Shelley Burgess

Reflections of an educational learner and leader


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5 Steps to Help Your Crew Embrace Change

My friend George Couros reminds us in his book The Innovator’s Mindset  that “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”. I wholeheartedly agree.

In my experience, it can be a long journey for some people on the team to see the upside of the change.  Unfortunately, the reality is they often get overwhelmed by it.  As an educational leader who admittedly asked a lot of people, I often found myself in my office or in a classroom where someone on my team would confess that they were overwhelmed and didn’t think they could “do it”.  As a leader who genuinely cares about people and believes wholeheartedly in supporting my team, this was always challenging for me.

So it got me thinking… How could I respond in a way that conveys my genuine compassion for the person without letting her “off the hook”?

Over time, and after a few bumpy conversations, I found that there were five components to a successful conversation with a person who was feeling overwhelmed by the work we were trying to do:

  1. Acknowledge change can be hard. Don’t dismiss their feelings of being overwhelmed or the feelings of “I can’t do this”. They are real… treat them as such. Express understanding, demonstrate empathy and let them know you care.
  2. Remind them of the why. Revisit the reasons for the change, the best hopes for the change, the “data” that helped us decide this change was critical for our school community.  If you followed the Lead Like a PIRATE practice of involving the people impacted by the decision in the decision making process, reconnect them with the reasons they decided to support it in the first place. Be genuine, be specific, be thorough.
  3. Remind them of their value. Let them know you believe in them, that they are an essential member of the team and that we can’t do it without them. Share the confidence you have in them to do this.
  4. Offer support.  Ask “How can I help?” “What do you need from me?” “Is there something we can take off your plate?”  If they share something that you can do… Do it! Commit! Follow through and make sure they have the support they need.
  5. Thank them.  Express your gratitude for their commitment, for their perseverance, for their willingness to push through the challenges to make school AMAZING for kids.

While not foolproof, I (and leaders I have coached) have used this process many times with great success. Change IS an opportunity to do something amazing, but we also have to be wiling to coach and support our crew on the roller coaster ride that change can bring for them.

 


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Busy is not a Badge

I just finished hosting #satchatwc with my awesome co-moderator, Beth Houf.  The chat today focused on strategies to help us prioritize our time. This tweet exchange with Robert Abney and Sandy King stuck with me…

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As educators, the reality is our work is never done. There is no finish line. We add more to the “to do” list than we cross off.

We will always have more on our plates than we can tackle each day, so the real challenge is this:

How do we take control of our time?

 

Great leaders master this. They spend the majority of their time doing the work that matters most. They create systems to get the essential components of the “job” done and free up their time to do the meaningful “work”.

Like all leaders, great leaders are busy all day long, but at the end of the day…

Busy is not their badge… Making an IMPACT is!

 


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From the Bottom of Our Hearts – Thank You!

A couple of weeks ago, @BethHouf and I were thrilled (and just a bit nervous) to release our book Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff. What an incredible, soul-searching journey this has been.  We have worked on and wrestled with this book for about eighteen months and had moments of both loving it and hating it.  We had times where we were excited to push forward and times where we thought about giving up. We grappled with what to keep in and what to leave out.

While we have had incredible conversations for years about our collective philosophies and leadership practices, there is something about taking those thoughts and putting them on paper that makes us vulnerable and is honestly a bit scary.  We are both passionate educators who love what we do, and we are both continuous learners, so sometimes what we believe today can shift and change as we learn and grow over time.  There is something so permanent and final, though, about putting our best thinking today on the pages of a book. Through the power of friendship, our love for this incredible work of being educators, and some continuous nudging from Dave, we finished our book. And then…

…we turned it over to you. We put it out into the world with our fingers and toes all crossed in anticipation of the reception it would receive. We  hoped people would connect with what we had to say and find relevance in the stories we wanted to share. And while we were hoping for the best, we were also gearing ourselves up to be prepared if people’s reactions went the other way.

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What has happened over the past couple of weeks has been nothing short of awesome. We can’t truly express the depth of our gratitude for all of you who have been sharing your thoughts, reflections and take-aways from Lead Like PIRATE on Twitter, Facebook,  Instagram, Amazon and so many other places, including an awesome live #IMMOOC chat with George Couros (@gcouros) and Katie Martin (@KatieMTLC) and the follow up chat w/co-host Tara Martin (@Tara MartinEDU).  Your support, your kind words, and your positive energy have far exceeded any expectations we had.

 

From the bottoms of our hearts – Thank you!

We hope you will continue to share and connect with us using the #LeadLAP hashtag.

And… if you are interested, Nancy Alvarez (@techwnancy) and Todd Schmidt (tsschmidty) are moderating a Voxer book study starting April, 9th. We would love to have you join us!

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Doing “What’s Best for Kids” – Hmm…

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Full disclosure before you read on… I know that what I’m about to say might rub some people the wrong way, but I hope you’ll read on and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I don’t particularly like the phrase, I’m going to do “what’s best for kids”.  I think we need to be really mindful when we throw it around in our profession.  While I understand the positive intent of the phrase and I agree whole-heartedly that meeting the needs of students should absolutely be the primary focus of what we do in our schools and districts… I think tossing the “what’s best for kids” phrase around can be harmful to our school and district cultures.  Here’s why:

  1. If I use the phrase “I’m going to do what’s best for kids”, it is incredibly easy for the person who I am talking to to reach the conclusion that I believe that they, in fact, do not have the best interest of students in mind.  While I can acknowledge that there are times when people make decisions based solely on their own best interests, I actually think that in our profession it’s pretty rare. In my experience most educators I have worked with typically make decisions based on their belief that they are doing what’s best for kids.
  2. “I’m going to do what’s best for kids” has a finality to it that makes it hard for someone to respectfully disagree with me. It’s a “last word” phrase as opposed to a phrase that invites discussion and dialogue. After all, in our business, who can argue against doing what’s best for kids?
  3. Where does that argument stop?  Let’s say that I believe we should have a 30 minute after school reading program for struggling readers because it’s “best for kids”.  If 30 minutes is good, what about an hour… is that better? What about two hours? If a couple of hours after school in a reading program is good… wouldn’t a half day Saturday program every week be better? What about a full day?  Maybe it would be best to add four weeks… six weeks… 12 weeks to the school year for all of our struggling readers.
  4. We don’t all have the same beliefs about “what’s best for kids”, and the research can be contradictory.  I could make a case for that after school reading program being what’s “best” while one of my teachers could easily make the case that it’s “best” to have small group reading interventions during the school day so that after school, kids have time to play sports, take music lessons, or to just play and be kids.
  5. What’s best for one kid isn’t always what’s best for another.  Each child is unique in their gifts, their talents, their motivations, their quirks, their needs… A “one size fits all approach” to what’s best runs the risk of merely being average for all kids as opposed to what’s best for any one of them.

So… the challenge is this: let’s just presume that all of the educators we work with have the best interests of kids at heart.  We may disagree from time to time on what those are, but not too many committed educators show up to work each day making decisions they think will be bad for kids, so why would we want to use a phrase that might convey that we are the only ones who know best?

As an educational leader, I really do want to do what’s best for kids, but presuming that only I know what’s best is a quick way to dissolve relationships, create mistrust and erode culture.  Sometimes our ability to do what’s best for kids simply lies within our ability to inspire, influence and support the adults on our team.

 


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#LeadLAP Challenge: L is for Learner

change learnerDuring my time as a principal coach, I’ve often worked with people to help them overcome what can only be described as a “fear of having to be the expert”.  Something happens to our brains when we step into administrator roles that seems to make us think we can no longer let people see that there are actually things we still have to learn about teaching and learning.  I’ll be the first one to say that when you decide to step into an educational leadership role, you should know a lot about curriculum, instruction, assessment, sound pedagogy and effective practice – your competence in these areas (along with your character) are a big part of what will start earning you trust.  There is no way you know all there is to know, and that’s ok!  What’s awesome is that you are surrounded by a team of professional educators who can help you fill in your own learning gaps and contribute to your own professional growth on a daily basis… How cool is that?  But for whatever reason, when we walk into classrooms and then later engage in coaching conversations, we feel we have to wear the hat of “expert”.  We observe the lesson and decide what we think worked well and what didn’t and we package it up into feedback that we hope will “fix” the teacher, then we assure them that our conversations and feedback aren’t evaluative and then we ultimately we scratch our heads and wonder why they don’t find our feedback all that valuable and why they get a bit stressed when we walk into their classrooms.

One of the biggest challenges people have with leading ANCHOR conversations is the “Collaborative Conversations” piece, and I think it has a lot to do with them maintaining the “boss” or “expert” role during the conversation.  The administrator does most of the talking or telling and the teacher listens politely (most of the time), says “Thank you” and happily exits the conversation.  A truly collaborative conversation is one where there is no perception or belief by either party that there is an imbalance of power in the conversation.  You both believe that what you say carries equal weight. In other other words… the administrator’s ideas don’t automatically trump the teacher’s just because they carry the title of “boss”.  As leaders… one of the things we need to work hard to do is shake this perception that comes with the title – at least we do if we want to be invited into the real conversations that are happening on our campuses about teaching and learning.

One way to begin to shake this perception is to take every opportunity to show your team that you are a learner too… that you appreciate feedback and learning from them just as much as you enjoy helping them learn and grow.  So, this week’s challenge is all about showing your team that you are a learner (and it will get you into classrooms, too!)

Take at least two hours this week in any configuration that makes sense on your calendar to visit classrooms (but get it on your calendar now or the time will slip away from you).  Try to visit at least 15 classrooms. While you are there, erase any thoughts of things you see and want to fix and instead focus on what YOU are learning from THEM and then tell them.  One of the most amazing opportunities I have had as an administrator is to observe thousands of lessons, and I have learned a TON from what I have seen other teachers do, and I’m certain you have too.  We just have to be open to it and then be willing to share our learning with them.  One of my favorite things to do is to get an opportunity to sit down with a teacher and say to them… “That strategy… method… tech tool… app… content… is new to me.  I learned a ton just by watching you for five minutes. I want to know more – can you teach me?”  Putting ourselves out there as learners, too goes a long way in building the trust and rapport with our colleagues that we need if we want them to find value in the coaching and feedback we provide to them.

So… get into those classrooms this week and drop ANCHORS of LEARNING!

  1.  Set aside two hours to visit classrooms – visit at least 15 over the course of the week
  2. Focus on what you are learning from the teacher during the observation
  3. Drop an ANCHOR of LEARNING… tell the teachers what YOU learned from THEM
  4. Be sure to share how it goes using the #LeadLAP challenge all week

Shelley and Beth

 


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#LeadLAP Challenge: Continue the Appreciation!

Happy New Year to All!  We hope this week finds you back into the swing of things in your schools and districts and ready for a new #LeadLAP challenge!

This week’s challenge has three sources of inspiration…

  • First, our continued belief that as educational leaders, we need to be in classrooms as much as possible – it’s where the magic happens!  When we first come back from break it’s easy to get caught up in other things, so if that’s happening to you – this is the week to get back out there!
  • Second, our commitment to ongoing appreciation of our staff and the work they do day in and day out.  If we want to grow a PIRATE culture in our schools, then we need to appreciate the daily efforts our team is making to grow, learn, change, and create amazing learning experiences for our students.
  • The third source of inspiration, actually comes from my 12-year old daughter, Ashlyn.  I host a weekly chat for educators… #satchatwc and this past Saturday, we did something very different.  We had my daughter, a seventh grade student, host the chat.  She wrote the questions, crafted her responses, and interacted with easily 100 educators over the course of the hour long chat.  It was clear from her questions and her responses that she has some pretty strong opinions about school and what works and doesn’t work for kids.  But what also came out is that she has a true appreciation for teachers.  As we were working on the chat and as we chatted afterwards, she had story after story to tell about what she APPRECIATED about different teachers over the years.  She shared memorable lessons and described why they were engaging or she gave specifics about what the teacher did to help her learn.  Dave and I enjoyed watching her light up when she described a particular simulation her social studies teacher created for her class on feudalism

Inspired by all three of the items above – here is this week’s challenge….

  • Get back out into those classrooms.  Visit at least an average of 3 per day (or a minimum of 15 total throughout the week)
  • Spend 3-5 minutes in each classroom and then talk to the kids…  Ask THEM what they are appreciating about the lesson, their teacher and/or what they are learning.  Encourage them to be specific – even using a frame like this if you need it:
    • I appreciate when _______ (my teacher) does/did _____________ (be specific about what he/she did exactly) because _____________________ (how did it help you? push you? engage you?)
  • Then drop that appreciation ANCHOR for the teacher, but instead of telling the teacher “I appreciated… ” start with “When I was in your class today, I had a chance to chat with _____________ (Insert student name here).  I just wanted to share with you how much he/she appreciated _______________ because ___________________.

When we take the time to appreciate (whether it is big things or small, routine things) it helps raise self-awareness in the other person.  They become more conscious of the choice they made or the work they did and are more likely to repeat it because you have pointed out that it made a difference… and the fact that the appreciation comes from a student takes it up another level.  So let’s take this week to get back into the appreciation routine.  It will help you shape that PIRATE culture and make for a better week for your staff AND you!

We hope you will take the challenge and share with us how it’s going over the course of this week using  #LeadLAP on Twitter.

Enjoy!

Shelley and Beth


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#LeadLAP Challenge… E is for ENTHUSIASM

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Enthusiasm is contagious! When you are around enthusiastic people or surrounded by good, positive energy – you feel it – it’s palpable. As we have hit the point in the year where we are coming off of Thanksgiving break and have just three weeks before our winter break, it’s easy to allow ourselves to fall into the trap of “just getting through” until the break. So we are embarking on a three week #LeadLAP challenge focused on injecting enthusiasm into our schools, districts and communities.

 
There are so many negative stories out there about education. Stories that beat up our schools, our principals, our teachers. As leaders in our buildings, we need to commit to rewriting the stories… to combatting the negative with an insane amount of positives. We need to radiate enthusiasm for the great things happening in our schools, and it’s up to us to share hat enthusiasm with others. Great things are happening in your district, in your school, in your classrooms. What are you doing to showcase them? To share them?

 
We encourage you to start this week by thinking about the communication that goes out directly from you to you your staff… to your students… to your parents and community. What percentage of that communication focuses on the amazing things happening in your school? If you were to scan your school newsletter, would you see more reminders of parking rules and dress code or would you see more stories and pictures of students engaged in deep and meaningful learning? If you were to keep a log of the phone calls you made to parents, would there be more negative messages or more positive ones? What about interactions with staff… Are there more “do’s or more “don’ts”? Which are YOU more enthusiastic about?

 
So as the holidays are approaching and 2015 is winding down, we think there is no better time than now to stop, take a look around your district, your school, or your classroom and ask yourself… “What is it that is AMAZING about who we are and what we do?” “What are students, staff, teachers doing that make you incredibly proud of them?” We know it’s all around you!

 
So… This first week of the three week #LeadLAP ENTHUSIASM challenge is to find those moments of AMAZING in your school. Document those moments in pictures… videos… recordings… quotes or any other way that seems appropriate and then SHARE your enthusiasm for them using the #LeadLAP hashtag. You can share them in any other way that makes sense to you as well… but here’s a hint… next week’s challenge will focus on a variety of ways to share these amazing moments with your district, school, and classroom communities. So this week… just have fun capturing the AMAZING and sharing your enthusiasm with the #LeadLAP community.

 

Enthusiastically yours,
Shelley and Beth