Posts Tagged leadership

Sometimes We Don’t Need to Fix It, We Just Need to Shut Up and Listen

One of the key things I have learned from my wife, as well as some staff members, is that it is often more about listening than it is about problem-solving. Although there are many times when a problem needs to be fixed, there are times when our only job is to listen, sympathize, and/or empathize with what the person is telling us.

I recall a colleague telling me about a time in which he sat and listened to the many things that were wrong with a teacher’s class and how she was frustrated with a lack of support for her students. My colleague told me that after he listened, he worked hard to change a number of schedules to provide more support for this teacher. I am sure, if he is like me, he was proud of his efforts in helping to solve the problem. When he went to the teacher and shared his solutions, she became even more frustrated and said, “I wasn’t looking for changes… I just wanted you to listen!”. He spent the next few hours undoing his solutions.

In a meeting a few years ago, I brought up the topic of staff room dialogue. I said that I felt that the focus of the majority of conversations should be about working toward a solution rather than merely voicing concerns. A colleague responded, “sometimes, we just need to vent and not solve the problems.” At the time I struggled to comprehend this but as I grow, along with the help of a number of conversations with my wife, I am starting to realize that sometimes the most important thing I can do is… shut up and listen.

Check out this short entertaining video that shares this point… #lessonlearned (Thanks to Michal Ruhr for sharing)

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Share Who You Are, Let People In

A family sharing a little bit of who they are… with me.

Sharing who we are and letting people in are so important to building trusting relationships with students, staff, family, and the community.

Yesterday, I was in my office gathering some things together after the bell had gone, when a kindergarten student, “K”, peered into my office and in the smallest,sweetest voice said, “Mr. Wejr, would you like to come and meet my dog?”  My first thought was that this was a child excited about her new dog and wanted to share it with people so I immediately (and excitedly, as I love dogs) said, “Sure!”

When I walked to the front of the school, not only was there a dog there waiting to meet me… but a BULLMASTIFF waiting to meet me!  Two years ago, we lost our beloved Ozzy to cancer.  This was such a challenging time for my wife and I as Ozzy was our life for so many years.  We still miss him every day and whenever I see a bullmastiff, my stomach fills with excitement and my mind fills with great memories of our big bear.

I said to K’s mom, “Oh my… a bullmastiff! My favourite breed in the world! Did you know this?”  She then let me know that she had walked with her dog to school to pick up K and there was a group of parents at the other end of the school.  When they saw the bullmastiff, they told her that she had to take her to meet Mr. Wejr!

When Ozzy was diagnosed with cancer, I was very emotional but I actually mentioned it at an assembly and shared much of his final months/days with people through social media.  As hard as it was, I let people in.  Staff reached out to me.  Students continually asked how Ozzy was doing and always were there for hugs.  When we lost Ozzy, inspired by words from my buddy George, I wrote a blog about losing our “little” guy and celebrating the life of Ozzy.  Staff and families of Kent School, along with many people online whom I have never met, read the post and reached out to me with empathy and care.

I think too often we feel that we should hide our personal stuff from work.  We hear (especially on social media), “keep the personal and professional separate”.   I know that we need not share ALL our personal stuff but what if I had not shared any of the love and struggles we shared with Oz?  What if I kept stories of who I am as a person outside of school completely private?  Would I still get moments like the one that happened yesterday?

I strongly believe that, as educators, we need to share who we are.  Put ourselves out there.  Let people in.  Be more vulnerable.

I don’t meant that we need to do this solely through social media and I don’t mean we need to just share our tough times.  We need to be comfortable with sharing more of our personal side – the moments of joy, sadness, success and challenge.  As a principal, there is nothing I love more that hanging out, playing and chatting with the students every recess and lunch. I get to share a little bit of who I am and I get to see a little more about who they are.  My students check out photos of my family on Instagram and constantly ask how they are doing.  I also really enjoy the informal dialogue with parents and staff at the end of the day.  I love it when a parent or staff member comes to tell me something about an event or topic which they know I can relate (ex. dogs, toddlers, books, sports).  When we do this, we humanize us.  We move from Mr. Wejr: the principal – to Mr. Wejr (or Chris): the person, the teacher, the husband and father, the sports fan… and the guy who would love to meet my dog.

When staff, students, and families see us for who we truly are, the relationships change… the conversations change… and the moments change.  

Thank you to K and her mom for taking some precious moments out of their time together to share a little bit of them in a moment with me… and their dog.

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Moments Like This…

From a non-reader to a buddy reader

This morning I had one of those moments that make me so proud to be part of Kent School.  I have written about the passion and effort our staff put in to developing confidence and a love of reading in the past but the moment I experienced this morning sums this up perfectly.

Sarah (pseudonym) arrived at our school two years ago as a non-reader.  She lacked both the skills and interest (and support) in reading and was a very upset and emotional child at school.  This morning, I walked into our library during our “Early Morning Readers” time (community volunteers and intermediate buddy readers support children who want to come and read before school) and saw Sarah waiting at a table to read with a child.  Our teacher-librarian helped her to get set up and then it happened… she sat down with a primary child and began reading with him.  This moment is what it is all about – a minor moment overall but a huge moment for her.  Sarah had gone from a non-reader with no confidence or interest in reading to a point in which she was choosing to volunteer her time before school to help a younger child read.

This is what happens when staff and students work so hard to develop a Culture of Reading at a school… you get moments like these.  The irony is that she read with a boy that likely could read at her level or beyond but this did not matter.  Sarah had the skill, confidence, and love of reading to make the choice to be a leader in our school and share her joy of reading with a younger child.

Relationships. Sense of belonging. Confidence. Skill development. Leadership. Love of Reading.  Such an honour to experience and share moments like this…

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The Problem With Black & White Statements in Education

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by the BCth: http://flickr.com/photos/bcii/4499830063/

I continue to hear how certain educational practices are harmful to kids. Things like homework, desks in rows,  multiple choice questions, worksheets, and tests are stated as being “toxic” and “educational malpractice”.  I think as educators we need to be careful when we make dichotomous statements like these as they tend to end the chance for any productive dialogue.

I have made this mistake before… many times.  I have my areas of passion and there are mindsets and ideas that I have strong opinions about but I have learned (and continue to learn) that when we make statements that polarize people, you leave very little opportunity to engage.

I saw this tweet today by a few educators whom I truly respect:

I believe this came from a statement from Alfie Kohn and people were just sharing his message but I am not sure. Now, I have big concerns about homework (see here for our staff conversation) but this statement about homework leads me to a response of: REALLY? Of all the things we do during the 7 hours kids are at school, homework is THE biggest killer of curiosity?  How are we defining homework? What if we move to an inquiry-driven system in which school is real life and they continue their learning at home?  How do we even start the conversation about questioning homework when the statement says that teachers who assign homework (again, not defining what it is) are killing curiosity more than anything else in school.  Do we really think someone who believes in giving  homework will discuss this after a statement like this?

Tom Schimmer once said to me, “Be careful of the tone of your message as it can alienate those you are trying to reach”.  When we use powerful polar statements, they often “sell” and get retweeted… but do they do anything to move the dialogue and create educational change?  It is no secret that I am a fan of Alfie Kohn’s ideas… but I struggle with the tone that is used.  Compare Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” with the writing that Kohn has been doing for years.  They both have similar messages (and cite similar research) but Pink provides a gentle nudge while Kohn makes us feel like we should lose our teaching licenses if we give homework, use worksheets, or have desks in rows.  Kohn has done very well with the language he uses (and again, love his ideas, personally enjoy his books, and the research he shares) but so many are alienated by his tone and the dichotomous statements he makes. As educational leaders, is this the tone we want to use to create the conditions for change?

We have some fantastic teachers at our school.  Sometimes we have desks in rows, sometimes we give worksheets, and sometimes we use multiple choice.  As my buddy Cale Birk mentioned to me: “Maybe we should be questioning the learning tasks (activities) that students are doing?”.  I would add – maybe we should be less concerned about some instructions/questions written on sheets of paper (or a screen) and the location in which students are sitting and instead focus our attention on student learning and level of engagement.  Is there NEVER a time when kids prefer to work alone?  Is there NEVER a time when some learning should be done away from school? Black and white statements make it seem like this is the case… and, unfortunately, often end the chance for any professional dialogue on the issue.

The few examples stated are important conversations we need to have as educators.  We need to question our assessment practices as well as our learning activities and what we expect of kids away from school; but in order to effectively engage in conversations around these topics, we need to move away from the dichotomous, or black and white, statements of education.

Education is full of grey areas – some darker and some lighter.  If it was easy we would have figured it out long ago.  The vast majority of educators do not intend to harm students with their practices… it is important we listen and attempt to view through the lenses of others.  Only then can we start powerful conversations about educational change.

 

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“Be More Interested Than Interesting”

Be more interested: Listen.
cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Bindaas Madhavi: http://flickr.com/photos/mkuram/5961100771/

At some point in the past year (for a variety of reasons) the how, the why, and the when of social media slightly changed for me.  I have been reflecting a ton on the purpose of social media to me – both professionally and personally (see Social Media in Education: Who Is It Really About?).  I have been thinking about HOW I read online (unfortunately, often just scan) and HOW I interact with others. I have been thinking about the purpose of social media as it pertains to my learning and my life.  I have altered the amount of time I spend learning from and with others online.

Over the holidays, one of the books I read was Mark Goulston’s “Just Listen: Discovering the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone”.  Among the many things that resonated with me in this great read was that I realized in the past few years, I have spent too much time trying to be interesting online and less time being interested offline (and online).  I have spent so much time communicating, learning and connecting that it has distracted me from the DOING both in my school and in my life outside of school.  I also know this is all a part of my continuous learning journey to be a better leader, educator, and person… to me, this is growth.

“The measure of self-assurance is how deeply and sincerely interested you are in others; the measure of insecurity is how much you try to impress them with you.” — Mark Goulston

Some people have asked me which single word defines my goals for 2013.  Although I do not generally make new year’s resolutions, I believe that the word that has driven me to be better in the past year and into this year is: FOCUS.  In addition to spending more focused time with my family and in my school, as well as in my personal and professional learning, I need to focus more on LISTENING and being INTERESTED.  I will continue to share interesting things that I read and the successes we are having at Kent School but I will work harder on being more interested in those around me.

“If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to meet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet—their lives, their history, their story.”  – Jim Collins

Related post: Listen With Your Eyes

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Creating the Conditions: Student Discipline

“The proper question is not, ‘How can people motivate others?’ but rather, ‘How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?’ ” — Edward Deci

In the past number of years we have gone through a very positive and significant transition at our school.  Through the work of the staff (current and previous), we have moved from a punish and reward mentality to one that is focused on creating the conditions for students to learn the skills to be successful. We have gone from long line ups of students at the office at the end of lunch to maybe one or two students ‘arriving’ at the office during an entire day.  Most of the issues we now deal with are minor and dealt with in the moment in a learning manner, away from “the office”.

So how has the staff of our school worked to create these conditions?

A few teachers and special education assistants often talk about “backing up to where they are” when working with kids.  When we discuss student discipline or “behaviour plans” we do not discuss what needs to be done TO the child but rather what can be done FOR the child.  Appropriate behaviour is full of self-regulation and social skills that needs to be taught; punishment and rewards do not teach.  There is no standardized boxed program (or one in a big white binder) that we can buy that will solve our discipline issues.  Students are individuals and the conditions need to be created that not only help school culture but also help the student.  At our school,  staff work hard to create the conditions so we can back up to where the student is and help him/her develop the self-confidence and social skills needed to be more successful in a school setting.

For about the past 4 years, we have had a group of boys that are the rough and tough jock type.  They have turned every square inch of our school and field into some sort of hockey rink at some point. I love these guys… I coached them at recess times when mini-hockey sticks were almost regular sticks to them; however, their drive  and ultra competitive nature often gets the best of them.  Last year, their aggressive play came to a head as we seemed to be dealing with some sort of minor altercation almost every day.  We banned hockey for a few days and then the game of choice became “touch” football (their definition of touch turned out to be different than mine).  It seemed like any activity they played turned into a physical battle. I met with a Special Education Assistant (who is also a supervisor at recess/lunch) as well as a few teachers (and phoned a parent who has a similar perspective on student discipline) and we asked the question, “what conditions can we create for these students to be successful?”.  The answer came to us: they needed a coach.  They needed someone nearby that could bring them into a huddle every now and then to have some reflective discussions so they could come up with their own rules to create more fair play in the games.  Also, this coach would help some students to understand when they needed a break to regulate their emotions.  We decided we would decrease the area in which they could play – not as a punishment but but to create the conditions for them to have an adult closer if/when needed.  This small group of boys decided they wanted to play soccer and have the supervisor nearby to help them with any disputes.  They came up with some rules together and then began the games.  What happened next was one that made me sit back and smile.  What started out as a game of 8-10 boys turned into a game of 12…. then a game of 16.  A week later there were over 30 students – of all genders, skill levels, needs, and ages – playing soccer in this small area.  The game had the conditions – a level of intensity coupled with a sense of fairness – that made these students all want to play.

The start of something special – a few more students join the reflective huddle with the recess “coach”.

Of course we still have students that struggle with behaviours and some learn much faster than others; however, when we change the lens of discipline from one of punishment and rewards to a lens of skill development and self-regulation, we see students begin to develop and actually shine in an area of their life in which they once struggled.  There is not one main thing that can be pinpointed as something that changed the culture of discipline at our school.  Through the years before and during my time at the school, there has been dialogue on restitution, strength-based teaching, growth mindset, mediation, First Nation culture, awards ceremonies, leadership/mentorship, relationships, etc… all with a focus on kids.  All of these conversations have pushed us forward and provided us with more tools in our toolbox so we can work together to create the conditions for more student success.  We still have a lot to learn but I believe we are definitely on the right track.

All students are good kids – some come to school with more skills than others in certain areas.  When we have a student struggling with reading, we find ways to create a support network to teach the skills; this support network also must be developed when children struggle with behaviours.

Create the conditions for students to be successful: back up to where they are, support them through coaching, be patient… and watch them flourish.

 

 

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Leadership 2.0 – A Collaborative Learning Opportunity for School Leaders #leadership20

“It’s not what I know, it’s what we know. And my reality is that I would suddenly become much dumber if you told me I had to disconnect when seeking answers or solving problems.” — Will Richardson

No words can express how much I have learned from those that I have connected with both online and face to face.  The learning conversations that I participate in on a regular basis are often informal, ongoing, and thought-provoking; these connections have also led me to even more formal and informal learning opportunities.

My good friend George Couros has organized a fantastic learning opportunity that I am going to take advantage of – a learning series or MOOC (massive open online course) that is completely free, reflective, open to everyone, and based on the Alberta Principal Quality Standards.  Please join me and many others as we collaborate and take our learning to the next level in this 9 part webinar series on Tuesdays beginning October 2, 2012.

 
Leadership 2.0 Open Course #Leadership20

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Power of a Positive Digital Footprint – A Personal Story

Adapted From http://flic.kr/p/7uNd7J

I am one that is constantly sharing with others the importance of a positive digital footprint.  This became so important to me yesterday as my Facebook account was hacked and someone acted as me and tried to get my friends to click on very inappropriate links. Now that I have had time to calm down and discuss this with a mentor of mine, I can think back and reflect upon lessons learned during this trying experience.

Lesson 1: Stay Calm.  When I saw that someone had posted sketchy links on my page (saying I “liked” the links), I did not respond in the most effective manner.  To be honest, I freaked out.  I even commented on the posts – so basically commented on my own posts which made it seem like I completely lost my mind.  All I could think about is the staff members, family, and friends that would think that I “liked” these links.  I frantically removed the items (or so I thought) and then filled my page with posts begging people to understand that my account had been hacked.  In times of stress, it is so important to realize that we cannot change what has happened but we can change how we respond.  If I could rewind, I would be more calm and work with some of the amazing people around me to develop a strategy that would turn this negative into a positive.

Lesson 2: If you have created a positive digital footprint, trust your reputation.  I have worked hard to post tweets, blogs, links, etc in a transparent (and sometimes vulnerable) manner that reveals who I am and what I stand for.  People I connect with through apps like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram know that I would never promote sites of this nature.  Looking back, it is quite comical to think that I was worried that people would think that I was posting this.  I should have trusted the fact that people knew me and had enough respect to understand what had happened.

Lesson 3: Rely on coaches and mentors.  I received a few messages today that the links were still in their feed.  People continue to look out for me and that is such a huge benefit of being part of an online community.  One message I received was from a long-time friend and social media mentor (who actually got me started on Twitter and blogging).  He wrote:

No doubt it is stressful and you are right to be concerned about perception as a result of the posts. At the same time this is your chance to shine and be stoic about it. Have a bit of humour about it. Fret on the inside, but stand tall on the outside… This is a reality of SM, you are a leader re SM in Edu. Act like it.  

It was a virtual smack upside the head to snap out of this poor me approach and use this as an opportunity.  After chatting on the phone with him, it became clear that I should have tapped into people like him from the start, someone from the outside that can offer some respectful guidance.

I can just hear some people that are on the fence of using social media saying “see, this is why I don’t get involved”.  My response would be that yes, you may miss out on a day in which someone posts something negative on your page… but you are also missing out on so many opportunities to learn and connect with old and new friends, colleagues, and family.  You are also missing out on the chance to share and steal ideas to not only make you better but also all those around you.  Most importantly you may be missing out on the opportunity to form key relationships with people that share the good times and help you through difficult ones in a way that actually make your life that much more enjoyable.

Was yesterday difficult and stressful? Absolutely.  There were, however, some moments in which I could laugh at what happened – thanks to people in my network like this:

Someone once said, “If one day you will look back and laugh, why not laugh right now?”.

I can now reflect on the day and be reminded of staying calm in times of challenge as well as the importance of having a positive digital footprint and a community of positive people around you.   #lessonlearned

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.          - Martin Luther King

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Small Efforts Can Make a Big Difference

A simple hello and a wave.

Now that summer has arrived, I am able to spend more time with my daughters.  My wife has been telling me how every Tuesday, when the garbage and recycling is being picked up, the girls run over to the window to watch.  Recently, the guys that pick up the garbage (From Sierra Disposal) have been making an extra effort to wave and say hi to the girls in the window.

Today, we were on the back patio just about to eat lunch when we heard the brakes from the “Gar Kuck” (this is LilWejr-ese for Garbage Truck) and the girls bolted to the front window.  Although I missed their screams of excitement, I did manage to grab my phone in time to catch the last half of the scene (sorry about my talk-to-the-kids-voice).

These guys (the one on the left in particular) could drive on and do their job as they have been directed to do.  Instead they take the 45 seconds to do their job AND make a small effort to make a big difference to my daughters.  Why do they do this?  I am not sure but I would assume that they want to make my daughters smile; in addition, the feeling they get from the waves and smiles from the girls probably brightens their day too.

As parents, educators, and community members, how often do we walk right past people to do the job we have been told to do.  How often do we do the job AND brighten another person’s day with a hello and a smile.

I do not know these gentleman, but I do know that my kids get so excited to see the “Gar Kuck” every Tuesday.  It is the small efforts of these guys that make a big difference to our family.

To these Sierra Waste employees: thank you for doing what you do every day – and thank you for demonstrating and teaching how easy it is to make people smile.

Thanks to Johnny Bevacqua for relating this to the book “The Fred Factor“.  These guys are definitely “Freds”.

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Leadership: How We Treat People

Lessons from a friend.

This morning I lost someone who brought so much laughter and joy to all those around him.  Ben Meyer - a caring friend, committed teammate, and wonderful person – lost his battle with cancer.

I recently had a conversation with a close friend who lost his mother to cancer at a young age. I asked him,”How do you continue on in life after such a devastating loss?”.  He said, “We have no choice… we live and continue to model and teach the lessons that my mom taught us.  Her legacy lives on each day through me, my brothers, my students, and our children.”

There has been much talk on Facebook about the laughter that Ben brought so many of us with his story-telling and positive outlook on life; you had no choice but to get sore cheeks from laughter when he was telling his legendary stories.  No matter how many times you heard them, (because there was always someone there that had not yet herd them), his strength in re-telling it sent tears rolling down our faces.  Just 3 days ago, when he was struggling to talk, he retold one last story to 5 of us surrounding him in the hospital… that is what he was all about – making people smile.

He treated EVERY person around him with the same care, energy and happiness that just made you feel like you were better because you spent time with him.  Ben was a leader and he knew his strengths.  He never hacked down those around him; instead he chose to build everyone else up.  Ben was not the best ball player… but he played on the best teams because of the positive impact he had on others.

My director of instruction said to me the other day, “People do not remember positions or rank or certificates… they remember how you treat people”.  Ben treated everyone as if he was so glad that you were near him at that moment.  You had no choice but to “catch” his positive energy.  Ben will always be remembered… for the wonderful way he treated people.

The legacy will continue... all smiles, all the time.

When someone passes on, we often hear the good things that he/she brought to our lives.  For Ben Meyer, he heard this throughout his life because that is how he led his life – it was all about the good things.  He continually challenged himself and savoured the moments.

Ben taught me a lot as a person but the most important lesson was a simple but  essential one: treat people well.  I am thankful for the 11 years I knew him.  It is now up to those of us who knew him to continue to model and teach the lessons he taught us… and the impact and legacy of Ben Meyer will continue on forever.

We love ya Benny…

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