Leading for Results, Part 2 – Stretch Goals

Leadership is hard work. Leadership is lonely work. It seems that for every success and innovation one has, there this someone who attempts to tear it down, bit by bit, eroding that feeling of success. Reflecting on Day 2 of my workshop with Dennis Sparks on the way home from from NSDC, I am realizing that true leaders must accept that it is not going to be easy, but it will be rewarding. And that the power of a support network is absolutely critical to success.

Day 2 of the workshop used the “I want” cards that we began the day before. We brainstormed a few more cards after being reminded that anything we viewed as a challenge or a problem were really thwarted intentions. For example – “The IT guy won’t unblock Blogspot so that I can blog with my students” is really:

1. I want to have my students express their thoughts and opinions, receive feedback on them and reflect on their learning using blogs.

2. I want the IT department to trust that I will monitor my students’ use of the Internet.

3. I want the IT department to work with me to discover alternatives they feel safe with in order to help me meet my objectives with my students.

We were then asked to select one “I want” card that were we to get it on Christmas morning would have a significant impact in our life. We were reminded that as human beings and particularly as educators, we operate from a point of view that when we select a goal if we don’t already have an idea of how to achieve it, then it is not a reasonable goal and therefore we won’t make much progress. We needed to brush that notion aside and remember that it is easier to achieve substantial change than to do it incremental steps. Citing Change or Die (one of my favorite books), Sparks reminded us that a larger goal requires a fundamental change in our belief system and is therefore more likely to result in change. We were going to take our “I want” statement and make a stretch goal.

We started by re-writing the card for paradise. “I want the IT department to trust that I will monitor my students’ use of the Internet” became “I want the IT department to provide me completely open access to aspects of the Internet to use with my students.” We then had to take that card and rewrite it again, only four times bigger. This was extremely difficult to do because frankly, my new statement was Nirvana!! But after thinking about it aloud with my group it became “I want the IT department to provide all teachers and student with open access to the Internet and for all teachers and students to know how to use it responsibly and effectively.” Not sure that it is Paradise times 4 but you get the picture.

The notion of stretch goals is extremely powerful and it is certainly something to think about when creating a clear vision for the future. However, I know from previous experience that goals that are set too big with no measure of how close we come to achieving it or a feeling of little success can often lead to frustration. I know that my stretch goal of looking like Beyonce by this time next year is an extremely ambitious goal. And while amusing – it does seem terribly impracticable. When it comes to health and my weight, it has always been more worthwhile to set a goal of losing X pounds or exercising for X minutes per day. And while in reality I will never resemble Sasha Fierce – it does cause me to think about what I really want as a fitness goal in reality and make that more clear.

No matter what stretch goals I set – I cannot achieve them without support.

Whether it is the IT goal or my fitness goal, I need to have others there to listen, to encourage, to take action with me. And those people will not be able to do that unless I am absolutely clear about where I want to be. It means that everyone needs to practice committed listening. Not active listening, not listening to respond, not listening to defend – just listening.

As we practiced this with others in the room, I realized that this is difficult to do and that I don’t do it often enough. Many of my conversations involve me doing more than one thing: typing an email, checking my feeds, cleaning out a drawer – just about anything than just listening. If I want people to hear me, I need to start to listen to them.

Returning to work tomorrow – I have set some goals for myself:

1. Practice committed listening with at least one other person every day.

2. Be clear about what I want – and turn those goals into stretch goals.

3. Focus on the assets, not the deficits.

4. Work with my signature strengths.

Not a timid list by any means – but it is the time of year for resolutions isn’t it?

Leading for Results - Part 1

I am at the NSDC Conference in Washington, D.C. and attended the first day of my two-day preconference with Dennis Sparks around his book Leading for Results. Imagine my surprise to walk into a national conference that had no homework in advance of the session, no LCD projector and screen in the room, and no handouts. For many people, these are the hallmarks of a "good" presentation - the notion that when you pay for things (and pay a great deal) you need to have "things" to show the value of what you learned.

Dennis quickly dispelled us of this notion. In going through how he wrote the book (now in a second edition) he talked a lot about his favorite word: perturbed. He used it a great deal and it really resonated with me as I have long been a favorite of the phrase "educational deviant." They mean the same thing : someone who is shaking up the status quo in education. Not in a bad way, not in a "dig in your heels because we are never changing this" way. Instead, in a this is not working, hasn't worked for a very long time and if we don't do something different then we are doing a huge disservice to our students way.

Throughout the course of the day - Dennis asked us to reflect on and write about a problem that if we had the solution would have a significant impact on our life. As we listened to him talk about how to lead for results, he would stop and have us reflect on how using that one tool or idea might help lead to the solution. This was pretty powerful - not just that we were able to take the time and apply it to the problem, but that we started with making an assumption that it just might be the answer.

I believe that in education we work from a deficit perspective- we find gaps in data, we focus on the students who are under-performing, we work to "fix" teachers who are getting it done, we show how we don't measure up to other countries in any number of areas. Rarely do we see a focus on the assets we have in education.

I want to start focusing on those assets. I want to be what Dennis calls a resonant leader: one who creates "virtuous spirals of emotion" in those around them. And that needs to start with me identifying and working on my "signature strengths." We did a powerful exercise do help uncover those. Dennis had us think back to the last day that we were at work. Then think back to the last hour of that day. We then listed our strengths by telling a story of that last hour. I realized that I have some strengths that I often wish were better - things that I am good at but I always look at as in need of improvement.

Finally - we ended the day by taking 100 blank index cards and writing "I want" statements. These could be wants we have in any area of our life: work, family, friends, health, spirit. We had to write as many as we could, one per card. We wrote like this for about 20 minutes and then shared with a small group - one at a time. We then wrote for 10 more minutes. Our homework: double the number of cards we had for this morning.

The point? Sometimes people are a lot more clear about what they DON'T WANT than what they WANT. As leaders, we need to be clear about what we want in order to lead well. We need to speak with the voice of intention and that voice needs to be crystal clear. Clarity is a magnet.

We'll do more with those cards tomorrow - but for now I am just trying to get clear.

Please excuse my class from test prep

Dear Principal:

Please excuse my class from test prep this month. Between today and the NYS ELA Assessment in January are a two week school recess, a possible snow storm, and lots of celebrating. Rather than giving my students another practice test which is driving us all batty, We're going to go to 25 Days to Make a Difference and have a conversation about the theme of the project (Standard 4.R.2.18: Use specific evidence from stories to identify theme - a skill directly assessed every year on the Grade 4 assessment).

We may read Laura's list of suggestions and decide what makes the most sense for each of us (Standard 4.R.3.14: Analyze ideas and information on the basis of prior knowledge and personal experience) and leave comments (Standard 2-4.CPI.W.14: Develop an idea within a brief text) or perhaps join a community of students and adults dedicated to this simple yet eloquent idea.

I hope this note provides examples of some of the ways I will prepare my students to demonstrate mastery of the NYS English Language Arts Standards (as assessed by one test, given on one day) without donating our learning time to test prep. I promise that I'll spend the six days before the test teaching them the rules of the test and how to put their best foot forward. I assure you they'll get their fill of test prep but right now, at this moment, when our country and world are so ready for change, I'd rather donate our learning time to making a difference.

A 4th grade teacher

Make a Difference!

Times are tough - the economy is a bit scary and everyone just seems a bit down. I know how incredibly fortunate I am in many, many ways and so it is only right to share that good fortune.

Last night, I read about the work of two incredible bloggers and what they are doing this holiday to "pay it forward." Over at the Fischbowl, Karl Fisch talks about a great way to support Kiva, which provides loans to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities. He is making his contribution but also purchasing two gift certificates for people to contribute as well. His hope is that the people he gives it to will "pay it forward" and do the same. But more importanty, since so many people read his blog and have seen his "Shift Happens" video - he has a chance through his PLN to make a real impact here. I am joining Team Shift Happens!

Laura started her "25 Days to Make A Difference" campaign again this year and little sister Nina is joining in!! Laura and Nina aren't going to be donating money on behalf of the winner this year - instead they will be doing service work and fundraising. This is a powerful statement about our students - and one that I hope many teachers will join her in promoting. Please consider having your classrooms join her here and spread the word!!

Laura and Nina aren't going to be making monetary donations this year - but I am going to on their behalf. Around this time of the year, it takes a little bit to motivate me to exercise as much as I should so for each day between December 1 and December 25 that I exercise at least 20 minutes a day, I will put $5 in a jar. On December 25th, Laura and Nina can tell me where they want that money to go on their behalf for inspiring me. I'll keep you posted weekly on how I do!! (And I promise I won't let you down!)

So what do you say readers - ready to pay it forward?

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.