Are You Really Open?

Thinking aloud here…

Throughout my career I’ve heard many professionals define themselves as lifelong learners and make reference to the fact that they don’t have all of the answers. Now, I don’t doubt the sincerity of these remarks, however, I wonder sometimes how many of us are actually open to being wrong…I mean really wrong…so wrong that you’re willing to change your mind about something you’ve made definitive remarks about perviously.

Now I get that your definitive positions are research-based, however, those that hold the opposite view likely have research to support their position as well. Okay, now what? Does research actually drive our positions/opinions or do our positions/opinions lead us to giving greater credence to the research that supports our perspective? In other words, if a series of studies points to a particular practice (one which we philosophically disagree with) as being the most favorable course of action, are we truly open & willing to be swayed or will we begin to dismiss the validity of the results or question the character/hidden agenda of the researchers themselves?

It’s one thing to say, “I don’t have all of the answers” but it’s quite another to say, “I was wrong.” No one wants to be wrong, but it would seem that the more definitive we are about a position the less likely we are to admit that maybe we got it wrong, even partially wrong. When was the last time you changed your mind about an issue? I know in this era of instant-response-140-character-definitive-provocative-followers-retweets culture it is hard to admit we were wrong as it might threaten our credibility if we’ve made a definitive statement in the past only to change our minds at a later date. In politics it’s labelled a flip-flop, which is a term I’ve come to loathe. Changing our minds as a result of new information should be seen as being mature and thoughtful, rather than being wishy-washy.

If you have ever thought/said, “I’m not always right about everything” then reflect on when exactly you were wrong and changed your mind? If we say we’re not always right – but act as if we are – then others will quickly recognize our false humility and insincerity.

Being truly open means setting aside our biases and considering new information, research, or practices with a fresh perspective………………..or not………………..after-all, I could be wrong.

…just thinking aloud.

Implement THAT! (Part 1) – Implement with High Fidelity

There are several reasons why good ideas fail – even award-winning ideas – in their implementation in some schools or districts.  This represents part 1 of several posts about implementation plans and why some are successful and why some are not.

 

For me, the first key to implementing anything is to implement with high fidelity.  That is, if you are going to take on the challenge of implementing a new routine, program, process, or practice, rule #1 is to implement what it is you said you were going to implement.

Like any relationship, implementation fidelity matters.  Fidelity from an implementation perspective means we stay “loyal” to what the research has taught us would work.  This is particularly important if you are leading the implementation plan (whether alone or with a team).  Fidelity is about staying true to the fundamentals of the new routine, practice, process, or system we’re hoping to put in place.  Fidelity is more likely when we ensure that we (and our team, staff, district, etc.) have the fluency and capacity to do what it is we are hoping we’ll do.

Fluency means we are “fluent” with the core content or knowledge of the new idea. It means I understand the language and terminology of the new idea; that I have a good sense of what the new routine  is supposed to look like even if I haven’t completely mastered it.  Fluency is about KNOWING what I need to know in order to do what I intend to do. Fluency is not enough since we are all aware of the knowing-doing gap.

Capacity is a little different.  Once I know I now have to believe that I can…that I have the capacity to execute the plan, practice, etc. Fluency is a precursor, however, it doesn’t guarantee that I have – or feel I have – the capacity to move ahead. I might know what it’s supposed to look like and I might be able to tell you (fluency) but I might not believe I’m capable.  This is why I have come to believe (and subsequently wrote) that leaders should “Lead for Confidence”

A lack of fluency requires more learning; a lack of capacity requires coaching and modeling.  Either one on its own is incomplete. Both, however, ensure that we implement with high fidelity; that we stay “faithful” to the research or fundamentals of any new idea.

We are “The System”

Throughout my career I have been privy to a number of conversations, debates, and discussions amongst educators on various educational initiatives and approaches.  During these discussions I have heard people refer to “The System” or “The District” in ways such as, “The System needs to change” or “The District ought to do something about that!”  It’s as though “The System” is some separate entity that we are distant from. What we need to realize is that WE ARE THE SYSTEM and if something needs changing or something needs to be done, WE need to be first-in-line to act.

Now some of the changes that you deem necessary will be within your circle of influence.  As such, you will likely be able to make these changes rather quickly in order for you to grow and become the kind of professional that you want to become.  In other situations we see that changes are needed but we don’t hold a position that puts us inside that particular circle of influence.  For example, you might identify something within the district that needs to change from a practice or policy perspective, however, not having a position at Central Office may lead you to believe that there is nothing you can do or that your opinion doesn’t matter.  For me, this is far too passive and emphasizes position rather than influence. Leadership is about influence, not title, and anyone can make that happen and everything is within our circle of concern.  Stephen Covey once wrote:

I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a transformer.  It requires vision, initiative, patience, respect, persistence, courage, and faith to be a transforming leader.”

If we don’t hold a position of authority or a potential change is outside our circle of responsibility then we need to bring the message to those that do and make it loud and clear what it is we believe is necessary for our organization to grow.

While doing so, it is also important to bring that message of change to those who need to hear it in a way that is respectfully grounded in ideas that are sound and supported.  Using sensational language, putting people on the defensive, or attacking people personally (rather than focusing on ideas) will only serve to create more challenges and roadblocks along the way.

You are the system, you can make a difference, and you could be the reason why your classroom, school, district, or even province/state changes forever. Don’t sit back and wait for others to do what you know needs to happen. The time is now and the person is YOU!

Inspired by Anna

This is Anna.  My family and I met Anna during our 10 day trip to Vietnam this past August.  We were in Vietnam as part of a working vacation.  I had conducted a 2-day workshop for the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) and also worked specifically with the Saigon South International School.  After four days in Ho Chi Minh City we flew up to the resort town of Hoi An to fully immerse ourselves in the vacation part of this trip…it was in Hoi An where we met Anna.

Anna lives at the Hoi An Orphanage.  We had decided long before our departure that we were going to visit this orphanage as part of our trip.  We brought an oversized duffel bag full of clothing, toys, and other needed items to donate to the children. Many (but not all) of the children at the orphanage have special needs; others are even bed-ridden with permanent illnesses that, for some, stemmed from the residuals of Agent Orange.  Visiting an orphanage like this is a humbling experience for anyone, but we felt it was important for our kids (14 & 11) to see how these children lived and, obviously, to gain some perspective and appreciation for the life we enjoy in Canada.  What was clear to us the minute we walked into the orphanage was there was an abundance of love surrounding these children by a staff that was so caring and dedicated to making the children’s lives as comfortable as possible.  We did not know we would meet someone like Anna and I didn’t know she would become my role model and inspiration to become the best version of ‘me’ I could be.

What I learned most from Anna is that happiness is a choice; that no matter what our circumstance, we have a fundamental choice each day whether to be happy or not.  If anyone had an excuse to be sad or withdrawn it was Anna.  While it may be true that her age and naivety keeps her from fully understanding her circumstance, I can tell you that there was something special about this young girl…she was unlike any of the other children. There is a spirit within Anna that is unmistakable and an energy that was infectious.  You knew when she was in the room; at times it felt like she was running the place! Being around Anna made you smile, even if she was interacting with other adults or children.  You wanted to be around her, talk to her, play with her – she was a magnet…she was happy!

I want to live in the moment like Anna.  I want to continue to choose to be happy & positive no matter what life brings my way.  I want to choose to be grateful for what my life is.  That doesn’t mean I/we don’t have goals and shouldn’t strive for more (whatever more means to you).  It means that while we are striving and learning and growing we should be grateful for what we have, are, or do now.  Happiness is a mindset that will never be fully realized by the next promotion, raise, relationship, or circumstance. There is always more – more money, better vehicles, nicer homes, a new job – but the happiness that comes of these things is only temporary.  Remember how happy you were when you finally got your first permanent teaching contract or full-time job? At the time you may have even thought “If I could only get a permanent contract then I’d be happy.”  Are you still that happy or has the target moved?

When happiness comes from within I think we see the world differently.  It’s not as though we aren’t going to experience difficulties, set-backs and/or losses – we all will.  However, our chosen happiness will allow us to make the best of any circumstance.  We get out of life what we are since life is always about our perspective.  If we are continually feeling unhappy and negative then that will be our experience since you can always find something ‘wrong’ with just about anything.  Choose to be happy, positive, and inspired on the inside first and the world will change its color; it will become exactly what you want it to become because that’s how you see it.

Thank-you Anna for being my inspiration and for reminding me that happiness is a decision, not an outcome.

Kickin’ it Old School

This post is being written from the Portland International Airport as I await my flight back to Penticton via Vancouver.  I am returning after spending three days at the Pearson ATI Summer Conference.  Even though the traditional so-called “Conference” seems a bit old school in the twitter/PLN world, I have a confession to make…I still like them.

There is just something about meeting people face-to-face, finding out where they are from, what their story is, and where along their journey (in this case assessment journey) they are.  I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the United States and Canada and doubt that I could have engaged in the depth of conversation I was able to experience in 140 characters.  The interactions during the sessions and the social interaction in-between all created a positive energy that permeated the meeting rooms for three days.  As people left the conference they were excited, motivated, focused, and renewed to go home, create a new or improved assessment plan for their classroom, school, or district.

I loved Edcamp Vancouver back in April and have really come to value all of the #chats on twitter.  I think that kind of professional learning is long overdue and has increased the on-goingness of professional learning once left to the sporadic events.  At their worst, traditional conferences are a complete waste of money, but at their best, they create a synergy unrivaled by any other experience.

My hope is that we don’t swing the pendulum so far in the other direction that conferences disintegrate.  I get that money is tight, that it isn’t always easy to leave out families for a few days, and that professional learning is not limited to 1 or 2 events per year. But, people like to be inspired and see the big picture. After all, we are human and need – not want, need – live contact with other human beings to share our struggles, successes, triumphs, and roadblocks.

Are traditional conferences sometimes too passive for the participants? Yup. Could presenters make them more interactive and fluid? You bet! Do we need to push the limits of on-going professional learning via social media? Absolutely.  But as I sit here waiting for my flight I realize that I had a very positive, productive, and inspiring few days which tells me that traditional conferences, while they might change their style, format, or routine, still have value and should still continue to serve a purpose for professional learning.

I Trust your Intentions

Over the better part of the last decade I have had the good fortune of presenting in schools & school districts, and at a variety of workshops & conferences across North America. The topics have varied, but the message has always been similar: Some things in our system need to change or improve and here are some ways in which I think we can accomplish that goal.

Anyone who knows me knows that my presentation style is fairly direct, clear, honest, and focused on what I perceive to be the job at hand.  I believe what I believe, I try to show credible research and examples of why I believe it, and help others understand what it might look like if applied within their context.  Even as a school leader, I’ve never been one to avoid having the conversations, debating the merits of an issue, or guiding someone to feel compelled to move in what I think is the more appropriate direction.

With all of that, there is one thing I try to avoid at all costs and that is questioning a teacher’s intent and telling them how wrong their career has been up until that moment.

I trust your intentions.

While I might not agree with you and we may – fundamentally – have a completely different view of what is best for our students, I try to avoid being right by proving how wrong you are. I believe that every teacher has the students’ best interest at heart. Whether it is how you develop a positive school climate, how you support students with behavioural challenges, how you assess, grade, and report student progress, or design the instructional experiences for your students, I believe that you believe it is the most effective way to maximize learning. Again, I might not agree with you, but to question your intent, for me, crosses the line. I want what I believe to stand on its own and not rely on simply being the best of the worst; teachers are not inspired by that.

Occasionally, and especially on twitter, I come across 140 character attacks that question the intent of people who have dedicated their careers to teaching and supporting their students.  Words such as malpractice, dangerous, control, power, manipulative, bribery, conspire, and coerce, are thrown around (I’m guessing) for their definitiveness and their shock value.  Bribery as an example, is about coercing people to act in an illegal or immoral way; I don’t know any teachers who do that. It’s easy to have keyboard courage but it’s something else to look people in the eye and inspire them to learn, move, or grow. I’ve come to know – and have experienced several times firsthand – that you don’t need to browbeat people and put them on the defensive in order to create the optimum conditions for change and growth.  Browbeating people through inflammatory language only serves to expose our own insecurities about our convictions, create animosity, and drive people away from the messenger who, in fact, may have a compelling message worth listening to.

Questioning teacher’s intentions cuts to their character and none of us – none – are fully qualified to judge that invisible entity.  I believe many things in our system do need to change and/or evolve, BUT I also believe that 99.99% of the teachers, administrators, district staff, support workers, custodians, secretaries, etc. are doing what they believe is in the best interest of the students in our schools.

Push their thinking, challenge their widely held beliefs, and show them there is a more effective way and they might just feel compelled to listen and follow. Attacking their character and questioning their intent will only lead to them tuning you out and to you becoming white noise.

Who do I choose to be?

This past week was brutal.  The transmission on my truck has to be completely re-built…here are the details.

I drive a 2006 Ford F-150 (purchased in 2008). All you Chevy owners will, of course, tell me that was my first mistake!! When I bought the truck I purchased the extended warranty which I have been able to utilize on a couple of occasions.  Here’s the timeline from the last week-and-a-half.

  • WED. APRIL 27 – Truck is absolutely fine…no issues.
  • THURS. APRIL 28 – I notice a little hesitation as I press the accelerator.
  • FRI. APRIL 29 – Noticeable hesitation in reverse and accelerating.  There is definitely a problem.  I’m going to take my truck in tomorrow.
  • SAT. APRIL 30 – “Transmission Malfunction” light comes on as a drive to FORD.  I pull over, call BCAA, and have the tow my truck the rest of the way.
  • MON. MAY 2 – I find out my transmission needs to be completely rebuilt.

Here’s the best part!? I took my truck in on April 30, 2011….my extended warranty expired April 23, 2011…7 days earlier.  The repair on my truck will be somewhere in the $4500 range!

Now, it’s at this point that I have a choice to make; who do I choose to be?

On the one hand, my warranty had expired and while it had only been a week, it had been a week.  Try telling the insurance company after a car accident that your car insurance has only been expired for a week…I think we all know how that would turn out.  However, my truck has been well maintained and my warranty had only been expired for a week – we’ve all heard the stories about things going wrong after the warranty expires…now I am one of those stories!

While I was obviously not thrilled with the prospect of paying for the repair, I kept my perspective on what was happening.  Was there anything I could do to change the circumstances? No. Would getting upset, ranting, or pouting change anything about my truck? No. Would all of this matter a year from now? No. Would the way I treat people during this process matter? You bet! 

I made a conscious decision almost immediately that I wasn’t going to damage any relationships or my self-respect during this process. It is easy to treat people well when you feel good; much more difficult during a time of stress.  Being aware of how I was feeling made it a lot easier to be mindful of my emotions.  This situation could either get the best of me or I could keep it in its proper place. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an extra $4500 lying around waiting to be spent, but it’s only money, there is nothing I can do to change the situation, and I was convinced that something was going to be done in my favor.

 The local Ford dealer was sympathetic and “made my case” to the warranty dept. at Ford Canada.  After a couple of days of silence I heard back on Friday; Ford is prepared to cover 50% of the repair.  I thought that was fair.  They didn’t have to do anything to help me out, but they did I was grateful for it.  Could I have got a better deal? Maybe. Would Ford have eventually covered the entire cost of the repair? It’s possible. Could I have pushed it? Probably.

However, to do all of that I would have had to choose to be someone else, and in the end, I wasn’t prepared to be the kind of person I don’t want to be.  Adversity, I once read, introduces you to yourself. I continue to learn about perspective and what truly matters in life.  Five years ago I think I would have handled this situation much differently; far worse from where I sit now. I don’t think there is ever a time where it’s okay to compromise who you are.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues (much bigger than a transmission) that aren’t worth fighting for.  I think that while we are fighting we still have a choice.  You can never take a timeout from being you – there is no fee pass. I was happy with the way things turned out and, through it all, more happy with the person I was during the entire process.