Saturday, October 29, 2011

How Full is Your Bucket?

At Poplar Bluff Junior High School we started a professional studies book club that meets on a monthly basis. The second book we chose to read was "How Full is Your Bucket?" by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton. Here are the notes I provided the book club members to help fuel and guide our discussion:

Chapter 1: Negativity kills

- How do you respond to negativity?  What strategies do you employ to keep negativity out of your life?

- Do you ever find yourself being overly negative?  Do people view you as a positive or negative influence?      

Chapter 2: Positivity, negativity, productivity

- “It’s true that most of our negative experiences will not kill us, yet they can slowly but surely erode our well-being and productivity.” Pg. 15

- How often do you receive recognition and praise?  How did you feel afterward?  Do you deserve recognition and praise for doing your job?

- How do we prevent overly negative people from spreading their negativity?  

- “It is possible for just one or two people to poison an entire workplace.” Pg. 25 - Do you believe this?  As a member of an organization, do you feel comfortable giving one or two people that much power?  

Chapter 3: Every moment matters

- Remember a time when you got good news, praise, or recognition that filled your bucket…how long did it take before a negative person emptied your bucket?   

- As educators, do we focus on the strengths or weaknesses of our students?  Do you agree with Rath’s belief that we should concentrate on what people do well, rather than what they do not do well?

- “Positivity must be grounded in reality.” Pg. 45 - Is it possible to give too much praise?  Do we ever give insincere/artificial praise?  Is there a difference between insincere/artificial praise… and lying to avoid confrontation or hurting one’s feelings?

Chapter 4: Tom’s story: An overflowing bucket?

- Is being born a negative person a valid excuse when emptying the buckets of others?  If our natural disposition is to be negative, can we change?

- “I was able to strive for greatness in my area of natural talent.” Pg. 55 - Do we help our students find situations and circumstances where we know they will be successful and excel?

- Do the people you spend a majority of your time with help to fill your bucket?  

Chapter 5: Making it personal

- “Recognition is most appreciated and effective when it is individualized, specific, and deserved.” Pg. 62 - How can we make sure we provide individualized, specific, and deserved recognition for all of our students?

- “The recognition & praise you provide must have meaning that is specific to each individual.” Pg. 66

- How would Rath respond to a teacher of the month award?  Are these awards effectively recognizing and praising teachers in an individualized, specific, and deserving manner?

“You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people to get what they want.” Zig Ziglar

Chapter 6: Five strategies for increasing positive emotions

1. Prevent bucket dipping: Ask yourself…am I adding to or taking from the bucket?   

2. Shine a light on what is right: Do you concentrate on success or failure (strengths or weaknesses)?

3. Make best friends: Friends help add to and build up your bucket.

4. Give unexpectedly: Small unexpected bucket fillers can have a huge impact.

5. Reverse the golden rule: Put the needs of others before yours…take care of their bucket, and they will take care of yours.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What Great Teachers do Differently...

Todd Whitaker is a great educational thinker and an experienced Educator. He has written several books, and his thoughts seem to resonate with Educators from all levels in all positions. Here are my book club notes from his book, "What Great Teachers do Differently." Todd is also on Twitter (@toddwhitaker)

1. Why look at great?

- What are the characteristics of “great” teachers? 
- Most administrators believe they would be better teachers if they ever returned to the classroom…why?
- Should we have the opportunity to observe the “great” teachers? – how do we determine who is “great?”

2. It’s people, not programs

- School districts put a lot of emphasis on new programs and initiatives?  Do school districts put the same amount of emphasis on developing teachers into “great” teachers? 
- Can you think of any examples where two identical programs were being led by two different leaders with two different levels of success?  Why was one program more successful than the other?

3. The power of expectations

- Are student expectations clear in your class? 
- Are teacher expectations clear at your school?  Do teachers need clear expectations? 
- What strategies do you use to make sure there is transparency, as well as clear expectations in your class?

4. Prevention versus revenge

- What are the most successful classroom management strategies you use?  Why are they the most successful?
- Do all teachers really have the same “bag of tricks?”

5. High expectations – for whom?

- Are your expectations higher for your students than for yourself? (think about the lens and mirror principles from Maxwell’s Winning with People)
- How do you know if your expectations are too high or too low?  Is it possible they can be too high? 

6. Who is the variable?

- When something goes wrong in your class (behavior, homework completion, quiz scores) who do you blame?
- Passing blame also passes power… are you prepared to give your power away?

7. Ten days out of ten

- How can we make sure we treat all students and colleagues with respect and care?
- How do you cope with a bad day in the classroom?  How do you hide your true feelings from the students?

8. The teacher is the filter

- How do you set the tone in your classroom?  Do you realize how powerful your attitude is?
- “When the teacher sneezes, the whole class catches a cold.” Pg. 56 Do you agree with this?
- Do you agree with Whitaker’s take on the teacher’s lounge?

9. Don’t need to repair – always do repair

- Building strong relationships with staff and students is essential to being a “great” teacher. 
- Is the “highway patrol example” applicable in the education setting? 
- Do we always reinforce appropriate student behavior in our classrooms?

10. Ability to ignore

- How do you determine which comments or behaviors to ignore, or not to ignore?
- Is it appropriate to ignore one student and recognize the behavior of other students to teach what behaviors are acceptable?

11. Random or plandom?

- Do you plan to use all 50 minutes of class every single day?  Does this require more work on your part?
- What strategies do you use to be proactive instead of reactive in terms of classroom management?
- What did you think about the faculty meeting example?  Do you see this at your school?  Positive/negative effect?

12. Base every decision on the best people

- “Great” teachers worry about what their best students think.  Should we only worry about our best students? - Are you guilty of using blanket statements with your students? 
- Why do most teachers/students/administrators use blanket statements? 

13. In every situation, ask who is the most comfortable and who is least comfortable?

- When dealing with students and staff members do you consider the ramifications of your words on others?
- Do you feel comfortable in your current position?  Do the “great” teachers at your school feel comfortable?
- Do your great students feel comfortable when you are addressing an issue with your class?

14. What about these darn standardized tests?

- Whitaker sees some value in standardized testing… how can we use standardized testing as a tool in our classrooms?
- In your particular class, do you feel that standardized testing is emphasized more than actual learning?

15. Make it cool to care

-  “Great” teachers teach all students to care, and as long as the teachers are acting in the best interests of the students, they can do no wrong… how can we make this applicable in the classroom setting?
- “The heroes are not the contract negotiating team that got the teachers a raise, but rather the teachers that had an impact on the lives of their students.” Pg. 119

16. Clarifying your core

- “Every teacher has an impact.  Great teachers make a positive difference.” Pg. 126
- Are you prepared to accept the responsibility of making your school a “great” school?

 “Students care about great teachers because they know great teachers care about them” Pg. 122

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What I've learned...

Last Friday marked the last day of the 1st quarter of the 2011-2012 school year at Poplar Bluff Junior High School. It also marked the end of the first quarter of my career as an administrator. The past 9 weeks have been quite an experience to say the least. I have helped get some great things started and I have also made several mistakes, but most importantly, I have learned a tremendous amount about relationships, leadership, support, and what it takes to keep a school moving forward.

Here are some of the main things I have learned so far...

- There is nothing that is not my job or part of my responsibilities...absolutely nothing...

- The student who you hammer hard with a punishment will most likely forgive you and not hold a grudge; taking time to rebuild that relationship is key to creating a positive school culture...  

- It's impossible to be an administrator without upsetting someone or making a mistake on a daily basis...

- Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing; don't overwhelm your staff by breaking off too much to chew at one time, even if it is great and will help students...

- If a teacher is doing something awesome in their class and they invite you to participate or witness the event, stop whatever you are doing and make time to stop by. It doesn't need to be the whole class period, but a few moments of an administrator's time can go a long way...

- The life of an administrator is a life of interruptions and putting out fires. The joys of an administrator are helping others to solve their problems while enabling staff members to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively...

- Building and establishing strong and enduring relationships is absolutely crucial to the success of a school...

- Communicating expectations and procedures is easier said than done; some staff members don't want or need it laid out for them, while others need every single step with a justification. Either way, creativity, autonomy, and freedom are jeopardized by too many procedures and steps...

- Trying to learn the names of all 750 students at PBJHS is difficult, but it can be done and it is definitely worth the time and effort...

- There is not enough time in the day to keep up with my Google Reader and blogging while still doing my job...

- I have definitely chosen the right job and profession...

What have you learned so far this school year...?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Providing support...
Whether you are a teacher, a building administrator, or a central office administrator, we all require various amounts of support to effectively do our jobs. Just as we need support to do our jobs, we are also all responsible for providing various levels of support to those with whom we work so they can complete their jobs. A teacher provides support to his/her students, a building administrator provides support to his/her staff, and a central office administrator provides support to an entire district.

Here are a few thoughts on providing and receiving support:

- If you are receiving adequate support from your colleagues, then you are able to do your job without hesitation and without having to navigate through crippling roadblocks...

- We can all power through periods of time without a lot of support, but a lack of support for an extended period of time will guarantee a decline in results and overall success... 

- Support for one is not support for all. We all require a personalized level of support that helps us meet the demands of our responsibilities...

- The moment you feel you are not receiving the level of support you require or want, is the moment you should increase the level of support you are providing for those around you; a culture of support breads more support...

- Support must permeate throughout the entire organization on all levels; a lack of support on any level can and will jeopardize the efficacy of the entire organization...

- How one responds to the support he/she receives or doesn't receive will ultimately dictate the level of support given or not given in the future...

- Not acknowledging and appreciating the work of others is the most dangerous form of lack of support; those passionate and driven want and need to know they are serving the greater good of the organization...

- You don't always have to act to show your support; sometimes it just takes listening and considering the thoughts and beliefs of those around you to show your support...

- Support is one of the most important steps in establishing an organization that thrives on trust and relationships; without support you will never have trust or strong relationships...

- The truest level of support will only shine in times of despair and struggle; it's easy to show and provide support when things are going well, the true test is when things are going poorly...

What are your thoughts on support? How does your school or organization provide support?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What do you see...?

If you do bus duty in the morning do you see it as an opportunity to greet each and every student with a smile to ensure their day at school starts off right, or do you see it as just another short straw that you have drawn...?

If you know a colleague who is struggling do you see it as a chance to help him/her with their struggles because we work as a team, or do you turn your back on them and ignore their struggles while being thankful it's not your problem...?
If you have a conversation with a colleague and you disagree, do you see it as an opportunity to learn about another perspective or do you concentrate all your energy on proving that your perspective is correct...?

If you make a mistake do you see your failure as a chance to learn and grow or do you see your failure as a defining characteristic that will always follow and haunt you...?

If you experience success in your classroom with a particular activity do you see it as your professional responsibility to share it with your colleagues or do you see the activity as something you must protect and hide from others...?

If you get stuck doing something that isn't your job, do you see it as an opportunity to learn about another role in education or do you see it as a burden that shouldn't fall on your shoulders...?

If you are selected to do lunch supervision do you see it as an opportunity to build and strengthen student relationships or do you see it as wasted time that comes with the job...?

If you have a student who is unmotivated in your class do you see it as a chance to help the student find the root cause of the issue or do you see the student as another lazy and unmotivated kid...? 

If you are assigning work to be completed outside of school, do you see the other time commitments and constraints your students may have or do you see homework as more important than family and/or interests and hobbies...?

If you discover that a student is passionate about something that is not related to your content, do you see it as an opportunity to connect and relate your content to his/her passion or do you see his/her passion as something that is getting in the way of his/her learning...?

Does what you really see match up with what you really want to see? Does what you really see match up with what's best for your students?

Every day before you go to work think about what set of lenses you are wearing, and remember that from time to time it's not necessarily a bad idea to throw out your old lenses for a set of new ones...