Your team is diverse and forces you to recognize the strengths of others

The power that results from shared activities and developing those around you is transformative in nature. You can actually accomplish more goals than you started dreaming of in the first place. New goals emerge that are bigger and require steps you couldn't achieve alone.

Recently my colleagues at small and rural schools across Ohio formed such a collaborative. There is a need to address professional development for the next generation of educator in Ohio, and to develop a network of greater access and equity for our schools. Throughout the past year, I have done a lot of listening, smiling,and nodding to the great advice I received from some education heroes, the criticisms of a few politicos, and the pursed mouths of those that questioned the rationale for a collaborative. What has resulted is nothing I could have imagined alone, and it has turned out better than anything I ever dreamed I could be a part of. The collaborative IS the value, and the power in that is undeniable.

Those critics, they missed the point. They missed out on an opportunity bigger than themselves, because they weren't thinking any further down the road than their own needs. Because of the collaborative, they may still benefit. One thing is for sure- they didn't realize I was gonna do it anyway.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Planting Seeds Part Ten: Celebrate the Bounty

"Whatever you are, be a good one" - Abe Lincoln

Over the past year at the Graham Local Schools, I have known three things for certain:
1. I am the superintendent
2. My ideas are new to the Graham culture
3. Change takes place very slowly in education

Keeping these three things in mind, I have endeavored to accomplish three things:
1. Build relationships within the school and community
2. Build my team
3. Keep the district's vision and goals the main focus of all conversations

Celebrating progress is something that takes time and effort. In a profession where so many of us have to be so positive every day to foster the success of children, you would think this would be easy. But celebrating is one of the most difficult things to do in a routine and consistent manner. Attitude and reflection are at the heart of the issue. In order to teach other leaders, you have to get them to take time to reflect on the good, and think about their attitudes. We tend to suffer our defeats far more than we ever savor our victories. That's just wrong.

We have tackled this issue by making celebrations part of our norms at Graham. We start off all formal meetings with celebrations. We take time in our weekly and monthly newsletters to promote "What's good at Graham", and we use social media to capture positive actions, events, and the people who make Graham great. We need to tell our story or others will tell it for us.

Our Board has used its meeting agendas to celebrate also, recognizing the efforts of alumni, retired employees, and agencies that partner with Graham. We have spent much time shaping our own messages through press releases, coffee talks, and community meetings.

Will we ever drown out the negative? No. There are always those who can sit idly by and play critic. But our focus has to be on the positive. In the absence of a positive attitude and belief that what we do actually changes this culture for the better, we stay the same. Reflection and celebrations help us keep the focus the focus, and reinforce progress.

There is no doubt Graham is changing. I see it at new activities, new events, and with new initiatives created by students, staff, and administrators. It is inspiring. The level of feedback about our schools and what is happening is motivating. I see our team developing right before my eyes. I see our goals being realized with small victories, and a few large ones, and I am so proud. Our ideas work.
I think this is why I am a superintendent. I was never quite sure what the title meant, but upon reflection, I think I do now.    

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Planting Seeds Part 9: Focus for growth

"Focus, Daniel-son...Trust the quality of what you know, not the quantity" 
Mr. Miyagi, the Karate Kid, 1984

Building a student-centered culture takes focus. Ironically, it's not the norm in schools full of students! Changing the focus takes a high level of commitment and time. There will be periods of time where adult responses and feedback raise questions like, "how did we get here?" and "why are we doing this?" Michael Fullan calls these periods "implementation dips". Change can seem like a wave with ebbs and flows over time, especially after the first waves hit the breakers of focus and resistance.

Resistance to change is actually easier than the focus needed to sustain change. Changing people, training people, and placing people are much easier short term changes than winning people over culturally. In fact, the pace and time necessary to ride the swells and swim through the dips is more than most plan for. That's why so few cultural changes leaders implement are sustained- they take lots of time, and focus over time. When leaders leave, it's easy for people to erode short term ideas and change the focus.

Doug Reeves has been working with my leaders the past two years and we are still learning to focus on the themes of our strategic plan, aligning that plan to the main goals for their buildings, and to the data they want to monitor. His notion of "short-term wins" fascinates me for its simplicity. It makes common sense.

Short term wins are discussed regularly here at Graham as are the ideas of focus and "pulling weeds". This exercise seems to be the hardest, as our leaders struggle with taking things off their plate for themselves and staff, while they continually find ideas and motivation to add ideas to their thinking.

I've taken an approach to provide activities for my leadership team each month that require reflection around norms we have developed together. When leaders have to reflect and then write or share out their thoughts, I see how truly tough their job is. Letting them manage their plans after they reflect with me, and allowing them to process their own focus has paid dividends, and is helping them to see the weeds that have cropped up.

Self-monitoring your own morale- a lesson I learned a long time ago at camp, but Jimmy Casus recently reinforced, is another strategy I use with my leaders to grow their focus, and to get them to pull weeds that are a distraction to changes we are promoting. It's hard to promote or model growth mindset and passion when leaders can't monitor and control their own emotional energy levels or the moods they display around others. Leadership capacity starts with self-monitoring and we are growing in this manner, so that we can handle the dips of others, and motivate them to embrace the culture we want to realize for everyone.

I recently observed a group of high school students address our district leadership team about their plans to develop student voice and choice through leadership and social justice activities in their school. The students were articulate, passionate, and they challenged the adults to meet them at their level of energy and enthusiasm for their future plans. It was inspirational, motivational, and a big, huge bat signal that our culture is changing with a student-centered focus in all buildings. When students are collaborating with supportive adults to create their own learning paths, the waves of change in a student-centered culture are a much smoother ride for us adults!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Planting Seeds Part 8: Keep the thing the thing

The Ides of March can be found in the wind....

I'm older now but still runnin' against the wind...

As leaders sometimes we have to remember our focus is not the focus shared by all. In fact, its typically our job to define that focus for others. Whether on an agenda, with a direction, or in a dialogue with others, we must be able to communicate "the thing".

When you come across someone who has poor body language or a strict countenance on their face in a professional meeting, what do you do?

When someone openly challenges your calls, or tries to question your intentions, what do you do?

When its obvious the politics of nepotism and past practice are mistaken as ethical, what do you do?

Answer: Keep the thing the thing

Don't deviate. Don't allow others to erode the momentum. Don't modify the "thing" that's driven you to this point in the first place. People don't know what they don't know, so teach them. All leaders have the ability to teach what they know to change the future.

Don't overreact. That's a sure sign you yourself are forgetting the thing, and allowing the focus to shift.

Don't stop talking about the thing. Taking a pause on what's most important provides an opening for other things to emerge.

Don't stoop. When someone wants to take a low road to get somewhere, that's not a destination, it's usually a dead end. Keep your energy focused on the thing, not someone questioning the thing.

Don't ignore. Ignorance is not bliss. It's actually creates more things. Having a focus doesn't mean one ignores others' things. It means one addressed them and communicates about how they align to THE thing.

Some leaders tend to forget our best teaching methods. When this happens, we see it. When leaders keep a laser focus on the thing, we also see it. Start with the thing. Provide an example to highlight the why of that thing. Reference and remind about the things several times. Provide closure with reflection on the thing. Keep the thing the thing.