Thursday, January 29, 2009

Made to Stick

Recently, I have had the opportunity to begin reading "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" by Chip & Dan Heath. In the book, there are some principles given about ideas that can be applied to leadership. First, "keep it simple." As a leader, it is vital to "determine the single most important thing." Too often in our work as educators & leaders we become too easily diverted from the main focus. One of the fundamental rules of journalism can be summed up by the statement: "Don't bury the lead." As leaders, we must have single-mindedness of purpose and laser-like vision on the main goal and we must continually share that goal with others so that we don't "bury the lead."
Another key component of effective leadership is use of the "unexpected." It is vital as leaders to "grab attention" and then to keep it. How do we keep people's attention? As a writer, one might employ a technique known as the "news-teaser approach." For example, a headline such as "Which local restaurant has slime in the ice machine?" is certain to garner more attention than something like "Local man eats cereal for breakfast." While this may seem like a ridiculous comparison, it illustrates an important point: as leaders, we must exhibit an uncommon enthusiasm and confidence when working with others. We must have a genuine concern for people and their needs that is evident in our words and actions, as well as in our eagerness to listen.
A third characteristic of effective leadership is summarized by the word "concrete." We must be able to address issues in a way that is practical and relevant. All the theories in the world are meaningless if they do not lead to specific actions that can help resolve people's issues. It is important to find common ground at a shared level of understanding. As leaders, we must master the ability to place ourselves "in another's shoes" to know best how to help in any given situation. It has been said that teachers learn much more than students because they learn the material twice: once during the preparation, and once during the delivery to the students. As leaders, we are only effective when we offer advice that gets to the heart of the issues that people face.
A fourth characteristic of effective leadership is "credibility." We must help people believe. It is not enough to offer advice and then say "I hope this works for you." We must convince people that what we have to share with them has been proven to be effective in other similar situations and circumstances.
A fifth trait of effective leadership is the concept of "emotion." We must make people care! How can we make people care? We need to appeal to self-interest and identity. I doubt there are many people in the world who get out of bed each day and say "I wonder how badly I can perform today?" However, some people don't reach their potential simply because they don't have the proper encouragement. At the 1993 ESPY Awards, the late Jim Valvano, former men's basketball coach at North Carolina State University, delivered a stirring speech that brought the audience to tears. He suggested that all people need to do three things each day: think, laugh, and cry. In doing so, he said that people experience a "full day." As human beings we are emotional beings, and as leaders, we must be able to display emotion at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. We are not robots!
Finally, a sixth characteristic of effective leadership is the ability to tell stories. There are two main types of stories: stories that simulate (or tell people how to act), and stories that inspire (or give people energy to act). We must be able to use both types of stories as we work with people. Some people need more of the former, while others need more of the latter. As we continually develop our relationships with people, we will gain insights as to what types of stories they need to hear from us!
By employing these six principles, we will be able to provide effective leadership for people from all walks of life, no matter where our journey as leaders might take us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Teacher Support on a Budget

I think we can all agree on the validity and effectiveness of teacher mentor programs, both in getting new teachers better prepared at a faster rate and in keeping teachers in our schools, which has an economic benefit as well. Unfortunately, we can all take a look at shrinking budgets and see support programs like mentoring being put on the chopping block. We also know that December and January can be truly low points in the year for new teachers--they've been working really hard for months and the end of the year isn't close enough to boost their spirits.

So here are a few ideas for helping new staff members feel more included. They don't replace quality ongoing mentorship, but they can at least help build a relationship and support system.

1. Include new teachers in end of the year meetings, student orientations, and classroom visits. Better yet, be your new teacher's sub for a day so they can visit other classrooms and connect with experienced teachers.
2. Invite new teachers to professional workshops--perhaps waiving the fee or creating a small informal book study group.
3. Introduce new teachers to subject and grade level colleagues--and consider hosting team building or getting to know you activities throughout the year
4. Include information about new staff in newsletters. Go beyond the fall introduction and feature the new teacher's interests or hobbies.
5. Continue to provide orientation and mentoring opportunities as much as possible. Even hosting a mid-year new teacher tea or getting an experienced teacher to "check in" on the new teacher can help them know they are not alone!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kicking But

One of the exercises Dan Pink recommends in his book A Whole New Mind seems to fit well with January being a time for focusing on the new year, new goals, new resolutions for improving our lives. The exercise is this: make a list of changes you'd like to make and what's keeping you from making them. The word "but" tends to make less important what is in front of it, while putting all the emphasis on what follows--thus you focus on the obstacle. By replacing "but" with "and," you put an equal emphasis on both sides--thus it's easier to focus on how to make both parts of the sentence doable. Therefore, I want everyone to get closer to their goals, and it's impossible for me to be there to help all of you. So, I'm going to blog about this in order to give you a tool for helping yourselves. Happy New Year!

Example: I want to exercise more but I work too much.
Now replace the but with an and.

Example: I want to exercise more AND I work too much. Now follow that up with a specific idea for how to make the two work together.

Example: I want to exercise more and I work too much. So...I am going to find an exercise program that works with my busy schedule.