Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Relentless Heart of the PLC life!

A few weeks ago I experienced one of those magical moments that can 
occasionally occur in your professional life. Moments similar to the ones I 
would occasionally have as a teacher. You know the lesson rocks and all 
of the planning and effort to impact learning seems so worth it?!  

This was one of those moments.

The 2017 Solution Tree PLC Summit is now over, but the energy and the impact 
from the 2200+ educators in attendance will have a lasting residue on me, for at 
least the rest of this season – 2016-2107 – and hopefully into the 2017-2018 
school season as well.

I had the good fortune and the opportunity to speak at the PLC Summit for 
Solution Tree and to meet so many remarkable educators. Professionals 
in the trenches just like you and me, trying to make an impact and a difference
in the scope of our daily professional work.

It was at the end of Day 2, and like any one of us at the end of a long day of 
teaching, I was pretty exhausted. The day had started for me with my morning 
address on the hearprint of your professional and PLC life and ended 8 hours 
later after a string of non-stop lessons and meetings. Sounds like one of your 
typical teaching days, I bet!

Then the magical moment occurred!

During my morning address the educators in the room had a chance to complete 
postcard, and identify a colleague in need of a bit of a cultural lift: There was 
this recognition that our work as educators is just so very difficult, and yet, with 
the proper balance and with the influence and impact of our colleagues, we can 
once again reconnect to the purpose of our work and the energy needed to achieve 
that purpose.

I had a chance at the end of the day to read the postcards submitted by many of the
 attendees at the Summit. It was an emotional moment, as in some sense they 
reflected the commitment my colleague and mentor Rick DuFour would have loved
to read and hear about.

“What is the PLC hearprint we are leaving on our students and our colleagues” 
is a tough question to ask. Yet, it is exactly the question professionals should ask.

Each participant was asked to write down one or two commitments to action that 
would make a difference in supporting the development of the PLC work life in 
the person they identified. To say the least, the stories they told in just a few brief 
sentences were heartwarming, uplifting and courageous.

I ended my message that morning with a challenge to engage in

The Relentless Heart of the PLC Life.

I did so by using a reading, combined with musical version of 
Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole. Many attendees 
approached me and asked me to please post the words I read at the end of the
session. So, here they are. I hope they can be of use to you too, as you finish this 
current school year and season of your professional life.
                                    The Relentless HEART of the PLC Life!

It takes great courage, a certain fearlessness, to pursue and to choose the heart print 
of the PLC life. 

To become an inspirational teacher and leader— to dig deep down and find the 
proper passion and compassion, energy and engagement, joy and gratefulness – 
takes courage

Our desire to influence others, to collaborate, to teach and to share with others, to be
more professionally transparent - every day – takes courage.

In the words of Helen Keller, Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all! 
And, the PLC life most assuredly calls us to become part of a great adventure!

Our Heartprint, however, is not just revealed in those moments of great heroism.  
I have often thought our Heartprint exists within the common everyday, mundane, 
and often-unseen moments of our professional lives.

That something extra you did for a child last week, that no one will ever really know. 
The lifting up of a colleague, when illness or personal difficulty set in. 

We each have a great teaching and learning story to tell…
And it’s very personal – Because our emotions and our fears about what will and 
will not work are different. 

For some, to have the heart to work in a collaborative team and take collective 
responsibility for evidence of student learning takes great courage. 
For others, not as much…

For others, to ensure that no educator is left alone and allowed to drift away from 
a state of U DE MO NIA  - or Thriving -  takes courage – especially to do so 
with a never ending patience and grace.  

To take initiative beyond your current comfort zone when you leave this Summit, 
and participate in a PLC culture and a professional life that provides hope and joy 
and notices others – takes courage.

To relentlessly slow down the pace of your life and find the Quadrant II time 
described today to keep your heart healthy, so you can be at your high energy 
best in this season – and the next - will most likely take courage too. 

Your heartprint as part of the PLC life will reveal your willingness to become 
intimate with your work – which means you  connect your own sense of success 
and personal well-being to the success and well-being of your students 
and colleagues…

We are in this room, at this moment, understanding that… Courage and heart will 
be the X-factors in sustaining the change to move toward such a collaborative culture
one day, one event, one team at a time.

Courage is the virtue that is needed if we are going to change the status quo that 
often engulfs us…at our schools. And avoid the entropy that can choke us.

The PLC culture is about taking ourselves and our students to those heartrpint 
places they have never been before…

And we cannot go to those “no limits – how good can we be - Gonna take you higher” 
Tim Brown type of places  - without courage and the HEART that will be required  

Courage gives us the energy to move forward!

Courage gives us the confidence to move forward!

Courage  - often discovered in those quiet Quadrant II low energy moments… 
 enables to leave a legacy that declares:  

I was here and I made a difference! 
In 2013, USC Professor Dallas Willard stated:

A person is essentially a collection of conscious experiences. 
Far more than just bodies or just appetites, we are our experiences. 

That is why we treasure the good ones.

As a faculty for this Summit: That is our hope for each of you here today. 
That your life will be filled with a collection of experiences that will forever 
be part of the good ones… 

And, that your experiences within the PLC life will shape you into the hope of being
 better for others tomorrow.

In the words of our mentor and colleague Dr. Richard DuFour:

 “Will you act with a sense of urgency, as if the very lives of your students 
depend on your action? Because in a very literal sense, more so than at any other
 time in American history, they do.”

Thank you for the courage to find your heart in this season of your 
professional life… As you join up and become part of…  
the PLC Movement!

Timothy D. Kanold     Read February 23rd, 2017  at the 2017 PLC Summit 
Phoenix, Az 

Monday, February 13, 2017

SASHET and the Human Spirit

This is a blog I must write. And yet, it is one of those blogs where I am neither smart enough to know exactly what is best to say, or naive enough to think I am the only one that feels the way I do.

And honesty I am feeling all of the human emotions of the moment. You know, like the acronym SASHET: Sad, Angry, Scared, Happy, Excited, Tender. I have been feeling them all for the past week. I suspect you are too. It is just what happens to us when someone we love is no longer directly in our lives. 

Last Wednesday our friend, colleague, mentor, and inspirational educational thought leader died. Age 69, and after a two and half year battle with an unexplainable Stage IV lung cancer for a career athlete and non-smoker. Far too young. And far too courageous to become a footnote.

Rick DuFour was one of those rare humans whose being made our profession significantly better. He uplifted the lives of thousands of educators like you and me, and never did he think it was about him. It was always about the mission. 

Like some, I had the benefit of growing up with him as our professional journey unfolded, and perhaps the most fascinating and fundamental aspect of his human being, was how surprised he always was by his success. And, how much he delighted in the success and growth of others.

There was this larger than life aura about him and then you met him, and you thought, "Gosh he’s just a normal guy." Only he wasn’t. There was not a lot about Rick that was normal. Being around him elevated us. He called us to act as professionals, and to be "above and beyond normal" every day. 

Because in his words:

The very lives of the students we teach depend upon us

He had a way to make you think about your work within the profession with increased clarity and reason, without being judgmental. Other than being incredibly competitive no matter the game played (like catch-phrase) he had a down to earth openness and interest in you. You felt as if your being, when with him, was one of those experiences to embrace. Your work and effort mattered to him. 

During the early 90’s at Stevenson, the faculty and staff were starting to rock the house. We are on fire and pursuing what would eventually become known as the PLC At Work culture Rick pioneered with Bob Eaker. Rick was intense and driven toward the pursuit of excellence, and had several job offers to leave Stevenson, as you might imagine. And in a quiet breakfast moment with him, on a Saturday morning in Evanston, IL he had to make his choice. To stay or to leave? 

I never forgot his answer.

“I can't leave Stevenson”. “It is not so much the place as it is the people. I love the commitment of our faculty and staff, our community and the Board; and our experiences together to figure out how to educate our students in unprecedented ways. How do you replace our people?”

Well, that explains this mish mash of emotions we are going through right now. We don’t replace them… especially the good ones, like Rick. But we can extend the spirit of his life’s work and always remember how he experienced life with us. Our professional experiences with him, can and should  be passed on to the next generation's experiences with us.  

In 2013, USC Professor Dallas Willard stated:  

The human spirit is an inescapable, fundamental aspect of every human being; and it takes on whichever character it has from the experiences and the choices we have lived through or made in our past. A person is essentially a collection of conscious experiences. Far more than just bodies or just appetites, we are our experiences. That is why we treasure the good ones.

Rick was far more than just his body, thoughts, and words. His spirit is in each of us because when we had experiences with him, he noticed us. Like so many, I am grateful that my lifetime "collection of experiences" included Rick. Despite the the gauntlet of SASHET emotions I feel today. 
Rick’s heartprint is on all of us that experienced his path – directly or indirectly, brief or otherwise. May we cherish it, and carry on his work, in the service of our profession and the learning of children. 

It will be his legacy and become ours; and I suspect it would both delight and surprise him.

In the words of renown philosopher Dr. Suess, Rick would be the first one to tell us: Don't cry because it is over; smile because it happened.  

In memoriam and with love, may we smile today. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Finding the Niche of Your Technology Voice in 2017!

I had a great phone call with Eric Twadell this morning. Eric is the current School Superintendent at Adlai E. Stevenson HSD 125: A public high school district in the state of Illinois and the place I became more fully formed as a professional for 22 years. It had occurred to me over the weekend that this coming June, I will be gone from the district for 10 years. A decade has passed!

We laughed about how it seemed both a short and a long time ago. In some ways, I was just the placeholder (5 years as superintendent) between two great leaders - Rick DuFour of PLC At Work fame  (ten years) and now Eric for ten too. For a brief time, in the late 90's, we all three had the privilege of working together.

What Eric, and the entire faculty and staff at Stevenson have been able to do in the past decade is simply short of amazing. They have raised the roof on the learning for each and every student that graces the halls of the school. Recently, Stevenson was rated the 2017 #1 best public high schoolin America by Niche.

One of the more silent features of that success is the willingness of the faculty and staff to embrace technology in the service of learning. They speak with a voice of wisdom that recognizes their responsibility to learn about technology as an expected aspect of professional growth, and as a student right to learn issue.

When I wrote HEART! I realized I must address the idea of our "voice' as teachers. When we speak, whose voice is it speaking? And, is it a voice filled with deep thought and wisdom?

In part 5 of the book (Ch. 30 to be exact), I reveal five critical elements for our voice of wisdom. The fourth element of wisdom is a lesson I learned very early during my time at Stevenson:

Each and every student has the right to learn with technology…

We viewed the use of technology as just as a way of life at Stevenson. We decided early on that student learning with technology, should not be happenstance. We believed so much in the technology serving student learning voice for our professional work, that it became an integrated and intentional aspect of each teacher and leaders’ professional development plan.  

As adults teaching and leading in the school, we asked the equity voice question: How is it acceptable that students in the same grade level or course could receive an incredible learning experience with technology, while students in the room next store received none? 

Today there is this explosion of technology choices. The impact of social media, from blogs to Snapchat, Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to Periscope, and so much more... technology swims like a shark all around us.

And we have three choices: Ignore it, embrace it or understand the technology within the service of learning - moving forward together.

So, at first glimpse, I may seem as a bit of an odd character to be the opening keynote address speaker for the upcoming Teachers Teaching with Technology conference- TI3C in Chicago onMarch 10th.

Sure my background is in mathematics, and yes, I was an early advocate of graphing calculator technology with TI, but maybe what drew the most attention was a claim I made about our failure to teach without technology. I simply stated in 2007:  “To teach without technology in this modern era, should be considered educational malpractice.”

And yet, the whole point of a commitment to technology is to understand its value and its limits. No responsible professional would ignore teaching with technology. Wise professionals understand technology is not an  “OR” proposition.

Technology, according to my middle school teacher colleague and tech guru Bill Ferriter, is one of those “Genius of AND” issues: How can I use of technology and ensure it serves student learning?

Thus the point of the T3IC conference, I suppose. 

Also, no responsible professional would embrace everything about technology. In the best schools there is a healthy skepticism about how to use the technology in a way that serves the reflect, refine and act cycle of student learning, while at the same time ensuring every member of the teacher team understands how to use the technology well, in order to ensure the standards for learning are achieved.

To that end, this Thursday- February 9th at 8 p.m. Eastern, I will address a few elements of my keynote address at the TI3C international conference in our Reaching your potential as an educator and leader webinar for TI. You can register for the webinar here and follow us at the #t3learns twitter hashtag as we get ready for the conference launch on March 10th!

During the webinar I define a word I describe in Heart! I indicate, “Your heartprint is the distinctive impression and marked impact your heart leaves on others —your students and your colleagues, as your career and your school seasons unfold.”

You and I are leaving a technology heartprint too. One way or the other. Which technology choice are you making, today? Ignoring it? Embracing it? Or using it with purpose?

What indeed is the niche of your technology voice?  

Know this, technology runs deep in the voice of wisdom for the teachers at Stevenson. They know no other way.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Be Mindful of your HEART! in 2017

In Atlanta, Georgia on February 4th, 1968, as part of his message, The Drum Major Instinct, Martin Luther King stated:

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve...You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

Last week, I was working in the southwestern section of the state of Washington. I was about one hour into a 3-hour professional development session with a group of K-8 teachers and leaders, and I was not receiving a “heart full of grace” from one of the grade level teacher leaders.

She consistently interrupted, at times was rude, and appeared extremely attacking and defensive at the same time. Clearly, something was wrong. I did not know her of course, as this was my first visit to the school, but I knew I needed to find out why she seemed so stressed.

After all, there is still a lot left to this school season, and her students and her colleagues need her to demonstrate a  “heart full of grace”, I was thinking. 

About the same time, a colleague of mine sent me a link to an NPR article on teacher stress written by Cory Turner. I provide the link here, but a quick summary reveals Turner connecting the words of Penn State professor Mark Greenberg with a stress fix “that is well within each teacher’s control”. The fix?


Turner then goes on to describe the book Mindfulness for Teachers by Patricia Jennings. She reveals mindfulness as attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance.

This takes me back to my stressed out teacher from last week. We took a break, only she did not. She sat at her table and graded papers, while other colleagues took the break. I sat down next to her, ready for a potential battle. Instead, she looked at me and started to cry.

Not sure what to do, I waited and stayed silent. My close friends know that neither behavior is a strength for me. She finally broke the silence and though she never once used the word stress, she had all of the symptoms of being overwhelmed by her daily work. A flood of thoughts poured out of her heart…

She was falling behind the curriculum guide and the expected pacing. She did not have enough time to get all of her grading completed. She was using a new textbook. She was doing all of the work for the team and getting no help in return. They were not grateful. She was the team leader, and she was failing. Her kids will not be ready for the state tests in April, and she hated her job at the moment. And, although she was a stranger, she indicated there were some complications with her three year old at home.

And now, “she was wasting three hours with me, when she could be getting other work done.” My response was not of course, “you need to be more mindful” but it was something really close.

Take a look at Jennings definition of mindfulness again:

Attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance

Certainly when we are rushed, when we are knee deep in the daily grind, it is tough to demonstrate curiosity or acceptance to the circumstances that surround us. Yet, when I wrote HEART! that was exactly my intent. That we would slow down, and internally balance our lives so that we could be less stressed at work and at home. Corralling stress at work is less about time, and more about the requisite energy to be mindful practitioners.

In HEART! I describe elements of our educational heartprint that might help you or I to become more aware of why we are stressed. One example occurs at the end of PART 3 of the book on Alliances (the A in HEART) as I describe Wharton School Professor Adam Grant’s NYT Bestselling book Give and Take.

In the book, Grant establishes three fundamental styles of social interaction: giving, taking, and matching. Grant describes each of these reciprocity styles as having a descriptive signature.

1.     Takers like to get more than they give. They place their own interests ahead of others’ needs.

2.     Givers prefer to give more than they get. They are other-focused, placing more attention on what other people need from them.

3.     Matchers prefer to keep a score and keep things balanced. They are focused on a principal of fairness and an even exchange of favors.

The least successful relational style is the givers. Does that surprise you?

Givers (like the stressed team leader at my workshop) on a team achieve less success because they place making others better off ahead of their own self-interests. They also set themselves up for burnout and potential resentment.

So, who is at the top of the success ladder then? Get ready!

It also is the givers.

However, if you are to be a successful giver, and not one of those that falls on the stress trash heap, then heed this caution: Embrace high other-interest and high self-interest. As Grant indicates, “Successful givers weren’t just more other-oriented than their peers; they were also more self-interested . . . just as ambitious as takers and matchers”.

In the Grant quote we discover that to be successful professionals we need to collaborate, but to also be mindful of not being taken advantage of by our students or colleagues. I asked my workshop friend what she had done for herself lately. What did she do for herself on a daily basis that allowed her to protect some low energy state self-interest Quadrant II time?

What is Quadrant II time? Well, that is Ch. 13 of HEART! Another story for another day.

For now, be mindful of your work in this 2017 school season and remember it is okay to give to your students and colleagues, but stay balanced and give to yourself too, so you can do so with a heart filled with acceptance and grace - not just for others, but for yourself too. 

Ask your best friend how you are doing these days. He or she will let you know!


Monday, January 9, 2017

What’s In Your Wallet?

I carry these words in my wallet. 

They have served me well during my entire teaching career. They serve as a reminder on my darkest days to never, never, never give up—the professional path we chose is never easy, but it can be so worth it  - for us, our students and our colleagues.
The words give me perspective on this January 9th, 2017. As we launch into the second half of another school season of our professional lives, there are two realities we face as educators.

One overriding reality is that life is short. 

Where does the time, energy, and effort of ending one school year in June and starting another one in August go? Pretty soon, all those school years become a blur of sorts. Your career becomes this connected series of school-year segments as thousands of students roll through the kaleidoscope of your work.

And, those students we have this year, pass through just this once. We do not get a 2nd shot at them.

And another reality we know from experience—life is uncertain. The single adjective that best describes future events is unexpected. There will be unexpected stuff—illnesses, accomplishments, transfers, promotions, surgeries, triumphs, and tragedies. The events sure to follow in the rest of this school season are indeed uncertain, will drain your energy, and often only be fully understood in reflection once the season ends.

As I write this blog, my wife and I are being slammed by some unexpected and difficult life events. Life indeed is uncertain. How will we respond? It is a measure of our character.

You and I, as we face these winter and sometimes darker days, build the story of how we will be remembered this coming year, every day, one brick at a time—by the way we choose to respond to the stuff of our life.

Here are the words in my wallet:
We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face the reality of [our work] and still strive for every ounce of energy to prevail. Every important battle will need to be fought and re-fought. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose the path will be easy. It’s tough and rain falls on the just.

It is the last line that hits me the hardest. The hardest. 

“Rain falls on the just”. 

We are in a flood as I am writing this. It is raining. And there most likely will be some rain in your professional life the rest of this school year too. It happens.

It is why I wrote HEART! I want us to connect to our work in a way that helps us to survive the rain. To understand the heartprint and the impact we leave on students and colleagues alike even during the dreariest of months for our work – the middle of the season doldrums that can set in upon us during January and February.

The author of the words in my wallet is former presidential advisor, educational author and leader John Gardner.He summed up the goal of our journey by reminding us there is a certain toughness required to do the difficult and deliberate work of our profession. I never met Dr. Gardner, but his words have had a profound impact on my life as an educator, and my choices each day. 

It can be a long second half to this school season. But we will look back in May and realize it was short. This school season is over. Did we choose to prevail? 

We will also look to the next few months and realize they are uncertain. Unexpected events will happen to us – with a student, with a colleague, with family.  The path may not be easy. 

What’s in your wallet, this school season?