Monday, January 23, 2017

Have you failed today? - A global chat with Jon Harper

First, let's define FAILURE. We're not talking dead-end failure here. We're talking mistakes. Missteps. Speedbumps. Not achieving your goals. 

When we find that there are obstacles in our path, or we fall short of what what we want to do or accomplish, it provides an awesome opportunity to learn and grow. While there are some people who intentionally set out to fail so that they can embrace the opportunity to learn, most people I know prefer to achieve success as much as possible. But what happens when we're not successful? How do we go about regaining composure, accessing the motivation to continue, and learning what we can so that we can try again?

Thomas Edison had it right... 

"I haven't failed. I've found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Many times in education, because learning is about acquiring the correct knowledge or solving a problem correctly, students and teachers feel like there's little room for error in the teaching and learning process. Teachers grapple with the idea of being a "guide on the side" rather than the expert in the room. Students settle on a grade they get on an assignment rather than using feedback to learn from their mistakes. Students worry about "looking stupid" in front of their peers. 

Some powerful quotes from the video above:

     "Everybody makes mistakes."

     "Failure is a byproduct of pushing the envelope."

     "When you fail, it's not necessarily a bad thing as long as you learn from it and make something positive out of it."

     "The idea is that you can fail 100 times as long as you succeed once."

     "If you've got a boss that's telling you, 'Take a chance and if you make a mistake or fail, try not to do it again; try to learn from that.' That's a good thing." 

Tonight on the quarterly #USedchat on twitter, we will discuss Growth Mindset & Learning through Failure. Mistakes guru Jon Harper, the host of the My Bad podcast series on the Bam! Radio Network, will be the guest moderator for the chat. Here are some questions to inspire your own thinking about learning through failure. Actual questions will be posted during the chat.

     -Is learning through failure a skill that can be acquired?
     -For maximum learning, are taking calculated risks enough?
     -What did you learn from the biggest mistake you ever made?
     -For learning, do we treat personal mistakes the same as professional mistakes?
     -Are regrets the result of mistakes without learning?
     -What can be done to avoid failure? Should we try to avoid it?
     -Should we protect others from failing?
     -How do you help others recover/learn from failure?

Everyone is welcome to join us tonight 8-9pmCST for #USedchat. We value the insights, perspectives, and experiences of those in our PLN.

**Here’s a time converter to assist all of you around the globe in converting 8pm CST to your local time. 

TIP: If you have never done a twitter chat before, you may find it helpful to go to and enter the hashtag #USedchat. Sign in with your twitter account. The website will "filter out" all of the other tweets except for the ones with the hashtag #USedchat. The website will automatically add #USedchat to your tweets, and you will see a scrolling list of tweets from the chat on the page. (P.S. The hashtags are NOT case-sensitive.)

I'm one of the founders and hosts of this chat. If you have any questions, feel free to email me

Everyone is welcome. I hope you will all join us tonight for #USedchat.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why Successful People Are Open to Coaching

My friend David Geurin recently wrote a post titled, 5 Blind Spots Educators Must Address. I left a comment on his blog that one way to overcome blind spots is through coaching. That conversation led to the idea of writing this collaborative blog post.

There are lots of ways we can become more aware of our blind spots. Usually, it happens when we have some input (reading, discussing, observing, etc.) and then reflect on that information. But one type of input that is probably underutilized is coaching. We all need to be open to coaching.

Coaching is a good strategy for revealing blind spots while also building on strengths. How do we open ourselves up to embrace coaching as a way to grow both professionally and personally? 

Blind spots represent gaps between what we think is true and what is really true, and uncovering blind spots is an important part of one’s personal and professional growth. Blind spots may be certain behaviors, traits, habits, or thoughts that are observable to others but not immediately evident to us. To reduce blind spots we must be open to acknowledging what the other person sees and be willing to reflect on different perspectives. When we recognize a blind spot exists, we can work on changing, reducing, or eliminating them. 

We all have blind spots. There are things we do not immediately recognize in our own patterns and behaviors that are plainly evident to others. It’s almost always easier to see how others could improve than to see areas in ourselves that we might improve. For the most part, you know far less about yourself than you feel you do.

Here are a few ideas for developing an openness to coaching and receiving feedback.

Coaching involves building trusting relationships.

Unless there is trusting relationship, it is impossible to have an effective coaching relationship. We can’t act with good faith on feedback from a person we don’t fully trust. But if we sincerely believe a person wants the best for us, we should always openly consider the feedback they provide. Why would we ever be closed to someone who genuinely wants good things for us? It doesn’t mean we automatically have to agree with their perspective, but we need to listen carefully. This person has my best interest in mind. They want me to do well. Why wouldn’t I listen to their feedback?

Good coaching involves listening, not judging.

Feeling judged makes the defenses go up. But feeling heard creates safety. Listening is one of the best tools a coach can use. It’s not a situation where one person is the expert fixing someone else’s problem. Even if it might seem obvious someone has a blindspot, it is ultimately their responsibility to own that. In a coaching conversation, the goal is shared meaning and solutions that arrive as a result of both parties contributions to the discussion. Listening opens doors to new ways of thinking and makes room for others to reflect on their own thinking.

Accepting coaching means facing, and even embracing, failure.   

Most people see failure as a threat. We’ve learned failure is bad, and we want to avoid it. We want everyone to think we are successful all the time. But if we reframe failure, and think of it as an important part of how we learn, then we can translate our failures into even greater successes. Each time we fail, we can feel defeated and afraid. Or, we can look for the possibilities for growth in the situation. Some of our greatest opportunities are disguised as failures. Productive failure leads to personal and professional growth. We just need to see clearly. We need to overcome our blind spots.

Identifying blind spots requires seeking evidence that might be critical.

In we truly want to grow, we have to seek evidence of things we might be doing that aren’t working. Sometimes we might not want to look too carefully at something because we might find something we don’t like. But that type of thinking will always hinder our performance. John Hattie urges educators to “know thy impact.” Seek evidence to understand what’s working and what’s not. Hattie focuses on collecting evidence regarding one’s impact on student learning. Coaching can help us reflect on and process what we are doing and how it is impacting student learning. When we better understand what’s working and what’s not, we can focus our energies on highlighting the strengths and mitigating the weaknesses. 

A coachable person views criticism with curiosity.

Curiosity leads to  discovery and experimentation. A curious person will listen to criticism and feedback with an open mind and a willingness to continue learning. Curiosity is the engine that keeps us searching until we understand something or trying until we can do something. The inclination to explore new ideas, even ones that contradict current beliefs, help to close the gap between what we think is true and what is really true. 

Asking for feedback makes it more powerful.

Unwelcome feedback usually falls on deaf ears. Unless there is a high level of trust and a desire to hear a different perspective, it is usually a waste to offer feedback. We need to create a culture where it is normal and routine to have honest conversations about performance. Leaders need to model this. They need to ask for feedback too. When leaders demonstrate consistent comfort with examining their own areas for growth, others will feel more comfortable doing this too.

Effective coaching leads to positive change.

Learning is messy. As adults, we are in control of a lot of things. We decide what we’re having for dinner, how our classroom will run, where we will vacation, what time to leave the house, and so many more little and big decisions. Learning is messy. The process is never linear. Learning and trying something new goes against our habits of creating control in life situations. Especially when we know that we will be accountable for the learning and will get feedback throughout the messy process. But ultimately, coaching can lead to clarity, confidence, and growth.

What happens when we don’t open ourselves to receive coaching?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How to avoid giving feedback that seems like unsolicited advice

I recently participated in a twitter chat led by Compelled Bloggers Community member Allyson Apsey where the topic was being a champion for teachers. It was mainly directed towards school administrators, even though educators in all positions could participate and share input. One of the questions Allyson asked was "What does supporting teachers NOT look like?" 

I love questions that are framed this way... it's like figuring out what we need to take off of our plate in order to make room for something new. It also helps us to have models that are examples of good and bad when we are trying to improve.

What does _______ NOT look like?

One of the responses to Allyson's question has sparked a conversation in our Women in Education Leadership Voxer group. The comment that has led to further discussion is, "Unsolicited advice is about the worst support one can offer." In education, we value communication and feedback. We know that growth occurs when we take action on feedback we get. 

Four ways to keep feedback we give from seeming like "unsolicited advice"

1. Build relationships first When the relationship and/or trust is not there, giving feedback is more likely to feel like unsolicited advice. School leaders must continue to build trust and deepen relationships with staff members so that they can share feedback that will help staff members grow. 

2. Ask for permission Sometimes we give our input because we believe that others want our advice or information. One suggestion is to ask the recipient for permission. For example, "Would you mind if I shared an idea with you about your classroom arrangement that I learned from another teacher?" It also prepares the recipient for what is coming and helps to eliminate surprise. 

3. Consider HOW it is said Have a method for giving feedback, whether it is to sandwich it between compliments or use a phrase that makes it non-threatening. Just blurting out advice without framing it or giving notice of what's about to come can cause a recipient to be surprised and get defensive.

4. Offer the opportunity to consider and respond Let the recipient know you are open to hearing from him if he would like to take time to consider the information and get back to you if he has a response or question.

Sometimes the baggage people bring to work prevent them from receiving feedback/advice, no matter how well-stated or intended the advice is. It should be noted that ultimately, it is up to the recipient to decide if she will act on the advice or not.  

Leaders who create cultures where risk-taking is valued and applauded will find that it opens up the door to looking for and accepting feedback. When one takes a risk, it is with a chance of failure. Being willing to learn from failure is a mindset that understands the process of "experiment-feedback-iterate-repeat."

Sometimes the only way to avoid making feedback seem like unsolicited advice is not to give it at all. 

What other tips would you give leaders on giving feedback that doesn't seem like unsolicited advice? (Share in the comments below)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Increase employee engagement: Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses

It was Jim Collins who said that it is important to get the right people in the right seats on the bus (Good to Great). Even if everyone in an organization has their "why," each person will bring different strengths, talents, and weaknesses to the table. 

Getting people on the bus is extremely important, and one of the most important responsibilities of a school leader is hiring people who will make the organization better. But, what about members of an organization who are already there? In education, where there are teacher tenure laws, how can we make sure that everyone is in the right seat on the bus? 

There's a survey tool that may be of assistance, called the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. The survey identifies a person's 24 character strengths, which all fall under six core virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. In about 15 minutes, after 120 questions, you will be able to download a report of your 24 strengths.

I recently took the survey in order to give me insight to my strengths and weaknesses and to identify those strengths that I display most often. If I follow Collins' belief about getting the right people on the right seats, I can use the strengths survey to help me make decisions that will allow me to play to my strengths and bring my best to the table. 

Even though we are tempted to focus on our weaknesses first and try to fix them, it's important to remember that we should focus on our top 5 strengths and use them to develop the weaker ones. 

If you're a leader in your organization, the VIA Survey would be a good tool for your leadership team. By creating situations where team members can use their strengths to shine, leaders cultivate cultures where employees are valued and appreciated. 

You can find the survey here: VIA Character Strengths

How do you know if you're on the right seat on the bus?

What tools do you use to empower your employees and celebrate their strengths?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Leave your baggage at the schoolhouse door

"Leave your 'stuff' at the door to the gym" or "Leave your baggage at the gate to the field." Those were both phrases that I would tell my players during my coaching career. Stress, worry, self-doubt, negativity, and anger were just some of the emotions that I was referring to. I knew that the court or the field could be a place of refuge. I wanted the places where we practiced and played to be places where the athletes could, if for a short time, take their focus away from negative emotions and be surrounded by positivity. 

I also knew that the negative emotions would take away from a player's personal development as well as the team development and cohesiveness. I wanted each and every athlete to be as individually successful as possible, and I wanted the team to be successful as a group.  

These were also actions that I felt like I needed to do as the leader of my players. I had to leave my own baggage at the door so that I could pour into my players as much as I had to give. It was also important for me to model these life skills and coping skills, because we learn greatly from things that are modeled for us. 

Why is it important that educators "leave their baggage at the door" and keep it out of the classroom?

What we value is reflected in our actions, so we must first value positivity and being the best person we can be for our students. When this is one of our values, it becomes easier to check the baggage at the door. 

Educators who bring negative baggage into the workplace, whether it's a classroom or school, can be temperamental, inconsiderate, resentful, and neglectful.

As educators, we commit to bringing our best to our students each day. It's hard to bring out the best in others when we are not our best selves. 

We need to model positivity and teamwork for our students. Kids will learn more from what we do and who we are than what we say.

How to leave your baggage at the door

Understand that positivity is a choice. Negative body language, tone of voice, and other actions prevent a person from demonstrating a positive attitude.

Practice mindfulness. Know yourself, be self-aware of your emotions, and be conscious of what you are bringing into the workplace.

Forgive others and yourself. Unforgiveness is a heavy burden, and one that's hard to shed. 

Make a conscious decision to be emotionally consistent at work. Allow the door to the building to be your trigger to open yourself up to positivity and gratitude, crowding out all of the negative baggage.

What are other ways a person might leave their baggage at the door?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 3 words for 2017

I love this time of the year as I reflect on the year as a whole -- Did I accomplish what I set out to do? Did I help someone be their best? What did I do in 2016 that I need to stop doing in the new year? What did I not do in 2016 that I need to start doing in 2017?

Reading back through blog posts, compiling a list of the top 10 posts from the year, and reading blog posts and tweets from my network of friends all give me inspiration in choosing the words I will use to guide me in the new year. 

I used to make a list of resolutions which was usually a list of things to stop doing. A few years ago I followed the lead of Chris Brogan and began choosing 3 words to use as a guide throughout the year. I try to choose words that are very personal and meaningful that will keep me grounded through the highs and lows of the year. Sharing the words on my blog increases my accountability and keeps the words front and center as I map my course throughout the year. 

My Past 3 Word Choices

2014 - Discipline. Intentional. Balance.
2015 - Rhythm. Bravery. Fitness.
2016 - Focus. Purpose. Do. 

There’s a word that’s been on my mind for a while after I listened to an interview with Jenny Blake on Grant Baldwin’s Speaker Lab Podcast. (Jenny is the author of the new book, Pivot.) 

Then I read a post by my friend Dan Rockwell titled, How to Face 2017 like a Leader. He used the word PIVOT twice in the post, and I knew that it would be one of my words for the new year. 

Jenny uses the analogy of a basketball player (an analogy I can really relate to!) and how the player stays grounded with her pivot foot while the free foot can move about, looking for new opportunities. In life, these opportunities are things that interest us, including skills or projects. While Jenny shares her analogy when looking to make career moves, I think it can be applied in any situation that requires change. The pivot foot, the grounded foot, represents a person’s strengths and experience. As we enter into 2017, I continue to ask myself, “What’s next?” I want to continue to build on my strengths throughout changes and new opportunities and be ready to pivot when new opportunities arise. 

The second word I chose for 2017 is GO. Why this word? Because I know that action comes before courage. In 2017, I want to continue to take risks and to SAY YES to new opportunities and adventures.  It’s invaluable to me to have a PLN that supports and encourages me as I pursue my passions of working with schools, school systems, and individuals to help them achieve their goals. I plan to continue to GO forward throughout 2017!

Embrace fear, insecurity and uncertainty as the doorways of opportunity that they are.  - Jenny Blake

My third word for 2017 is GROW. While I’m a curious person who loves to learn, I want to be focused and intentional about it during the new year. Even when it’s uncomfortable, overbearing, and hard, I plan to embrace the moments and appreciate the growth from those situations. I also plan to ask for help from others. I can’t do it alone, and I need/want to know my blindspots. I will reach out and allow others to help me grow into the best person I can be. 

I’m already looking forward to the end of the year where I will get to look back and see the growth that has been made throughout the year. Thank you for letting me share with you my words for the new year. I would love for you to share yours with me in the comments, on twitter or on Facebook.

Happy New Year!

Fighting history fills one with doubt and fear. It takes courage and faith to pivot forward and create a future. 

- Dan Rockwell