Monday, December 19, 2011

Finding Your Perspective This Holiday!

Winter Break! Just in time! Whether it started for you this past Friday, or sometime this week, you have got to love winter break! The Holidays, the New Year, a well deserved break from the pace of your work, and an opportunity to relocate your perspective – just in case it has gone out of whack over the past four months and this first semester of the 2011-2012 school year. 

After all, the pace of the school teacher and leader’s life is relentless and our perspective can drift from one of hope to one of complaint. 

Ask most seasoned teachers and school leaders - their greatest fear - and the most frequently given response will perhaps surprise you. Their biggest fear is endurance. How do you endure and sustain a high level of energy, hope and positive inspiration for students and others year in and year out? Being part of an inspiring work life requires a well-balanced perspective on life… and every year, the winter break offers an opportunity to do a personal perspective inspection.

What is perspective? To a great extent it is how we view something. The term literally means “ Looking through… or seeing clearly”. And this is very hard to do, when immersed in the smothering details of your professional and personal life. Your holiday break  - the New Year “break” from 2011 to 2012 offers the opportunity to look in two directions – back on 2011, and then ahead on 2012. To slow down just long enough to examine progress on those vision aspirations.

As you look back on 2011, one overriding thought is that life is short. Where did 2011 go? Where did the time and energy and effort of ending one school year in June and starting another one in August go? Pretty soon all of 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.

Although each year is unique – 2011 had its unique moments for you, each New Year is also a renewed opportunity to do better in the next cycle of your work experience. And so, you look ahead. And one thing you know for sure about 2012 – and you know this from experience, life is uncertain. The singe adjective that best describes the future events of 2012 is unexpected. There will be unexpected… sickness, accomplishments, transfers, benefits, promotions, surgeries, triumphs and tragedies. The events of 2012 are indeed, uncertain.

Because of this, your professional life is filled with the need to prepare for and embrace challenging adjustments as each New Year brings a series of challenging opportunities disguised sometimes as unsolvable problems. And here is the reason for you and me to take the time to know our response and our perspective. Our response can either lead to the complaint of disappointment and failed expectations or to optimism and positive motivation in 2012, which will it be for you, or for me?

In the “The Secret Ailment,” presidential advisor and educational author John Gardner summed up the goal of our journey as teachers and school leaders:

We cannot dream of a utopia in which all arrangements are ideal and everyone is flawless. Life is tumultuous—an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory. Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and will strive for every ounce of energy to prevail. . . . We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose the path will be easy. It’s tough.

Every important battle in your professional life during 2012 will need to be fought and re-fought. What a great statement about the perseverance perspective needed to meet and embrace adversity with hope. And know that although everyone will not be flawless and there will be no assured victories in 2012, you will build the story of how you will be remembered this coming year, every day, one brick at a time - by the way you choose to respond. May your perspective on life help you to build and choose wisely. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Finding the middle ground between Barney the Dinosaur and Attila the Hun!

Doug Reeves makes me think, learn and laugh. He is one of the best thought leaders in education, and we are all better for it. The title of this blog entry is an actual line in his 2006 book, The learning Leader and Doug has most certainly taught all of us how to become better learners as we try to become more relationally intelligent in how we influence and connect to others.
According to Daniel Goleman and his colleagues (2002), emotionally intelligent leaders give praise, create a positive climate, criticize constructively, provide direction, support people’s needs, and “frame the group’s mission in ways that give more meaning to each person’s contribution—or not. All these acts help determine a leader’s primal emotional impact”.  Furthermore, “How well leaders manage their moods and effect everyone else’s moods, then, becomes not just a private matter but a factor in how well a business will do”. 

The more demanding and stressful the situation—such as working in chronically low-performing schools, working in a district with severe budget cutbacks, dealing with the elimination of viable and necessary support programs, and coping with public scrutiny—the more essential it is for the school leaders to have a well-developed emotional intelligence. 

These comments beg the question of course, as we approach the holidays, how well are you (or I) doing in the relational EQ (Emotional Intelligence) arena? And as our sophomore daughter reminded me last night, "Dad, you interrupted me" - which is a low mark on the relational intelligence scale. 

To some extent the future engagement of your colleagues in their work is predicated on the quality of their relationship with you and the emotional climate you create for those around youAccording to Goleman, here are four behaviors you can use to rank yourself on the emotional  intelligence scale. As you can see I ranked pretty low on behavior # 1 last night. 

1.          “Listen without interrupting.” Record your next leadership team or teacher team meeting. How often do your team members interrupt one another? How could your team members better listen to one another?

2.          “Practice empathy through deliberate inquiry.” How often do your leadership team or teacher team members seek first to understand the meaning and intent of the words of others? How often do you hear, “Tell me more” or “How could I support you in this work?” in your daily conversations?

3.          “Never betray a private conversation. Is the fine line between what is for public knowledge and what is for private knowledge crystal clear for your leadership or teacher team? As collaborative teams pursue greater transparency, how well does everyone respect the confidences of private conversations—including those conversations of the team?

4.          “Exhibit genuine passion for the people you serve.” How well do members of your leadership team exhibit genuine interest and pay private and personal attention to the individuals in their sphere of influence?

As you build the relational capacity of your team, help all team members to realize they are hard wired to connect with others. No one benefits from the stress and inequity caused by isolated learning and decision-making. And yet many in our profession would prefer to just be left alone. Why?

Social Intelligence
 Daniel Goleman (2007) points out in Social Intelligence that “nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison to our bodies” (p. 5). Goleman further notes that “how we connect with others has unimagined significance . . . In effect, being chronically hurt and angered, or being emotionally nourished by someone we spend time with daily over the course of years can refashion our brain” (2007, p. 11)

As your leadership teams respond to the new and required form of professional development in a PLC—learning with colleagues—working to ensure the meetings have meaning and are positive experiences will improve your ability to serve one another during times of great progress as well as times of conflict and stress – which is when we find out what you really believe about communication and teamwork! 

Your role is to foster a relational capacity among the various teams in your school, recognizing when it is low, and if so, providing immediate feedback for improvement and growth. No Atila the Huns and no Barney the Dinosaurs allowed as you end first Semester.