Sunday, March 25, 2012

School Leaders: who do you listen to?

Recently, I read a blog from Pete Wilson (@pwilson), a speaker, author, and blogger ( It was his January 24, 2012 post entitled, "Voices in my Head." I thought it was very comparable to what school leaders go through each and every day. Therefore, I have catered the blog to fit what we, educators, face and to inspire us all to be secure with our own professional and personal convictions as we lead ourselves and others. Like everyone else I go through seasons where I doubt myself and my effectiveness. When you lead others in a public setting you constantly have people in your ear saying things like… I wish you made decisions more like this… I wish you treated students like this…. I wish you led like…. I wish you dealt with parents more like... I wish you interacted like this… I wish you disciplined students like this… It’s easy to start to doubt and wonder if you should be more this or that. I, all too often, will see school leaders like Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) and think "if only I was as tech savvy." Or, I may see school leaders in my own School District of Williamson County ( and think... "Wow! They sure have their act together. They are seem to be so like by their faculty, parents, students and overall community. How do they do it?" I say all of this not to invoke some kind of sympathy. I’m just letting you know what goes on in my head because I bet these things go on in your head as well. I bet these voices get really loud in you from time to time. While I won’t argue that lack of character has brought down more good leaders than just about anything, I would say insecurity runs a very close second. Insecurity can torment the most gifted of leaders. It will make you… doubt instead of trust criticize instead of praise assume the worst instead of the best talk instead of listen micromanage instead of empower control instead of release In the end it will erode your effectiveness and leave you useless and powerless. Your worst nightmare will become a reality as you look around to discover that, no longer, is anyone following you. Be yourself. Live your giftedness. Listen to the only voice that really matters and tell those other voices to shut up. What does your insecurity look like when it raises its ugly head?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Create to Relate!

What are you doing to relate to your students? Are we, as educators, in touch with our students? Do we know what kind of music they listen to? What food they like to eat? What video games they like to play? What sports they enjoy? What are their hobbies? What is going on with their family? How was their weekend? Their night last night? Their struggles? Their joys?  A friend of mine, Chris Tidwell, has been a substitute teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District (twitter: @mrtidwell ). He has served as a guest teacher at any school where he has been needed: anything from the upper class to the lower class demographic. He has answered the call to help out a teacher who needed a day away for whatever reason. One day, he received a notification that he was needed in the lower income neighborhood of Compton. The thing is, Chris would admit that he does not have any reason, really, to receive the respect from the students at Compton. I mean, really? Why should any student from the low income area of Compton (primarily Hispanic or African American) be attracted to a white, Southern, male from the middle class? This is precisely what I respect about my friend, Chris, and so many other individuals who try hard to relate to others no matter what. Even if it means being creative! On the drive to the Compton school, Chris made a decision, knowing all too well he needed something to grab the attention of the students who would probably view him as an alien, a stranger in a  foreign land. Chris found a way to reach these students. He was creative in finding this way... He decided to use a British accent. Yes, that is right, a British accent. He used this accent all day long and, yes it was tiring. However, the pay off was worth it as he had the students in the palm of his hands. The students loved it! Gang bangers, drug users, drug dealers, students aspiring to get out of their current state of poverty, potential future stories of inspiration all needed an adult who would do whatever it takes to grab their attention even if just for a day. Chris did this and I believe these students not only liked it, they loved it! Think about it, think about the people in your life who are creative in terms of how they relate to you and then continue to relate to you. Maybe it is a gift they give you because they learned you like that certain something, or they buy you just the right drink from Starbucks because they know you like it. They are trying to relate to you. All of our students need this too. They need adults in their lives who will be creative with their attempts to relate to them. Perhaps, it is using a crazy accent, perhaps it is just asking them questions about their life, whatever it is... Go for it. Take the risk to relate to your students on a daily basis. They will not only like it, I believe they will love it! So, again I ask the following questions: What are you doing to relate to your students? Are you in touch with your students? Do you know what kind of music they listen to? What food they like to eat? What video games they like to play? What sports they enjoy? What are their hobbies? What is going on with their family? How was their weekend? Their night last night? Their struggles? Their joys? Maybe you could even ask them with a silly little accent! 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Public educators: it is time to make a decision!

I recently purchased a new pack of gum by Mentos. It is called "UP2U" and it allows the consumer to choose between seven fruity pieces of gum or seven minty pieces of gum depending on your mood or need. When I curiously opened the pack to reach for the choice that would satisfy my current hankering, I noticed a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte in the interior of the pack of chewy goodness: "Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide." Why is it that a company specializing in freshening the breath of humans has figured out what our public schools so desperately need? I believe it is because they see the power that choice has among people, among customers. Unfortunately, our schools are scared to offer choice all too often for fear of losing control. In education, our customers are our students and parents. One of the best things we can do for our customers, our students, is to allow them to choose in every aspect possible. After all, choice; the power to choose is what sustains us as a human race. One has to look no further than the greatest governments who allow the people to choose their leaders. Or, look at the successful enterprises such as Starbucks which allow the people to choose their desired products just the way they like 'em (I can get my caffeinated tasty beverage any way I like... Mmmmmmm!). Look at our entertainment industry: American Idol, perhaps the most successful television series of the first decade of the 21st century allows viewers the ability to interact and choose their favorite singer.  We, as public educators, need to tap into the power of choice more frequently if we want to sustain best practices in teaching and learning. When students are allowed to choose, they are more apt to authentically engage (Schlechty) in the learning experience. When students are given license to decide what and how they want to study, than they can reach rigor more appropriately... After all, who decides what is difficult for you? That is right, you do. Students know better what is rigorous and difficult and what is not. All of this brings us back to Bonaparte's insight, "Nothing is more difficult (rigorous), and therefore more precious (memorable), than to be able to decide." As a school leader, I am encouraged to continue to fight for students and teachers as they decide each and every day what is important in the realm of teaching and learning. This is my decision, what is yours?