Friday, May 13, 2016

Cursed! 8 Roadblocks to Success

I am a people watcher.  My wife and I enjoy this hobby together and refer to it as “visiting the human zoo.” Although the appearance of folks can be entertaining, I find the most joy in watching behavior.  I am especially fascinated by how beliefs, perceptions and values play out in our behaviors.  Many people will point to student behavior as the most driving factor in a school’s success.  This simply is not true.  Adult behaviors drive school success.  I can clearly visualize one teacher who almost bounces down the hall during passing, engaging everyone with eye contact and a smile.  The way he carries himself says, “I am so happy to be here and glad you are too!”  A minute later, another staff member passes walking with purpose clearly not interacting with anyone.  The flat affect of their body language communicates disengagement and despondency.  How is it that two highly-educated, well-meaning professionals can respond in such a dramatically different way to their environment?  How can one teacher find success with a group of challenging kids when another cannot?  It is as if some educators have been cursed.  One can define a “curse” as the source of trouble or bad luck.  Let’s take a look at some of these roadblocks to success.  I challenge you to identify specific people that come to your mind as you reflect on this list.

1)      The Culture of Complaint Curse – I am saddened by how often conversations between people start with a complaint.   Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that one of the quickest ways to build an ally is to find a common enemy.  But to be emotionally healthy, this can’t be our only relationship-building strategy.  As educators, we need to hold ourselves accountable to model positivity for our students and one another.  Those who suffer from this curse fowl the nest that is our school culture.

2)      The Curse of Knowledge - The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to communicate concepts at the level that a novice learner needs.  Students can become intimidated and reluctant to ask questions for fear of looking less than smart.  Educators who suffer from this curse often make inaccurate assumptions about their learners.  They believe their students are disengaged and “just don’t care.”  Teachers carrying this curse lack the skill set necessary to meet the learner at their current level of mastery and bring them where they need to be.

3)      The Curse of Invulnerability - This curse drives educators to not allow themselves to be truly seen.  The focus for those with this curse is concern of appearing to be smart, strong and capable.  It is often masked by what people describe as “professional distance.”  This curse interferes with relationship building, transparency, and true connection to others.  Shame leads to blame and true discourse about real issues never happens.  If you are not among the 24 plus million people who have watched Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability, do yourself a huge favor and do so today!  (Click here to view)

4)      The Curse of Complacency – This curse manifests itself as a quiet voice in the mind of the individual that whispers, “I have arrived personally and professionally.” It kills the drive to receive feedback or seek further growth.  Author Jim Collins captures it perfectly with the quote (below) from his book, Good to Great.  Acceptance of the status quo is the order of the day for those afflicted.  This can be a huge issue for leaders working to transform “high performing” campuses as measured by standardized testing.  Teachers in these settings are especially susceptible to the curse since their current practice seems to be effective based upon test scores. The insidious nature of this curse keeps these teachers from actively seeking best

5)      The Curse of Standardization – This curse has reached epidemic proportions in education.  It is a sly curse disguising itself as high expectations, clear direction and tradition.  Whether it is the federally supported Common Core, or state-based standards such as our Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, our learning targets are too numerous to be truly learned at a deep level.  In an attempt to fully cover the wide breadth of standards, teachers fall victim to the curse by providing the exact same instruction for rooms full of learners with a great disparity of competencies.   Despite the obvious need for differentiation, the Curse of Standardization keeps us in a traditional lesson cycle of lecture, independent practice, homework, test, grade and move on.  In an effort to create "well-rounded" individuals, creativity is killed and students disengage.  What a tragic curse that directs us to standardize rather than build student’s strengths, support them in following their passion, and ultimately owning their learning. 

6)      The Curse of Experience – There is an old adage that says, “Experience is the best teacher.” I agree with that statement.  I also know that experience can be a killer of the creative problem solving needed to be successful.  People carrying the Curse of Experience are incapable of novel problem solving.  They seek to apply the same set of processes to new problems.  They become frustrated when they have different results from before, not recognizing that different variables are currently in play. Frequently those carrying this curse suffer from “mistalgia.”  Beware the educator that always starts the conversation around problem-solving with, “At my old campus….” This individual might be suffering from this curse.

7)      The Curse of Low Expectations – This curse kills our ability to help students reach their potential.  When afflicted, teachers no longer believe that certain students can be successful.  They will actively seek new instructional strategies, but nothing works because the real issue lies with the teacher himself.  One can sometimes detect those who suffer from this curse when they judge entire groups (class periods, grade levels, etc.) of kids as incapable.   If you hear a professional make the statement, “Bless his heart.” you can be assured that the Curse of Low Expectations is raising its ugly head.

8)      The Curse of Hypocrisy - This is the darkest and most dangerous curse. When afflicted, the curse bearer engages in the same behavior or activity for which he criticizes another.  At its onset, the individual simply lacks self-awareness.  Once the curse has reached its apex, the individual is aware that they are passing judgment on others while demonstrating the behavior they are judging.  Despite this awareness, they lack the self-honesty or motivation to change.  An example of this is the principal that reprimands the teacher who does not differentiate, but provides no differentiation for his teachers during staff development.  Another example is the man who attends church and while processing the sermon, sees the sins of others and never recognizes them as his own.  For this reason some refer to this as “The Church-goers Curse.”

At the beginning of this post, I challenged you to identify specific people that came to your mind as you thought about each curse.  Did you ever identify yourself?  If not, you might be suffering from the Curse of Hypocrisy yourself. :-0)

As a reflective leader, I have spent time lately trying to understand the factors, biases, and distorted thoughts that interfere with our success as educators.  It is easier to recognize these problems than it is to ameliorate them.  How does one go about curing these curses?  Here is what I recommend:
·         Start with self-awareness.  We all have fears, biases and prejudices that influence our actions.  Becoming aware of those that potentially limit us from being our best self is critical.  Reflect on your curses. Perhaps you will want to identify a curse that is a roadblock to your success listed in this post.
·         Once identified, be intentional with how you guard yourself against the curse.  Shift your self-talk. Mind what you do and say when interacting with others. Model what you expect.
·         When you see others who are afflicted by a curse, be willing to have a courageous conversation with them.  Help them with their journey to become the best-of-the-best.  This is at the heart of what it means to be a servant leader.

What other “curses” can you identify?  Please comment and add to this list.  I would love to hear your voice!