5 Critical Lessons in Leadership

 A New Design
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information on twitter and other social media platforms?   Have you ever tried to look at the big picture, identifying the information that you value most?  Recently I did just that and found that it was the connections to people and the take-a-ways from my interactions with those people that had the most profound impact on me.  In this post I will share with you 5 lessons I’ve learned from some of the great leaders with whom I’ve connected.  I think some of these lessons might surprise you! 

 

While recently listening to an episode of Angela Watson‘s podcast Truth for Teachers (Season 3 Episode 19) I was struck by an offhand comment that a teacher had shared with Angela during one of her speaking engagements.

“You never know the power of your words and how just one sentence spoken, you don’t think it even means anything, could touch and inspire someone and actually change their whole life.”

This is so true! Have you ever heard someone say something that resonated with you, something that you couldn’t forget, something that you took to heart?  That’s exactly what happened to me with 4 leaders that I connected with on twitter.  These leaders each left me with a leadership lesson that I took to heart.  Some of their lessons are obvious and they wouldn’t be surprised that what they said had an impact on me – it was their message afterall.  Others are not so obvious and I’m sure they had no idea that what they said resonated so deeply with me.

So let’s get started!

Lessons One and Two:

These lessons comes from Todd Whitaker.  The first lesson is one of the obvious ones and one that I think I embody well.  Todd say’s it’s about People Not Programs.  Now anyone who has read any of Todd’s work or has listened to him speak will be very familiar with this phrase.  This is a leadership lesson that I believe in wholeheartedly.  If you look at my blog subtitle you will see that it describes me as Passionate About People.  Good leaders know that it doesn’t matter what new fangled initiative comes down the pike it they have great people in their schools great learning will happen.  As a leader you need to make people and your relationships with them your priority after that the rest will fall into place more easily.

The second lesson I learned from Todd was a little less obvious.  I was listening to an old Google Hangout that he was a guest speaker on.  He went on and on about his leadership stuff (all great I might add!) but the thing that resonated with me most was his comment that every day, no matter how early he had to get up, he went out for a run.  He shared that, no matter what his day held for him, good or bad, he felt more equipped to handle it if he had exercised in the morning.  Now Todd is a man who is on the go all the time.  I decided that if he can find the time to exercise then so can I.  As a result I’ve recently taken up running (ok-more like a mix of walking and jogging) again. As a leader with much on your plate you must find something to do every day that grounds you.

Lesson Three:

The third lesson comes from first listening to then meeting Joe Sanfelippo.  I first heard Joe at the What Great Educators Do Differently Conference in Chicago.  He led a session called Telling Your School’s Story.  By the end of his session I was thinking YES! we need to do this.  Upon returning to school after the conference we made a more conscious effort to share our school’s story not only on twitter, facebook and other social media platforms but also in traditional newsletters and the occasional spotlight on the local television station.  We actually felt so strongly about sharing Joe’s message that we decided to bring him to our school as our keynote speaker for opening day! As educators we all have a responsibility to tell our school’s story.  As a leader you need to share within your building, your district, your community, and the world, all the amazing things that are happening in your school.  If you don’t tell your story someone else will…

Lesson Four:

The fourth lesson came to me from Jimmy Casas.  Like Joe, I first met Jimmy at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference.  He had such an easygoing personality and seemed to be always trying to make people feel good.  He was so smooth that at first I thought it might all be an act, he was after all trying to promote his conference. But I soon learned that this was the real Jimmy.  Jimmy cares about people and truly wants to help others be the best that they can be.  Jimmy truly embodies the meaning of servant leadership.  As I move forward in my educational journey I look to Jimmy’s example to guide me on my way.  As a leader you must encourage, support and enable those that you serve to discover their full potentials.

Lesson Five:

The fifth lesson came to me from Jeff Zoul.  This lesson was one that I am quite certain was not the intended message but, like the teacher speaking to Angela Watson, something he said resonated with me.  In a session at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference (can you tell I loved this conference?!)  he co-facilitated a session with Jimmy Casas.  In this session he said that one of his missions is to respond to every single person that contacts him.  He does this whether he knows them well or he doesn’t know them at all, whether they tweet him, e-mail him or call him, whether it is 12 noon or 12 midnight, whether they are an edu-allstar or they are an unknown, whether he feels like it or he doesn’t feel like it-he responds. Now that seems a little cumbersome and might even be classified as obsessive but it sends a powerful message – you are important.  I know first hand that not all leaders follow Jeff’s example-there are many “edu-allstars” whom I’ve reached out to who never responded to me-not a good feeling.   As I move forward on my path to leadership I look to emulate Jeff and his mission as I believe, no matter what your role in education, you matter!  As a leader you need to take the time to ensure that every person you come in contact with feels valued when they are in your presence, whether physically or virtually.

So in conclusion I ask that each and every one of you reflect on those leadership lessons that you feel are the most important.  I encourage you to share those lessons with others.  I’d love to learn with you-your comments on this post are welcome.  Together We’re Better!!

The Optimistic Educator…

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5 Days & Counting-My #WGEDD Butterflies

5 days and counting….

In 5 days at this very time, 7:05am, I will be at the Rochester International Airport with my 3 principals. Jon Sanfratello, my current principal, Foster Miller, my former principal and Matt Flowers, my adopted principal.  We are flying to Houston, Texas to attend the What Great Educators Do Differently, #WGEDD, conference.  I have butterflies…

This will be my second #WGEDD conference.  In October I attended #WGEDD Chicago with the original team #GVEPride, fellow teaching colleagues Dawn Ellis, Danielle Morsch, Mike Deming and Greg Scholz.  We left the conference charged up and ready to go! But unlike other conferences where the initial enthusiasm fades after a few days back in the “trenches,” upon returning to school after #WGEDD we immediately wanted to start sharing our new found passion with everyone!

Fast Forward #1:  Success!

The original team #GVEPride found their “Brave” (Thanks Angela!) and, with our administrations support and encouragement, began taking over the planning, development and implementation of PD on conference days.  Suffice it to say that it has been a HUGE success!

Fast Forward #2:  Encore!

Because of the enormous success of the first #WGEDD conference, a second #WGEDD was planned – enter #WGEDD Houston.  As soon as I heard this I just knew that my principals (*I know it’s odd to refer to 3 different people as my principal but that is something to be explained in another post…) needed to attend so they could experience the awesome.  After much discussion and finagling it was set – they were going to #WGEDD Houston! And even better – I was going along with them!  *A huge shout of thanks needs to go to my Assistant Superintendent Dr. Julie Donlon for making this happen!!

Fast Forward #3:  The E-mail

After I knew for sure that the 4 of us were going to #WGEDD Houston I, of course, shared my excitement with the twitter world.  Not long after the e-mail came.  Would I be willing to present an Ignite session at #WGEDD Houston.  WHAT?? Me?? Why?? Had Jeff and Jimmy lost their minds? I’m just a little old teacher from an unknown, rural school district. What could I possibly have to offer?  And then I STOPPED.  I was not thinking like a “Great Educator.” Had I forgotten everything I learned at the first #WGEDD?  I took a deep breath, told myself I could do this and then said Yes!

Fast Forward #4:  The Butterflies

So now here we are, 5 days away from jumping on a plane to Houston. The butterflies didn’t hit until yesterday.  I’m really doing this.  For some, presenting for 5 minutes may not feel like a big deal.  For me, it’s huge.  I’m nervous. I’m scared. I hope I don’t screw up. I think it would almost be easier if everyone in the audience were perfect strangers. But I know out there watching me will be my principals – I’m representing our school – I need to get this right.  And I know out there watching me will be Jeff and Jimmy – they’re trusting me to do a good job – I need to get this right.  

Fast Forward #5:  Flying in Formation

I know I can do this. I know that once it’s done I’ll want to do it again. That’s my personality. I’m passionate about people and I love sharing my passions with others. And those butterflies, instead of fighting them, I’m now training them to fly in formation. I’ve made them friend, not foe. They’ve become my invisible side kicks and I welcome their presence!  (Thanks for the tip Scott Berkun!) 

5 days and counting….   #WGEDD Houston here we come! Team #GVEPride take 2 is on it’s way, butterflies proudly in tow!

The Optimistic Educator…

 

The Fairy-Tale Life-Too Good To Be True?

FairyTaleLife
Have you ever been at a point in your life where everything seems to be going right? Each day you wonder when the fairy-tale will end. You assume that things can’t keep going in your favor. You all but convince yourself that fate is going to catch up with you sooner or later.  Well maybe that day has come…

The fortunate position I currently find myself in is just that – I feel like I’m living in a fairy-tale. Everything seems to be going my way. But with that comes fear. When is everything going to fall apart, I ask myself. Why are all these good things happening to me? I’m no different than anyone else, why is it that my colleagues aren’t living their fairy-tale lives. And then it hit me. It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fairy-tale itself.

So, what is a Fairy-Tale?

It’s possible that my age has something to do with the regard I have for fairy-tales.  I grew up listening to, then reading on my own, Grimm’s fairy-tales (the later editions not the original gruesome stories!)  For those of you in my age set you will remember that Grimm’s stories weren’t all peaches and cream.  There were negative forces and evil.  There were trials and tribulations to be had by the main characters.  Being in a fairy-tale didn’t mean things were all hunky dory in your life.  But what it did mean is that you remained positive, you didn’t give up, you persevered over adversity. Pretty much the main characters in Grimm’s fairy-tales rose to the top despite all the obstacles put before them.

So how does this relate to “real” life?

You don’t have to make much of a leap from the above fairy-tale explanation to the lesson at hand. It really and truly is all about attitude and how you approach & deal with adversity that determines your outcome. Now I’m not saying that if you are positive and perky all the time that every outcome will be in your favor.  If just doesn’t happen that way. Hard work and dedication come in to play here almost as much as a positive attitude. But that positive attitude can’t be dismissed. We’ve all heard the stories of people who endure unimaginable tragedy yet they continue to march forward thanking those around them and finding the good in whatever they can.  If they can do it why can’t we?

Perspective

We’ve all heard the saying about it being easy to Talk the Talk but much harder to Walk the Walk. I think this holds true with living the fairy-tale life. I’ve always been able to Talk the Talk – and I’ve actually believed in what I was saying – but I’ve stumbled many times when trying to Walk the Walk. It has only been with age, and all the life experiences that come with it, that I have been able to truly embrace the fairy-tale life. The adversities that I’ve faced in my life pale in comparison to what many other people have faced but they are my adversities and they have helped me transition from talking to walking. I now realize that my attitude, my happiness, my fairy-tale life is completely up to me. Yes there have been, and will continue to be, stumbling blocks in the way – that’s called life. But it is how we deal with those stumbling blocks that determines whether we get to live the fairy-tale life.

My Fairy-Tale

When I re-read my opening paragraph I realize that it sounds like I’m holding the Golden Ticket-I even say that every thing is going my way. But if a person were to look more deeply at my fairy-tale life they would realize that I’ve faced, and continue to face those evil forces that lurk in most of Grimm’s fairy-tales.  You can’t get to be my age without experiencing pain, struggle and loss. But it is these things that make us grow stronger. With each new stumbling block I find I come out on the other side stronger, more appreciative and more passionate about the people around me.  So do I have great things going on in my life? Yes! Do I also have some not so great things going on in my life? The answer to that is also yes. But in the end I’ve made the choice to not let my stumbling blocks keep me down,  instead I’ve made the choice to use those same blocks as steps and one by one I’ve used those steps to help me build a stairway up to my very own fairy-tale life!

 I hope in reading this you realize that just because someone appears to be living the fairy-tale life it doesn’t mean that everything in life is easy for them. So please don’t judge someone just because they always seems positive and perky.  Those positive, perky people deal with the same struggles as the rest of us, they have just chosen to rise above their adversities and live the fairy-tale life. I charge each of you to embrace the good in your life and acknowledge the not so good in your life. Hold your head high as you tackle whatever stumbling blocks are in your way.  Put a smile on your face and start living your very own fairy-tale life!

*Special thanks go out to LaVonna Roth #IgniteYourSHINE, Jennifer Williams #goodbringsgood and the Great Educators Crew #WGEDD  for inspiring me along the way.  Your messages have helped me create my very own  fairy-tale life! Thank you….

The Optimistic Educator…

The Transformation

It happened slowly.  It was uncomfortable.  For a long time it was unidentifiable.  I resisted it. At times I actually fought it. After several years I could no longer deny it.  A transformation was occurring and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Let’s look back 5 years to see where I was….

  • Teacher – effective yet not satisfied (whatever that means!)
  • Unsettled – my “teacher” skin was getting itchy
  • Isolated – great colleagues yet felt professionally alone
  • Protector – supporter and defender of those in need

At the time, our school was working under oppressive leadership.  I’ve always been a giver but during this time I felt myself changing.  There were some troubling things happening in our school.  My fellow teachers, in my opinion, were being “abused.” It was at this point that I felt my fierce mama bear come out.  These were my teachers and I was going to protect them.  I needed to take action!

The actions that I took during those dark days are not necessary to share but what resulted from those actions is.

What I learned about myself during those trying times…

  • Resilient – like Chumbawamba says in their song Tubthumping “You’re never gonna keep me down.”
  • Courageous – willing to live outside of my comfort zone to benefit others
  • Capacity – able to bring together and positively influence others

Eventually the dark days passed and new leadership was at the helm.  My unsettled feelings and struggle with isolation were still present yet I was feeling confident in the changes that I helped bring about in our school.  Under the guidance and encouragement of our new leadership I was able to embrace the transformation that was occurring within me.

Let’s fast forward to the present to see where I am now…

  • Collaborator – growing and learning with our entire school
  • Unsettled – embracing the discomfort that growth and learning create instead of fighting it
  • Connected – isolation is a choice that I now choose to dismiss
  • Leader – encouraging and supporting growth in our school community

My transformation is far from complete and I’m ok with that.  I am less “itchy” in my own skin and am feeling excited about some new opportunities that have been presented to me.  I don’t know where my educational journey will take me but I do know that I am on the right track.  My experiences over the last five years have taught me that instead of just reacting to the circumstances around me and letting that unsettled feeling take control I need to stop and reflect.  I need to acknowledge and embrace my feelings instead of letting them overpower me.  I need to take action where I can but also need to step back and realize that some things are outside of my control. Ultimately I have realized that how I deal with the transformations in my life is my choice. I can ride the wave and choose to find the positive or I can get caught in the undertow and let the negative drown me. The choice is mine.

So in conclusion, I invite all of you who are feeling unsettled and like you need a change to stop fighting your unrest.  Ride the wave, keep an open mind and embrace the transformation that is occurring within you!

The Optimistic Educator…