Tuesday, January 31, 2017

They Need Us More than Ever

I am going to say what's been on my mind for the past 4 months.  After listening to the debates, watching the political events leading up to the election, and the first week in office, I am deeply worried about what the future holds for us.  More importantly, I am worried about the behavior being modeled to my seven and four year-old boys by the so-called leaders at the highest level.

As educators, we work extremely hard to develop a variety of academic skills whether we are providing direct instruction, project based learning, or facilitating a discussion about a current event. The academic content that we teach kids is extremely important and should never be underestimated; however, what matters most to me are the critical life skills that will serve our students for many years to come.

Image Credit: cgma.org
Thomas Hoerr outlines five success skills within his new book entitled The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills that Every Student Needs.  The skills that serve as the foundation for excellence are empathy, self control, integrity, embracing diversity, and grit.  I couldn't agree more with the magnitude of these skills.  In ten years, I'm really not going to care how my sons performed in an algebra class, but I am going to be highly focused on their work ethic, understanding of others, openness to differences, and ability to push through challenging situations.

Image Credit: ascd.org
Our kids need us more than ever.  They need us to be in their corner while modeling what it means to see situations through the eyes of another.  They need us to exhibit self control, even when things don't go our way.  They need us to model what it means to do the right thing, even when that is not the most convenient thing.  They need us to celebrate differences while learning from everyone around us.  They need us to model what it is like to work hard for the things that fuel our passion.

Image Credit: autismafter16.com
I am concerned about what our kids are seeing from a national perspective when they turn on the TV each evening.  Our kids are in need of positive leadership and we owe it to them to model this on a daily basis.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Day 9 (21 Days of Gratitude)

I have been off the grid for three days with the Thanksgiving holiday, but that is no excuse.  I will be back to blogging my gratitude each evening.

In my writing and discussions in the past, I have talked about my educational heroes, and how they have shaped my educational beliefs.  These people are incredibly important to me, but they do not even come close to my true hero.  Many of you who have known me for a number of years have heard me talk about the influence that he has had on me; the guy is tremendous.  Simply stated, my dad is the hardest working and most knowledgeable person I have ever seen.

Three generations of the Butler Boys: Dean, Dan, Nolan, and Mason
He has fixed my vehicles, catcher’s mitts, kitchen sinks, garage doors, and heaters more than I would like to admit.  A couple of years ago, I was having issues with my garage door, and to no surprise, I had to call him to save the day.  Afterwards, we spent about an hour talking in my driveway about the challenges of leadership.  My father worked at John Deere for more than 35 years, but I truly feel he would have lit the educational world on fire.  I was complaining about some recent struggles and he challenged my thinking by breaking out the big guns.  There are two phrases that he has said to me hundreds of times in the past thirty-five years: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” and “Try your best and forget about the rest.”  These phrases are simple, but powerful.  We create our own luck through hard work, determination, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.  We can control certain things, and there are many more that we cannot; life is too short to focus on things beyond our control.  I encourage you to reflect on my father’s words when you are planning and working with people.  Take risks, give everything your best, have fun, and be nice.  I love my father and I hope you have someone in your life who pushes you the way he has pushed me.  I cannot adequately express the gratitude that I have for my dad in words; he is simply the best.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Day 8 (21 Days of Gratitude)

A little more than three years ago, I was asked to serve on a grant writing committee that would put together what I was told would be something pretty special.  I am going to be completely honest when I say that I was a little skeptical about this entire process.  I have been told more times than I can count that a new committee, action team, or curricular implementation is destined to be the next big thing.  I accepted the offer to participate in this research gathering and grant writing group that would embark upon something truly historic in the state of Iowa.  Our school district decided to take the leap and apply for the first year of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation grant that would provide the opportunity to create a number of teacher leadership positions within our district that never existed in the past.

We were fortunate to receive this grant in the first year that it was offered within the state which allowed us to create nine instructional coaching positions within our district.  I am currently in my third year of working with an instructional coach along my side.  This has been absolutely wonderful and I am grateful each day for this opportunity.  The instructional coach is able to provide a level of support to our teachers and to me that never existed in the past.  I am so incredibly fortunate to work with Greg Deutmeyer as the instructional coach at Epworth Elementary.  Greg has been able to connect with teachers and push them to high levels of thinking, collaboration, and reflection which has ultimately had a strong impact on students.  Greg has also pushed me to see things from a different perspective and allowed me to clarify my thoughts.  As I have worked with an instructional coach for the past three years, I cannot imagine my role without this person in my world.  I am very grateful that our district made this leap and to have the opportunity to be part of this each day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Day 7 (21 Days of Gratitude)

We have lived in our home for exactly five years and I couldn't be more grateful to be where we are. Our home and community provide a comfortable place for our children and an environment that is safe, fun, and full of energy.  I am so incredibly grateful to be living in a community and school district that see the value in education.  We are surrounded by fantastic schools full of adults who are passionate, technically skilled, and ready to make differences in the lives of kids.  I have never seen a community so supportive and willing to help those in need at the drop of a hat. We are living in a special place and for that, I am extremely grateful.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Day 6 (21 Days of Gratitude)

I have spent the better part of my educational career coaching student athletes in various sports. These opportunities were so enjoyable and memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  As football and baseball season approach each year, I am often asked by people within our community what I miss most about coaching.  My response is the same every single time.  Yes, I miss the competition, game planning, and bonding with fellow coaches.  However, what I miss the most is the relationships with kids.  It was truly amazing to hear their stories, see their passion, and watch them achieve at levels that they never thought were possible.  Athletic fields are some of the best classrooms that we have within our school system, as kids are able to learn about perseverance, resilience, grit, teamwork, integrity, responsibility, and many other critical life skills. I will never forget the great times that I had coaching; it is something for which I will be forever grateful.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Gap

Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to attend a number of professional development sessions and learning opportunities within my district, state, and across the country. These sessions have focused on visible learning, growth mindset, instructional coaching, literacy, mathematics, technology integration, and the list goes on and on.  I love attending conferences and professional development sessions while learning from experts within the field and having the opportunity to connect with many members of my personal learning network (PLN).  I always leave these sessions inspired and armed with a number of ideas to bring back to my building and school district.
Image Credit: mrstaylorsclass.weebly.com
The problem that I have following learning sessions is certainly not inspiration, motivation to be better, or innovative ideas to get me there.  There is a gap from what I want to do between what actually happens within my school or district.  I honestly do not think that I am alone in this struggle. Someone very wise once told me that if you don't implement some aspect of the new learning within forty-eight hours of the workshop or professional learning opportunity, it will never happen.  This certainly was the script for my first three years in a leadership position.  I would learn about amazing instructional strategies, become fired up about an idea to build culture within our school, or learn how to utilize a new technique to allow me to become more efficient.  When I would arrive back to school, it often became business as usual as I responded to emails, put out small fires from my absence, and went through the typical, busy routine of being an educator.

Within the last year, I have been able to flip the script described above by putting two key strategies into place that I have learned from Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage.  The Zorro Circle and The 20 Second Rule are not going to blow you away by any stretch of the imagination; however, when executed effectively can make all of the difference within implementation efforts.

Image Credit: zorro.com
The Zorro Circle essentially allows us to channel our efforts on small, manageable goals, to gain the leverage to gradually conquer bigger and bigger ones.  When we begin a project or think about an idea, we often want to do too much too soon without thinking through the process, steps along the way, and key benchmarks to guide our work.  When Zorro was learning from Don Diego, he had to master what was in one circle in the sand before moving on to the next.  This forced him to focus on what was in front him while creating small wins before he became the famous sword master able to conquer many villains.

So what does this look like for you?  Imagine that you want to lose twenty pounds, as we approach a new year.  Rather than doing what most people do and focus on the end product, think about the small steps to put into place to incrementally move you toward this result. Think about the first week within your efforts; how often will you exercise, at what time of day, how will your food choices change?  Start small within this first week, this might include fifteen minutes of walking per day while cutting your calorie intake by 200.  Set a small, achievable goal within the first week and commit to it.  When the second week roles around, increase your efforts to twenty minutes of walking and so forth.  As you are successful with each step, add a little more each week to get closer to your end product or goal; this is the essence of the Zorro Circle.  Whether you are looking to shed a few pounds or thinking about how to implement the latest leadership strategy, I highly encourage you to break down the task into small steps that lead to quick wins.

Image Credit: gnakm.com
One of the hardest things for me to do when I am beginning something new is simply getting started. For example, I have put off writing this post for about a month because I just didn't have the energy to get it going; Shawn Achor refers to this as activation energy.  Think about something that you know you should do whether that is exercise, writing a thank you note to a loved one, or scrubbing your kitchen floor; the hardest part is getting started.  In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn discusses a strategy that he calls The 20 Second Rule to decrease the amount of activation energy required to get started on something new.  By putting small plans into place to reduce the activation energy to less than twenty seconds to begin the task, the likelihood of getting started dramatically increases.  He mentions his classic example of sleeping in his gym clothes and laying his tennis shoes next to his bed to reduce the activation energy required to workout the following morning.

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How does this idea apply to you as you are thinking about beginning something or implementing a new idea?  For me, when I think about blogging, I reduce my activation energy by listing a few of my key points that I want to convey in bullets which allows me to get going much faster.  I also clear a space within my house and attempt to blog at a similar time each month.  Once I get started, the process falls into place and I feel good about what I am able to accomplish.  When I think about professional learning opportunities that did not make their way to the implementation phase over the past several years, I think about the difference that Zorro Circles and The 20 Second Rule could have made.

Image Credit: mystrategicforecast.com
There is certainly not a shortage of ideas, but certainly a gap between ideas and action.  It does not have to be this way.  The next time you leave a professional learning session or spark a great idea from a conversation that you had with one of your colleagues, think about how Zorro Circles and The 20 Second Rule can inspire change and action within your setting.  These are simple strategies that can have a tremendous impact.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Day 5 (21 Days of Gratitude)

Day 5
I am not going to go too deep on my gratitude today; quite simply, I am grateful for college football. There is not much that I enjoy more than sitting in my living room and watching games on Saturdays throughout the fall.  There is something about the atmosphere of a college campus during football Saturdays that I love including tailgaiting activities, crisp fall weather, and an unbelievable amount of excitement and pride.  I have been very fortunate to attend a couple of games this season, as I traveled to State College, Pennsylvania and Iowa City in consecutive weeks.  Whether I am watching a game with 107,000 people in Beaver Stadium or taking in USC vs. UCLA in the cozy confines of my living room, I love everything about the game of college football.

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