Gist: I enjoy this book for its brevity and ability to describe big ideas quickly. By design or by chance, these three chapters were the most humbling yet. Short and hard hitting, they were described as essentials things that we must cultivate inside. These proclamations of leadership were not uplifting and motivating, but rather grounded and served to remind me of my place. Chapter 8 is essentially practice what you preach & walk the talk. Chapter 9 is practice makes perfect, accepting failures & adopting a growth mindset. Chapter 10 is about love. It states that leadership must be desired for, and expressed. Overall, probably my favorite segment so far. Here are my thoughts.
Prompt: What are ways instructional leaders can promote a positive culture inside and outside of the classroom?
These chapters translate well into the classroom setting. When I read them I couldn't help but reflect on my own actions and procedures. Of them, chapter 9 was especially close to home. Accepting mistakes is a skill. I feel that so many in our profession are overly cautious of making mistakes. Instead of promoting them, we demonize them.
Mistakes are proof of trying and learning.
And that is the very first thing we can do in a classroom or any environment, where the goal is to foster growth. We should model mistakes. We should treat them as chances to try again, learn from, or center us. Let’s teach our students that it is okay to make mistakes, and be confident in our own! We don’t need to petty and act like we know everything, we aren't Google. When we slip up, let’s not cover our tracks. Let them be seen as evidence of effort. Even more, reflect on them. Ask others how we could improve. View them as okay.
As Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People would say, “admit your errors quickly and emphatically”. Realize them, learn from them and then move on. This is the cycle that teachers should instill in students. Not everything needs to be high stakes. We shouldn’t punish minor lapses in judgement or effort. Purposefully negative behavior, yes. They should be dealt with. Making errors while learning? No, they are a good thing. (Just as long as they don't happen too often)
Another way to model positive behavior in the classroom is to lead by example. A wise man once told me “kids will do what you do, not what you say”. We spend so much time trying to reason and explain ourselves, ways, and systems in school. Wouldn’t it be conducive to just model the behavior. A picture is worth a thousand words right? If we want our classrooms organized, be seen organizing. Help students organize their materials. If we want our classrooms light-hearted and fun, we should be seen having fun. Let them know it's a comfortable environment. We get to create our own microcosms!
By being positive, and avoiding all the things that we find negative, we can structure our classrooms how we wish. Students want procedures, even if they don’t admit it. So don’t display negativity in the first place. Be the gatekeeper for your students. Allow and do what you want them to do.
As for outside of the classroom, we just need to remember the fishbowl analogy. We are constantly under observation. We are always being (in a sense) watched. No matter where I go, I will still be Mr.Murray. My social life and choices need to reflect the fact that I work for the public. My life outside of school should not contradict the messages I convey in school. For example as a health teacher, how trustworthy would my lessons be if I wasn’t practicing what I was teaching?
“Okay kids, eat healthy and avoid junk food. It’s really important, blah, blah, blah." Then you catch me at Hyvee with a cart full of Doritos and Tombstone pizzas. Talk the talk, but more importantly walk the walk. I know my students will embrace my lessons more if I believe them myself. The more positive things I can be seen doing outside of school, the better. The things that I say, I should also do. I know this doesn’t work for other content areas in the same way. However if any teacher expects honesty and respect in the classroom, they shouldn’t be demonstrating the opposite just because it is past 3 pm. Walk the walk.
Prompt: What are your leadership super power(s)? What leadership trait do you continue to model time and time again?
For better or worse, I am stubbornly optimistic. Most days, I make it a priority to help someone see the bright side, feel better, or calm tensions. You will see me stressed (no doubt), but you won’t see me pessimistic about things. I embody the bright side. I think I am influential this way. Humans have mirror neurons after all. I can take the bad with the good, and try to frame the bad as not so bad. Instead of spending time and energy focusing on the negatives, my superpower is to move forward with a smile.
I also embrace challenges. For the most part, I have a growth mindset. I find value in improvement. You will never hear me say that I am good enough at something. That is not how I operate. I desire improvement. Leadership, is a skill. It must be developed. I want to be a leader. I won’t settle for less.
Thanks for reading!
I will be continuing my thoughts on the book, The Truth about Leadership. First however, I would like to explain something important. Last week I skipped over a prompt, which I should have answered. I would like to start off by explaining my thoughts on it first.
What is my why? What brought me into education? What values and beliefs about education do I have that keep me coming back to work?
I never thought I’d be a teacher. If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be a teacher I would have laughed in your face. For some, they knew their calling from the time they were kids. I was different in this sense. I was not a fan of school. I didn’t enjoy the environment nor appreciate learning. I felt disconnected to most of my peers and teachers. Most days, I just clenched my jaw and got through the day because I knew it was right and that it would pay off eventually.
There was something I did look forward to however. It was a silver lining that school provided that I didn’t get at home or from my friends. Simply put, it was the unforgettable teachers. There were a handful of amazing teachers that I did connect with. They were the ones that changed my destiny. They taught me to deal with adversity, to manage my attitude and my goals. Without extra pay or recognition they made time for me before and after school. For one reason or another, I clung to words inside and outside the classroom.
These people taught me so much about life and set me on the course that I now find myself on. That is why I teach. It’s not about grades, lessons, or recognition. For me, it is really about making a personal difference in students lives. Of course I want my students to learn the course material and to master the learning targets. I want them to earn the grade and be proud of it. I want them to leave my classes with more experience than they entered with. All of those things are important, but if I can help a young person with their life, I know I have succeeded in the greatest possible way.
It doesn’t matter if I am a shoulder to cry on, a vent to yell at, or a simple high five to encourage even the smallest success. I want my students to know that I care for them. I want them to know that I am there for them as a person. I wake up and remind myself of this. It is a priveledge to be part of their lives, and I owe them more than a grade. I come to school every day with the intention to make a difference.
At the end of my teaching career, I won’t measure my success in GPA contributions. I will measure it in graduation party invitations, thank you notes, and cards sent years after the fact. I already believe my most valuable possessions are the notes I have recieved from my students. There is no better feeling knowing that I have helped or made a difference for someone else. That is why I teach.
Onto the discussion about the chapters!
Question: Who is on your support team? How does that team support your Why? How do you continue to build support around you?
I am fortunate to have a work environment where I feel supported. I won’t be sharing names, but there are certainly several individuals whom I connect with on a personal, friend, or professional level. These relationships are valuable to me and certainly help me as a leader. They remind me to stay strong for my students. I feel that these people are also easy to spot. They enjoy their job, dramatize their ideals (in a positive way), and they seek to help others. It doesn't matter the content area, or their years in the profession. Those don’t matter, It is just about how they present themselves and demonstrate that they too, care.
I find it interesting whom I can learn and connect with as a professional. It isn’t one type of personality, but rather a splattering of characteristics that seem to be related. Some of these include honesty, trust, boldness, kindness, and positivity. When I identity a person with one or more of these characteristics, I try to learn from them. I am also an open book, so I am fairly certain that these individuals would know that I look up to them.
In terms of pure support however, I feel most comfortable with those that I can be myself around. This is so important to me. My best self is always revealed with those that I can be confident to make mistakes, be completely honest, and let my humor fly. To those, that know me and my true personality, thank you.
Question: Can change happen without trust?
Superficial change is always capable. Any strong willed person can change rules, policy or laws on paper. True change, like the kind that diffuses through social and cultural means isn’t accomplished so easily. It takes trust to alter a system, social norm, or community. It must be communicated, and reciprocated. Trust is the lubricant that eases the uncertainty of the rock and the hard place.
On page 81, trust is compared to caving. No one feels comfortable using a rope to descend into a dark unknown cavern unless there is trust in the rope, and the person operating it. I believe this translates well into the school setting. An administrator must establish belief and trust that new protocols are worthwhile and beneficial, while teachers must provide proof that there is reward in student effort. This takes time to build. It is a skill. Just like anything else, teachers who want to rise above the norm must practice building trust. Who do you know that makes an effort to practice this skill?
I believe the best thing about trust, is that it breeds efficiency. It is the lifeblood of productivity. Think for a moment. What if we had more faith in just our own abilities? How much time would be spared for other things during the school day? Instead of second guessing where problems could occur, we could focus on what could go right! What other benefits occur from developing trust? Leave a comment and let me know!
Truth 2- Credibility is the foundation of leadership
Truth 3- Values drive commitment
Truth 4- Focusing on the future sets leaders apart
Credibility is important to leadership as educators, because students need to trust and believe us. We are after all responsible for their learning, and no one pays attention to a phony. It should be a sense of duty to aspire to higher levels of trust and expectation with students. When we accomplish this with them we not only make our work easier, but students feel the importance of being taught by us. When our word is infallible, we are in control. This also leads to stronger pride in our schools and organizations. When we are in leadership positions, we need to hold ourselves accountable. This can be seen is strong sports and club organizations. Usually the best operations are headed by a credible and driven leader. They admit and learn from mistakes, but strive to avoid them. This leads us to the next truth.
Values were identified on page 31 as absolute necessities to be relate-able to those we lead. We don't trust automatons without personality. We trust individuals with heart and direction. We want to know what others passions are, what goals they have, and how they work with others. Those most commonly looked up towards are seen as leaders because of their ideals alone. They stand for something among the swarm of indifference. When we make out values known, we say something about ourselves. "This is what I believe, and this is how I view the world". It is important to do this, even if we think others may see the world differently. It's not about the specifics, its about the heart and drive. Communicate what matters!
Finally, a goal oriented future adds to our leadership value. The mindset to continue progress, and set goals is important to build true leadership. We must work towards something, instead of just working. As teachers, we focus on the process. We want to foster growth in our students. If we don't have a plan to do this, we are more likely to fail them. We should have short term goals, but we should also know where to go once we reach them. It doesn't ever end. There is always things to strive for, and having focus on the future ensures we get better, not complacent.
Overall these chapters had some tangible reasons as to their merit. They made their case without over explaining nor reaching. Which of these three do you feel is the most valuable? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting my thoughts about the following book:
The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know
Here are my thoughts on the first truth- You make a difference.
I'll have to start by saying that I bite the bait on most motivational hooks. I've always been interested in cursive quotes coupled with motivational backgrounds. I don't turn away from upbeat speakers with charisma to envy. It would make sense that a book on bare bones leadership would catch my attention. So here we go!
The chapter starts out by sharing a story of a young environmentalist (a fourth grader)who by truly grassroots means, ultimately started national change. Her drive, self efficacy, and determination lead to tremendous progress for herself and others. She did this only because she truly believed in making a difference. She didn't focus on what she couldn't do, only on what she could do. I believe the message is as follows, it doesn't matter what you have, it matters what you believe and do, and that starts with believing in ourselves. That we do in fact matter and make a difference if we attempt to.
It's a shame that many of us often feel unimportant. That we are mere cogs in the machine. Our work is often overshadowed or underappreciated by those with outright narcissism. We lose track of the real impact we as teachers have because of the never ending hoops we race to jump through. I am guilty of this as well. I often feel like hitting the metaphorical "screw it" button after a difficult week. The difference between knowing that we do or don't matter, is knowing that our impact doesn't always come at the end of the week. It might not present itself when we need it. It comes unexpectedly, sometimes years afterwards. It's the story of the problem students who thank us years afterwards for our dedication. It's the lost memories to us, that some grip to with admiration. We do matter. You matter.
We don't need to focus on what's wrong right now. We need to focus on what's right, right now. If we start our days with a negative mindset and don't even believe in ourselves, why would anyone else? We don't need to be perfect. We don't even need to be the best. We only need to be our best selves.
My writing style might be yuppy and whimsical, but this book doesn't read like it. It is straight to the point, and doesn't attempt to motivate you. It just says it like it is, and that's what we need. I really enjoyed the segment where it talks about where leadership comes from. It isn't celebrities, CEOS, or anyone out of reach. Most likely it is someone directly above you who provides the most leadership. They are the ones who you interact with daily, and provide the most influence. So in this context, we do provide leadership and influence with students. We have tremendous influence.
So ask yourself, how do you see yourself? Do you value yourself? Do you believe you can make a difference?
You have the chance to make the world a better place as a result of what you do. What could be more rewarding than that?- pg 15
Last quarter I proposed a new idea to my Advanced Health students. I offered them a new type of final assessment and organized a design-your-own framework project, as opposed to a traditional cumulative final test. It is called the"Flipped-final". The students could still take the test if they requested. I was nervous and excited for the outcome which had potential for both ground-breaking results or failure. I was nervous to see if students would slack this off, take the traditional final, or create something unique and memorable.
Every student chose the BYO final project option. Every student was able to create something that was meaningful to them. Every student met the requirements for an individualized assessment. Every student gave me something personal and relative to them and their education. Although this wasn’t a traditional method in standard education, I am confident that it achieved its goals. It was a fun twist for both myself and the students, and yielded some impressive results. The students reported that they enjoyed the freedom involved with designing their own genius hour style projects as a final. I enjoyed allowing them to take a concept which was valuable to them, instead of an arbitrary test of material they had already covered. It was a win-win no doubt!
The students created various types of projects. Speeches, papers, presentations, posters, surveys, and videos to name a few. The topics selected ranged from specific mental health issues like PTSD and Autism, to fitness based topics like personal training and nutrition. After each student presented the projects to their peers, we (fortunately and not by design) reviewed most of the unit materials anyways. Admittedly, it was juxtapose to see students brimming with intrinsic motivation over a final, rather than extrinsic. This is all I need to view this as a success. My students were excitedly working on a topic that they cared about, in the realm of health class, to present to peers.
Need proof? Here are some examples of the flipped-final that demonstrates these successes.
Obviously I am biased. I wanted this to be successful and celebrate the outcome, but did my students share the same feelings? What was their reaction to this style of final? Find out in my next post tomorrow!
I am a Health and Physical Education Teacher at Byron High School in Byron, Minnesota.