Be a learner more than a knower

How often do we sit back in our heads as somebody is talking and say to ourselves “I know more about this topic than this guy!”  I have to admit, I have done that.  It is especially true when it is about a topic that I am very passionate about.

It is true that you may have a more in-depth knowledge about a topic but are you the world renowned expert that has no more capacity in your brain for such topic?  I am willing to bet that even though you have a great deal of expertise in the subject area, there is always room to learn something new.

Many leaders make the mistake of believing that since they are now at the top that they no longer need to lead.  They will go through the motions and find excuses to not be professional development while teachers and other support staff are there learning.  People notice this and do not think for a second that they are not thinking “Who does he think he is that he does not need to learn like we do!”

Leaders need to be life long learner just as much as teachers.  Everyday we must fill ourselves with something new that we can pass on to the people we lead. The belief that you’re an expert closes your mind. What will you learn today to pass on?

Make them feel special, because they are!

When was the last time you had somebody do something for you that made you feel special? Chances are it was fairly recently.

What about your students in your classrooms? Chances are that if it was not you that did something to make these students feel special, then nobody did. 

Our kids come from the roughest of places.  Many thrive at school, because it is the best that they know.  They know when they are here they are warm, fed, and taken care of.

Some never know where their next meal is coming from or where they will lay their head tonight.  Many live in cramped housing with two, three, or even four other families.  Chances are that the eyes that you look at are needing something special and that something special was you.

How will you let your students know that they are special everyday?

At the end, is not the end

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As we come to a close of 2018, many will spend the necessary time to reflect.  For my and me family, 2018 was very rough.  We were still adapting to a new area of which we recently moved, my father-in-law had just past late 2017, and we were going through our first home purchase, which some would say is exciting but it took us 6 months to complete the process. Even still, 2018 brought forth a great deal of lessons and as a husband, father, and educator, I am stronger for it.

As part of my reflection process for the year I would like to offer you these three tips as you head off into 2019.

First, never forget to be humble. Everybody knows something or has some special skill that the next person just doesn’t quite match up to, but at the end of the day those skills or that knowledge doesn’t amount to anything if you are not humble. Be still, calm, and quiet, to make sure you are hearing all that is around you, as you may learn something from the very person standing beside you.

Second, never forget to be kind – Everybody needs somebody that is kind to them. You never know with the people you meet how you will change their lives just because of the one kind moment that you had with them, whether that be in the grocery store or at the gas station.

I remember recently I was at the gas station and there was this very old vehicle coming in from the street with an old couple driving. Just as they exited the street, it was obvious that they ran out of gas. With 30 – 40 yards left before they got to the pump, the old man tried to start the vehicle again and again to no avail. Just then a young individual, who couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15 years old walking by at the time, ran over and pushed the back of the vehicle until they got to the pump.

As they arrived at the pump, the old man rolled down his window and said to the young man “Thank you son! Glad to see that there are some kind young men still left in this world.” The young man said no problem and walked on. Now here are two very different individuals in this world, one who needed nothing and one who needed a push. Neither will likely cross paths again, but both are strengthened by the simple act of kindness. This reminds me of that saying “It is always cool to be kind.”

Finally, never underestimate the power of challenge. Now what I mean by this is somebody who will push you further each and every day. I am lucky that I have two individuals that do this with me each day. First is my wife of 18 years. She is the most loving, caring, and selfless person I know. Of course, she is the first person to tell me when I am screwing up and I love her so much for that as it helps me get back on the right path.

Second is my current principal. She is wise beyond her years. She thinks of things that I never would think of. She always thinks about what she does and how it will affect the relationship. She does not shy away from having difficult conversations, but does so in a way that the person walks away not feeling hopeless and can make some real changes to better students. I know, I have been one of those people.

As 2018 comes to a close, what are you thankful for and how will being humble, kind, and challenging people help you for 2019.

The Servant Leader

Recently I was given the opportunity to read a book entitled “The Servant Leader” by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges.

Below are my notes that I took while reading this book.


As you lead ask yourself “Am I a servant leader or a self-serving leader”. Be brutally honest with yourself. It will take you to the core of your intention and motivation as a leader. (Pg. 17)

Alice came to a fork in the road. She asked the Cheshire Cat which road to take. The cat asked where she was going, she didn’t know. The cat responded, “Then it doesn’t matter”. Without clear direction, your leadership doesn’t matter. (Pg. 47)

What are the key values of your organization? Which is the most important? True success in servant leadership depends on how clearly values are defined, ordered, and lived by the leader. (Pg. 51)

The vision of your organization must be bigger than you are. Servant leadership starts with a vision and ends with a servant heart that helps people live according to that vision. (Pg. 57)

STRIVING TO BE A SERVANT LEADER

You must elevate growth and development of people from a “means” to an “end” goal of equal importance to the product or service of the organization. Servant leadership requires a level of intimacy with the needs and aspirations of the people being led that might be beyond the level of intimacy and ego-driven leader is willing to sustain. (Pg. 58)

Sustainable servant leadership behaviors will only emerge as an expression of a committed and convinced heart. (Pg. 58)

Servant Leadership Involves ….

  1. Setting the vision
  2. Defining and modeling the operating values, structure and behavior norms
  3. Creating the follower environment with partners in the vision
  4. Moving to the bottom of the hierarchy with service in mind

Servant leaders have a role in facilitating change. Leaders must recognize there are four levels of change that vary in degrees of difficulty and time required.

  1. ”Knowledge” – Easiest and lest time-consuming thing to change. To increase knowledge we can read a book, take a class, or listen to an expert.
  2. ”Attitude” – Emotionally charged bits of knowledge. People either feel positive or negative about something. Changing somebody’s attitude is more difficult than changing their knowledge.
  3. ”Behavior” – Much harder and more time-consuming to change than attitude and knowledge. Now people have to actually do something. Before it was just having knowledge about a topic or adjusting your feelings on a topic. Now you must ACT on a topic.
  4. ”Organization” – Most difficult to change and most time-consuming. You have to influence knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of many different people.

Why is change so hard?
Change is a must. We adapt or we die. The same is true for organizations. As a servant leader, we must determine which changes are needed to implement the vision and help people move in that direction.

The Seven Reactions People have to Change

  1. People feel awkward, ill at ease when confronted by change.
    • Tell people what to expect.
  2. People will feel alone even if everyone else is going through the same change.
    • Structure activities that create involvement. Encourage individuals to share ideas and to work together to help each other through change.
  3. People will think first about what they have to give up.
    • Don’t try to sell the benefits of the change effort initially. Let people mourn their perceived losses. Listen to them.
  4. People will think they can only handle so much change at once.
    • Set priorities on which changes to make, and go for the long run.
  5. People will be concerned that they don’t have enough resources to implement the change.
    • Encourage creative problem-solving.
  6. People will be at different levels of readiness for any particular change.
    • Don’t label or pick on people. Recognize that some people are risk-takers and others take longer to feel secure. Someone who’s an early adopter of one type of change might balk at another type of change.
  7. If the pressure is taken off, people will refer to old behaviors.
    • Keep people focused on maintaining the change and managing the journey.

Encouragement and Feedback

We do the best we can but we still need outside information to help us see how we’re doing. (Pg. 102)

Two main ways growth takes place:

  • When you are open to feedback from other people.
  • When you are willing to disclose your vulnerabilities to other people.

Connecting With The Big Rocks In Your Life!

Many of us have heard the story of rocks, pebbles, and sand filling a jar.  If not I have pasted it below.  See all of us have large rocks in our lives that are extremely important to us.  The problem with the culture of the times is that the less important things (pebbles) seem to consume all of our time pushing out any room for the larger rocks, the items that we will cherish at the end.

As time goes on, sometimes larger rocks get replaced with other rocks that seem to have more meaning in your life.  At times the rocks still stand but you have not had any time due to the pebbles in your life.  I recently have had to opportunity to reconnect with a large rock in my life, music.  I have played the trumpet since I was in middle school.  A very long time…..but I digress.  I have always found some great peace in playing and practicing my horn.  While I did give it a run for a time in my life, I moved ahead to other achievements to help provide for my family.  While my time is limited, I have been able to play more over the last few months.  My son has decided to start playing so it has been another activity for us to spend time together.

This has really just rejuvenated me in my daily life to sit back and take some time to do something that I really enjoy.  Another thing that I can do with my kids and family, much like archery.  Part of the resurrection of playing has been good.  Lots have changed since I was last playing actively.  The internet is so widely ingrained in everything we have that it is so much easier now to find sheet music.  I have spent some time practicing old etudes that I just loved and some that were my complete nemesis.  Much like the Charlier No. 2 Du Style.  Love and hate this thing so much.  But with the internet, easy to find recordings of and be able to listen to how other artists play.  A great recording of this song can be heard here.

Just remember, there is more to life than the pebbles.  Don’t fill your jar with pebbles first.  You won’t have time for the rocks!

A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. He silently places 2-inch rocks in the jar until no more can fit. He asks the class if the jar is full and they agree it is. He says, “Really,” and pulls out a pile of small pebbles, adding them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. He asks again, “Is the jar full?” They agree. So next, he adds a scoop of sand to the jar, filling the space between the pebbles and asks the question again. This time, the class is divided, some feeling that the jar is obviously full, but others are wary of another trick. So he grabs a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim, saying, “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can always take on more.” “That is one view,” he replies. Then he looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like watching TV or running errands.” Looking out at the class again, he asks, “Can you see what would happen if I started with the sand or the pebbles?”

Three Qualities Traditional Leaders Reject

Three Qualities Traditional Leaders Reject | Leadership Freak:

Emptiness is opportunity.

The downside of curiosity:

  1. People want to know what you know as well as what you don’t.
  2. Questions feel pushy and threatening when filled with expectation.
  3. Constant curiosity spirals inward and downward.
  4. Creating options causes confusion.

The Myth of the Super Teacher

The Myth of the Super Teacher on Vimeo

Roxanna Elden is a great speaker.  The message that she sends forth in this video is stellar.  I have not read her book as of yet but I intend to.  She is 100% correct when she says that all teachers need honesty, humor, and practical advice.  The only problem I see is that a lot of leaders forget that teachers need this and that they view us as lazy if we are not getting 3 hours of sleep a night in order to create that amazing lesson plan.  We are human.  Nobody works with teenagers on 3 hours of sleep.  Did you before becoming an administrator?

Here is a touching story that is good for everyone to remember:

The Mayonnaise Jar

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day is not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.
When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and fills it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.
He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “YES”.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – God, family,
children, health, friends, and favorite passions. Things, that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.” he said.
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “There is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are
important to you…” he told them.
“So… pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Worship with your family. Play with your children. Take your partner out to dinner. Spend time with good friends. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

Many administrators have forgotten this over the years of not being in the classroom.  They have forgotten this story for their teachers, but they have not forgotten this for themselves.  Most want us to fill the jar with the sand first and they call us lazy when we don’t.  We are all people, not robots.  It is important to remember that we all have lives outside of those walls, including students, and sometimes situations take place that impacts what goes on in those walls.

This year our superintendent in his opening address wanted to work with various positions around the district as a way to stay connected on what we do day in and day out with children.  This was a huge inspiration for me as a teacher.  Here is someone who quite frankly has a very busy schedule and wants to come in and work with teachers, secretaries, custodians, and bus drivers for a day to get a sense of the “trenches”.  This is a leader.  Not many superintendents would be able to invest, not sacrifice, the much needed time in order to do get the first-hand view of the classroom after so many years being out.

In my talks that I have had with many people I have worked with over the years, many of stressed upon me that whenever I do step into that position of the administration, to not lose sight of what it is like in the classroom.  My intention is to always keep that very close to my heart.  The true battleground is the classroom, not the office.