Sunday, January 31, 2016

"How" Matters

How Matters.

No matter your profession, job title, or numbers on your W-2 form, most of us have careers that determine success by quantifiable measures. In education, our schools are sadly judged on test scores among other things like graduation rates, attendance percentages, and students receiving scholarship money. Right or wrong, these measures only tell part of success' trajectory. Like a quarterly earnings statement or a budget report at year's end, people fall in love with "objectifiable" statistics that give us some sense of direction.

But the "how" in those conclusions is important.

It's not about how the school calculates it's attendance or how the students were prepared for the test. The "how" is about our daily work. Confidence in how we educate and lead can only come from how we work. I've been thinking about the value of the process and how "the how" is often the best indicator of great results for our students and for us as professionals. Here are 3 "hows" that I think matter.

1. How we prepare matters.
It's hard to "wing it" in any job. The most successful lessons start with great preparation. School leaders who do their homework earn more respect. How we prepare for change in our profession keeps our organization ahead of the curve. Preparation is another way of saying, "I tried my best and my best IS good enough." If a team practices hard and prepares but still comes up short- the result matters way less than giving your team the best chance to win. My worst lessons as a classroom teacher always stemmed from a lack of preparation and thoughtfulness. It was a clear indicator of the phrase, "fail to plan is just planning to fail."

2. How we work with others matters.
It's amazing how results, work ethic, and resiliency can be overlooked by how well we work with those around us. How can we contribute positively to a team? Can we put the needs of the organization and our team before our own? Will we seek collaborative relationships with our colleagues instead of creating confrontational ones?
We hear a lot about soft skills that we want kids to learn as they navigate through our school. How we work with each other professionally might be the greatest subjective but overlooked factor in determining success or failure.
What rating would you give yourself on the "plays-well-in-the-sandbox-o-meter?"

3. How we model for others matters.
People I've looked up to have showed me, not told me. I watched the way they talked to kids, what they wore, when they showed up and left, and most important, how they managed their own success and failure. Modeling is a powerful way expose a consistent core and center of who we are professionally. Being who you are everyday is actually harder than it looks. Do you set an example that others should follow? We can only expect of others what we first expect of ourselves. How we model those expectations and behaviors becomes paramount in achieving great things in our schools.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Talkin' Bout My Generation

How are we judged as a generation?

My wife and I dined out the other night with our 20-month-old son, Cooper. We had a quiet dinner at Mike Ditka's restaurant in the suburbs. Cooper ate his share of beans, carrots, and he may have gotten a sample of the pot roast nachos we had for an appetizer. During this particular meal, Cooper was the MBOC (big man on campus) of the blue haired 4pm dinner crowd that young parenthood has thrust us into. The patrons around us spent more time looking at him than they did talking with each other. They valued having a youngster in the crowd...I think.

Toward the end of our dinner, an elderly gentleman approached our table to talk to us. He asked us how we enjoyed our meal and if our son got enough to eat. Pushing at least 80 years of age, my wife and I could not really figure out where he came from. He didn't seem to be dining at a particular table, nor was he Mike Ditka. He asked Cooper if he ate enough. When Cooper responded, "No," - the stock answer for most kids his age, the gentlemen pulled out his wallet. He peeled off two dollar bills and left them at the table for Cooper saying nothing more.

What an amazing gesture.

Or was it weird? Was it weird because people don't do that anymore or because people my age do not expect it, or don't appreciate how awesome it was?

A friend of mine used to visit his grandmother often. He would bring his wife each time and like clockwork, when it was time to part ways, grandma would pull him aside. She would hand him a 5 dollar bill like it was a winning lotto ticket advising, "Don't tell your wife I gave you this." That is to say, "I want you to have it to spend for yourself."

It was five dollars.

But that doesn't matter. There is a desire for people of an older generation to take care of each other and take care of us.  Those who lived during the Depression value community and practicality. My parents are more generous with me than they are with themselves. Same with my in-laws.

When one of my favorite colleagues retired four years ago his written advice to me was simple, "Good luck with all this- you are going to need it."

It's different now.

We live in an "adapt or perish society," and certainly the same could be said about our field of education. What are we missing as a generation? I feel like some in my age group want to skip steps in the process. They see other young leaders getting promoted and reaching the top quicker than previously imaginable- and they miss the steps of sacrifice, hard work, humility, and deference to our peers. I became a high school administrator at age 29. Two of my best friends became managers at their financial firm at 27. We can't apologize for those opportunities because we, too, are probably guilty from time to time. But we do have to live with the stereotypes of our peers and work to debunk them.

That said, we are motivated. We are certainly educated, albeit with loans to still pay. We are efficient and we are full of amazing ideas. We can iterate at lightning speed. Change doesn't scare us. "Historically, we've always done it that way," is not in our vocabulary.

The question becomes- how do we take all those amazing characterizations of our generation and put them to work? How can we work to take care of those around us, valuing both their experience and their generosity?

Can we value the process and inspire the change?

I vacation with those two best friends often. One night in Vegas, we spoke of our career choices and if we made the right respective calls. I am the oddball in the group for a variety of reasons, among those is undoubtedly my profession. My friend Ryan told me, "You know what Andrew, the worst decision you made was to be a teacher. I think you could have done anything you wanted to do. (He made sure to mention selling cars as an addendum to that statement). But the best decision you made was to be a teacher. We need more people like you to guide this next generation."

I had to sift through Ryan's statement a bit, but he meant it as a compliment in every sense. So maybe people are misjudging my generation and maybe, just maybe, we just have to sift through it a bit to find the positives. 

No stranger left me two dollars at the table that night, but a friend left me his two cents. Our task as a generation is to redefine ourselves and seek opportunities to help our kids- the next generation. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"The Village Project"

My job is hard. But without some time for a passion project, my job would be even harder. There's no right time for it, but feeding your professional passion helps make the "everyday" work seem that much more exciting.

I have a passion for helping kids. 

In my current role, I am not afforded as much contact with kids as I was in the classroom- so I try to manufacture as much contact with our kids as I can. This year, we are dreaming big.

Just over two years ago, one of my goals for the school year was to have all of my AP students pass the AP exam with a 4 or 5. We did it. It was not easy, but we did it and we did it together.

In building on my passion for the AP exam, we are putting a team together and forming the "Village Project." The goal of the Village Project is to take 5-10 lower level Juniors enrolled in English classes and have them pass the AP test at the end of the year. They are not AP students and will not be taking the actual AP course. But, we are going to build in support along the way, help the students establish "AP habits of mind," and we are going to be relentless in our pursuit pushing these students beyond what they think they can do. Every kid can pass an AP exam, whether they believe it or not, and we are out to prove it.

Will we actually find students who want to do this? Can we give them four collective hours of extra support per week?  Aren't we just wasting our time when some of our regular AP students can't pass the exam? And what if they don't pass at the end of the year?

Yes. I hope. Absolutely not. what?

My partner in crime is the students' English teacher who also happens to teach AP Literature. We are pulling in social studies teachers, a department chair, a writing coach an administrator, and hopefully others. It takes a village to raise an AP child, and I am confident that with the right supports, we can do it.

If we don't reach our goal, we are going to have a ton of fun along the way. Our students will hopefully gain an appreciation for a more rigorous and collective college-level effort, and with any luck, will be more inclined to try college when all is said and done.

We are going to film everything, blog about it, present it at the AP conference next year and learn from our mistakes. Hopefully this pilot can be taken to scale and affect even more students at our school and students at other schools too.

Living in beta. Playing with house money. Going where others' doubt. The Village Project.

We would love your support along the way and appreciate any advice you may have!