Monday, February 15, 2016

Honoring Influencers

     I am a believer in the old adage, “Give credit where credit is due.”  In fact, this was a major issue that I grappled with when I first considered creating a blog.  The last thing I want others to believe is that I am attempting to be credited for their idea.  Professionally, I have been influenced by a variety of people inside and outside the field of education through conferences and various forms of media including books, articles, videos, blogs, etc. I think an apt descriptor for these individuals is the term, "influencer."  I am indebted to influencers for my success as a leader.   How do I honor those that have shaped my thoughts, opinions and ultimately my actions?  This post is an attempt to identify and celebrate a few of the people who have shaped my professional work.  I strongly suspect that as you recognize those on the list and my takeaways from each influencer, you will be nodding your head in acknowledgment of their impact.  

Roland Barth – influenced the way I look at professional relationships in the workplace.  It is critical that we move beyond mere congeniality toward collegiality to foster the growth of our organizations.

Brene Brown – influenced my understanding of the connection between shame, vulnerability, and their impact on relationships.  We must “lean into the discomfort” if we are to grow.

Camerer, Loewenstein and Weber – influenced me to be mindful of, “The Curse of Knowledge.”  This cognitive bias makes it extremely difficult for the experienced individual to think about problems from the perspective of the novice.  Many times, those with the deepest knowledge about a subject struggle the most communicating their understanding to others, especially kids.  Educators MUST beware this curse!

Jimmy Casas – influenced my view of what it means to be a “connected educator.” Without his influence, you would not be reading this post because it would never have been written.

Jim Collins – influenced the steps I use to transform my school.  He helped me to realize that there is inherent complacency when you are in a “good” organization.  The sequence of facing the brutal facts, focusing on getting the right people into the right role, and ultimately providing a simplified focus for your organization based upon passion, drives my work.  Leadership 101.

David Cottrell – influenced my thoughts on increasing the rigor of hiring staff and being purposeful in celebrating the “Superstars.”

Stephen Covey – influenced my thoughts on what to focus on as a leader and the best means to do it… through collaboration.  Love the proactive plea of, “Begin with the end in mind.”

Rick DuFour – influenced the way I see teams working as Professional Learning Communities. His four PLC questions move teams from simple delegation of tasks to collaborating about student learning.

Carol Dweck – influenced my understanding of how one’s mindset put us on a path to grow, or fixes us in our current level of proficiency.  She fundamentally changed the way I praise.  “You are so smart” is no longer in my vernacular. 

Eric Jensen – influenced my understanding of the plasticity of the brain as well as how we best support students that come from poverty.  Our economically disadvantaged students need language development much like an English language learners. 

Patrick Lencioni – influenced my understanding of how trust is the foundation of high functioning teams.  Enemies to our teams are a lack of vulnerability, artificial harmony, an unclear purpose, and ego. 

Robert Marzano – influenced my knowledge of research-based effective strategies. More recently, his work on the development of proficiency scales has been central to our work with standards-based learning.

McTighe and Wiggins – influenced the way I see lesson planning to focus on student understanding.  The concepts of backward design, essential questions and enduring understandings have become so common to PLC planning, many have forgotten where the terms were coined.

Alan November – influenced the way I see technology as a tool.  He led me down the path to Twitter which has fundamentally changed the way I learn professionally.

Malichi Pancoast – influenced how my assistant and I work in partnership to support the school.  Shifts in how my time is managed have put me in more classrooms than ever before.  Breakthrough coaching in a MUST for any new principal/secretary partnership and will even benefit veterans.

Ruby Payne – influenced my understanding of the effects of poverty on students.  An awareness of how the hidden rules of economic class translate into our need teach the ‘unwritten’ rules for success in school came to light through her work.  The concept of language registers and the need to work with students to develop an ability to see the need to move between registers was a big take away. 

Rita Pearson – influenced the way I deescalate argumentative parents.  She reminded me to always start with what the student can do, even it is at a very low level because, “Every child needs a champion!”

Daniel Pink – influenced my understanding of what motivates people intrinsically.  External reinforcers are great motivators for low level tasks.  For high level tasks, autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose drive us from within. 

Sir Ken Robinson – influenced my views on how we need to adapt our current system to move away from the factory model of education and embrace personalized learning.  Real talk about what we currently DO to kids and what we should be doing FOR students.

Simon Sinek – influenced the way I start conversations to innovate or initiate change.  Focusing on the “why” instead of the “how” engages people.

Randy Sprick – influenced the way I viewed structuring classrooms and lessons.  CHAMPS and elements of this approach are common place throughout classrooms on my campus because of his work.

Carol Ann Tomlinson- influenced how I see differentiation as a means to provide opportunities for success with a range of learner competencies. Her teachings hold the keys to much of the personalized learning that we all seem to struggle to bring into classrooms.

Todd Whitaker – influenced the way I view “greatness” in a variety of educational roles.  Additionally, he has informed my skill set that moves responsibility from one staff member to the appropriate staff member.  Shifting that monkey!

Rick Wormeli – influenced the way I view assessment and grading.  He has created the moral imperative for me to work with a standards-based approach to instruction.

Harry Wong – influenced my understanding of the importance of clear expectations and routines to manage my classroom when I began teaching.  More importantly that is was OK to tell your class, “I Love You.”

     As I am drawing this list to a close, I am smiling at how incomplete it truly is.  Imagine throwing a fistful of gravel into a still pond and trying to find which individual pebble created a unique wave that impacts the shore among hundreds of waves.  That task would be easier than identifying our influencers.  With that in mind, let us as connected educators, not stress too much with “giving credit where credit is due.”  I strongly suspect if you were to interview any of the influencers listed, they would be quick to name those who influenced them to develop the ideas they have shared.  Instead, let us focus on becoming more connected as we act as superconductors of ideas and information.  What are you doing to multiply your influence and number of voices you are influenced by?  

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Mosaic of the Mind: Influencers, Information, and Ideation

     As a servant leader, there is no higher praise than when I discover that I have influenced another person in a positive way.  In my professional career, I have worked with many people who have set me on the path to grow and empowered me to develop the skill set necessary to lead.  Beyond those that I have worked directly with, I have been influenced by a variety of people inside and outside the field of education through conferences and various forms of media including books, articles, videos, blogs, etc. I think an apt descriptor for these individuals is the term, “influencer.”

     I am a lover of learning and sometimes feel that I am awash in a sea of information and ideas. The growth of my PLN to include Twitter has amplified the number of influencers I am exposed to and put me on a seemingly exponential professional growth curve.  I am more connected that I have ever been.  Consequently, I am exposed to quotes, opinions and innovations on a daily basis.  I am highly engaged when processing information and ideas.  I find myself validated when they resonate with my belief system. More importantly, I am challenged when new information or ideas conflict with what I hold to be true.  I am stretched to go beyond my perception and develop a deeper understanding of reality. This is the type of learning that I value the most.  Like a mosaicist that collects pieces that have individual beauty to his eye, I collect these ideas.  

     Our district staff development department recently supported our professional growth by allowing us to participate in the Gallup StrengthFinder survey.  Upon completion of the survey, each participant was provided with 5 signature themes that described their strengths.  Ideation was one of the themes that was recognized as a strength for me.  The folks with Gallup provide a basic description for each theme to help us gain a better understanding of what they represent.  “People who are especially talented in the ideation theme are fascinated by ideas.  They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.” What jumps out at me is the word, “connections.” I see this ability to connect information and ideas at the heart of innovation and ultimately organizational improvement.   Innovation is more about connecting information and ideas than coming up with something that is truly novel.  Mark Twain may have said it best with this quote:
"There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages."         Mark Twain
     Twain uses the analogy of a kaleidoscope to capture his thoughts on new ideas.  I prefer an analogy based upon a mosaic.  An artist who works to create a mosaic has a clear vision of what the big picture will be.  He then culls through tiles, glass, or other pieces that will ultimately be used to create the bigger image.  He may have collected elements of the mosaic over a long period of time for future use.  As a master of his craft, he must have an eye for the individual beauty of the parts, but also the skill to connect them to create the overall image. 

     I am the lead learner of a school family with over 1,300 human beings under my care.  With this comes huge responsibilities and expectations.  To meet these expectations, I commit to become increasing connected to multiple influencers through an expanding PLN.  I will filter ideas and information through my values and bring them to action when I think it is best to do so for the members of my school family.  I also commit to pay it forward by serving as a conduit for the flow of ideas and information.  This is my bigger purpose, to serve others by sharing.  I strive to find true joy in the service of others, not in personal recognition.  Perhaps in this way, I can provide just the right piece for the mosaic that a colleague is creating for their organization.  How are you building your personal capacity to be influenced by innovative ideas and support others?