Strategic Plans and Mission Statements Provide Focus

It is not often that I disagree with @davidgeurin as he is an educator whom I follow on Twitter, regularly, and have learned to respect. He said:

“. . . culture isn’t made by mission statements, strategic plans . . . . School culture is built on behaviors, one action or interaction at a time. “

David is correct, of course, that cultures are built on the behavior of its people. He then said:

“It’s what people consistently do that shapes cultures.”

It has been my experience that what people do is, indeed, what “shapes cultures.” The problem is doing it  “consistently;” it is sustaining one’s focus and assuring that the message is shared throughout an organization.

While working with leaders and their organizations, across many venues, it was always disappointing to see when the underlying values that drive behavior do not penetrate deeply throughout the entity. A common pattern I would observe was how often values are shoved aside under the pressure of the daily challenges of demanding jobs, and in times of crisis.

Many leaders have been observed making verbal commitments to do this or that, or in our case, to behave and interact with people in a positive way. One after another, I’ve seen those same people drift. It is not a question of their lack of sincerity or commitment. It is simply a function of being distracted by the frenetic challenges of work and leadership. It happens to the best of us.

Building culture is also a shared responsibility and school cultures are no different. It is not just the man or woman in charge that matters, it is every member of the leadership team, however many layers of leadership there might be.

Even the most powerful message of a leader can be diluted, easily, by members of the leadership team who stray from course. It doesn’t matter what the CEO says and does if supervisors on the floor behave contrarily and tell a different story. The latter creates an alternate reality for the people of an organization and diminishes the credibility leadership. Few things are as disillusioning and demoralizing to the people of an organization as losing trust in one’s leaders.

If we are truly committed to a positive culture, we need every man and woman in the organization treating each other in a manner consistent with leadership’s message all the way out to the people on the line, in the pits, or in the classrooms. That message and associated behavior must resonate and reverberate throughout the organization and its supply chain.

This is where mission statements, strategic plans, and value statements come in. Putting one’s commitment is writing is a powerful thing and it makes reminding one another of that commitment so much easier. Mission statements, strategic plans, and value statements—no matter how eloquent—have minimal impact if they are stashed away in the principal’s bookcase or file cabinet, however. People must be able to see how those values motivate people and organizations in all things, both large and small.

Many organizations have mission and value statements etched on their walls and have copies of the strategic plans in break and conference rooms, as well as lobbies, for all the world to see.

Falling off the cultural/behavioral path is just as easy as a dieter or drinker “falling off the wagon.” We need to remind ourselves, and each other, to stay the course, relentlessly. The people of an organization, also, must be able to articulate mission and purpose as effectively as the man or woman in charge.

During a strategic planning meeting with a client, a member of the leadership team commented that all the things I was talking about were nothing more than “time-worn platitudes.” My response to him was that I prefer to think of them as the principles positive leaders utilize, daily, and remind themselves of, relentlessly.

My thanks to David Geurin for sharing his positive messages with us on Twitter, and for his indulgence of this piece.

Growth Mindset: an Essential Tool of Positive Leadership

This past weekend, I was pleased to receive an invitation to help @LeeAraoz prepare for a presentation by sharing my experience with growth mindset. I was asked to post a video on his growth mindset Flipgrid.

Because of a combination of not figuring out how to post my video on his Flipgrid, and the distraction of yet another in a long series of remodeling problems on our home, I missed my opportunity. Given my belief in the importance of a growth mindset, I will share my thoughts, here.

When I first heard the term “growth mindset, I had to stop and think about what it meant. After a little research, I was excited to discover that I have been talking about and teaching the concept for decades. In my leadership consulting practice, I referred to the concept of learning continuously as striving for “relentless improvement.”

I much prefer the more apt and elegant descriptor, “growth mindset.”

I have long believed that this focus on relentless improvement, growth, and learning is an essential tool of positive leadership, whether as a manager or supervisor in a business organization, a principal of a school, or a teacher in the classroom. We must always strive to pry open our minds to growth. We must be willing to challenge our assumptions at any point in time as we work to be better at what we do and produce better outcomes.

Change and growth are an essential part of life for both people and organizations. When the outcomes we produce tell us something is not working, doing nothing is irresponsible. It is a silly analogy, I know, but imagine changing the decorations on a cake but never baking a new cake. Sooner or later you’ll have a mess on your hands.

Someone, many years ago, shared with me the advice of a ski instructor, who said:

“if you are not falling down once in a while, you are not really skiing.”

When we extend ourselves to the cusp of our knowledge and experience, we fall down. It’s what we all do; it is how we learn. The best advice I can give people is “don’t sweat the mistakes we make, celebrate them.”

“Stop complaining,” is another challenge I offer to current or aspiring positive leaders. Complaints are the province of the weak and powerless. When unhappy about some aspect of your life, job, or organization, instead of complaining, offer a better idea or solution. If you do not have a better idea or alternate approach of your own, become a positive advocate for someone else’s proposal for change. If no one has a better idea, put your heads together and discover one.

There will always be a better way if we take the time and teach ourselves how to search for it. Train your mind to push the boundaries of your imagination, to reject complacency, to ask tough questions, and challenge your assumptions. Nothing hampers a growth mindset like complacency and inertia.

My mission in life, for the past decade, has been to stop the failure of disadvantaged kids. These kids are not destined to fail, and they do not struggle because they are incapable of learning, or because they have bad teachers and bad schools. If we listen to these kids, and observe their behavior, it becomes apparent that they are “street smart.” They learn what is important to them and they learn what works for them in their unique environments. The only way to convince them that what we are striving to teach them is important is by convincing them, through our words and actions, that they are important.

Growth mindset is an essential tool of positive leadership.

When disadvantaged kids struggle and fail in school it is because the education process in which their teachers are expected to teach does not allow them to give every student the time, support, and attention they need to overcome their disadvantages. Those disadvantages, un-remediated, leave young people at the mercy of discrimination.

Until teachers give up, themselves, and leave the profession they chose with such high hopes and aspirations, I can assure you they do everything they can to give kids the time and attention they need to learn. The education process in which teachers are expected to work, however,  is not structured to support them in that effort. The education process at work in American schools, both public and private, has become brittle and unresponsive to the changes taking place in the world in which their students must live and teachers must work.

The moment a process, product, service, or idea can no longer be improved is the point at which it becomes obsolete.

That’s why I developed The Hawkins Model©. It offers an education process that has been designed to serve teachers and students as they do their important work, not the other way around. It’s a simple question of “who exists to serve whom?”

Never underestimate your power to influence to the world around you. Cultivate a growth mindset for yourselves and create an environment that fosters relentless growth and learning for the people around you.

There is a need for transformational change in public education, but do we have the will?

If you are teacher, do you see anything on the horizon that gives you reason to expect the daily stress you endure will be lessened and the success of students will be assured?

Recent studies have found that American classrooms can place teachers under stress; often debilitating stress. This is not news. Teachers and their most capable leaders have known this for decades. If non teachers would spend just one day in the classroom of a Kindergarten, first, or second grade teacher, with more students with which any one teacher should be required to deal—students with wide disparity in academic preparedness—they would experience real stress; from the first bell to the last, each and every day.

We could say the same thing about the desired academic achievement of students. Every meaningful measure of academic achievement conducted over the past few decades has demonstrated that children of color, with economic disadvantages, and for whom English is a second language, struggle. How we justify ignoring this data for so long is difficult to understand.

Like all the challenges facing public education, stress and low achievement are symptoms of dysfunction and obsolescence; it is systemic.

As a teacher, you cannot change public education in America from your classroom. Just doing your job requires more than most people outside the field of education can imagine. Systemic changes to public education in America, however, cannot happen without your individual and collective advocacy. Your unions and associations can be powerful forces to drive positive change, but it is never enough to register complaints and protests. Instead, be a powerful advocate for a positive, new idea.

If you are a principal, you lack the authority to act unilaterally even if you had a solution yet you, too, can be a positive advocate for change. Seek support from your colleagues and from your professional associations on a state-wide or national scale. Complaints and protest are the tactics of the powerless, however, even for administrators. What we need from principals and administrators is for them to rally around a positive solution to the challenges facing our public schools and urge their districts to act.

Superintendents for school corporations and school districts have a clearly defined responsibility to provide the highest possible quality of education to the children within their district’s boundaries. If you are fortunate to lead an affluent school district with historically high achievement, you may feel confident that a quality education is exactly what each of your students receives. You also know that not all your colleagues and their school corporations are so fortunate.

Teachers, administrators, and school boards have not come forward with an alternative approach that can transform public education in America and neither have policy makers and state legislators. They have not found a solution because they are not looking outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom. And, no, school choice and charter schools are not the answer. Charter schools are a diversion that distracts us from what should be our primary focus. We must find a new, comprehensive, and integrated process that works for every child, whatever their unique requirements, and supports rather than impedes the efforts of every teacher.  We need all educators and public officials to open their minds to the possibility of a better way. Then, we need educators, at every level, to use their individual and collective power as positive advocates to fight for that solution.

Superintendents of community school districts with multiple schools and thousands of students who struggle must become more than just advocates for change. They have an obligation to be powerful, positive leaders in relentless pursuit of success for their kids. These superintendents and school boards know that the teachers of your struggling schools are no less qualified or capable than their colleagues in high performing schools. Further, you know that few if any of the innovative methodologies, technologies or curricula you have employed have made sustainable progress.

Sustainable, transformative change must commence with an acknowledgement that what we have been doing for decades will not work no matter how hard we ask teachers to work or how many new and innovative ideas we employ. Putting new wine in old wineskins will not produce the quality education process that our children, their communities, and our society so desperately need.

In a new book I am working hard to complete, I will introduce an education model designed to produce the outcomes we need. This education model has been crafted to place teachers and students in an environment in which they can thrive and with a process focused on success. You need not wait for my new book, however, to examine the model.

Visit my website at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ and take a look at the model with the hope that, at the very least, you will discover some ideas worth your time and consideration. You may be pleasantly surprised to find an education model and process that will resonate with educators; a process that will make it easier for teachers to teach and for kids to learn. Have no illusions, however, that teaching will be easy. Teaching children is challenging work and this model will not alter that reality. It will, however, make it achievable and remove much of the stress for both teachers and their students.

If you are a superintendent, consider implementing the model in one of your low performing schools. What do you have to lose? Students in those schools have been struggling for years. If you are principal, strive to enlist support from some of you colleagues and present an action plan to your superintendent. If you are a teacher talk about the model with your colleagues and then approach your principals.

Please make time to read the model. Are the struggling students of your schools and community not worth an hour or less of your time?  

Finally, if you are a parent and you like what you read, share it with everyone you know. Proceed as if the lives of your sons and daughters depend on it because, indeed, they do.

A Word about Teaching Teams, continued:

Nothing generates success more than success itself. When teammates begin to see positive changes in the attitudes, behavior, and academic performance of their students it is incredibly motivating. The more success the team experiences the more confident and motivated they become and the more powerful and enduring the bonds with each other will grow. While we hope teammates will learn to trust and care about one another and will also learn to inspire one another, sometimes people do not get along. As uncomfortable as such times may be, in a team setting it cannot be ignored because it has an adverse effect on everything that takes place.

In the existing education process, teachers might question the capability of a colleague in the next classroom, but their focus is on their own classrooms and their own students. In a team setting, the walls between us do not separate us, they embrace us. They are part of the environment we mold to serve our mission. The need to find resolution makes it easier to reach out to one’s principal, seeking help. Also, it is easier for the principal to respond because they are not walking into a situation where they expect to find someone doing something wrong who must be disciplined. What they find are professionals who need help in solving problems that are, often, nothing more than breakdowns in communications. Because of their shared commitment, team members will be likely respond to such intervention in a positive manner.

There are times when the principal may find a toxic environment that requires that an individual be re-assigned. While this may never be an easy action to take, it is almost always welcomed by most of the team. Often, it comes as a great relief to the person who is re-assigned. In such cases the principal is viewed as a problem-solver rather than a problem-seeker, lurking in the halls to find someone doing something wrong.

For those teachers who have had less than inspiring experiences with principals, please note that we will discuss the subject of positive leadership in a later section of this work. We will be encouraging principals to become positive leaders, not administrators, and we will be encouraging the colleges and universities that educate school administrators to teach them how to be positive leaders, not just administrators.

The team environment we wish to create changes a classroom into a laboratory where we help each child develop their potential, whatever their point of embarkation. We also want to create the same types of bonds between students as we do between teachers and students, and between members of the teaching team. The environment is designed to encourage creativity and innovation. Teaching is craft that is always under development. In the type of collegial setting we seek, teachers will work together to engage students in their own learning adventure and will also seek to engage parents.

Many parents, particularly those who have had negative experiences in school, will demonstrate apathy and even skepticism. When one’s own experience is negative it is difficult to expect better for one’s children. Once parents begin to observe changes in their children; when they see their children making progress; when they find them enthusiastic; when their children are always talking about Ms. or Mr. Teacher with fondness parents will begin to develop a curiosity about what is going on in their son or daughter’s classroom. When they observe their son or daughter enjoying success, parents will want to see it firsthand. Success and winning are contagious, even for those of us sitting on the sidelines. Eventually, parents of our students will be pulled into the process as partners with their child’s teacher; partners sharing responsibility for their child’s education.

As children begin to gain confidence in themselves; when they not only discover that they can be successful at school, but also that they can create their own success, a magical transformation commences. The classroom becomes a secure, safe, and exciting learning environment. As kids learn new things, their imaginations will take flight. Every answer to a question will generate more questions and kids will, also, begin to discover things about themselves. They will discover talents they never saw in themselves and develop skills they never envisioned.

As they begin to view themselves in a new light through the lenses of confidence, children will begin to dream. Gradually, these youngsters will begin to take a little more ownership of their own futures and accept responsibility for the directions of their lives. Most importantly, they will each be a developing a powerful self-esteem that will enable them to exert more control over the outcomes in their lives. They will have real choices about what do in life to find joy and meaning. Their powerful self-esteem will enable them to overcome most of life’s challenges. If they are black or other minorities or members of religious faiths other than Christianity, they will be able to overcome discrimination when it threatens to cut off avenues of opportunity.

The growth and the development of their students will be enormously gratifying for teachers and will bring them the potential for true fulfillment. As the end of a school year approaches, teachers will be pleased to replace saying goodbye with “see you soon.” In The Hawkins Model, teaching teams and their students will continue their important work for longer than an individual school year.

Vignette #4 from Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream, My worst day as a substitute teacher!

Vignette #4 took place in a high school gym class and turned out to be the single worst day of subbing over a ten-year period.

 

In this half day assignment, the gym teacher for whom I would be subbing was still in his office when I arrived. As he explained about the one class I would be handling, he instructed me to take attendance both at the beginning and, again, at the end of the period. He said this was a very large class, approaching sixty students, and the kids would skip out early if I did not pay close attention, particularly since this was the last period of the day. He said the only ones who will receive credit will be the students who are present for both beginning and ending roll calls. The class was fairly equally divided between male and female students and was over fifty percent African-American students, which was also true of the school as a whole. The rest of the students were evenly distributed racially with equal parts white and Hispanic students and with a smattering of Asian students.

Although the students were loud and not all were willing to participate in the planned activity, there were no problems of significance during the bulk of the ninety-minute period. The students who did not wish to participate sat along the wall and talked amongst themselves. The biggest challenge, given the size of the gym and of the class, was keeping tabs on them. In addition to the doors leading out of the gym into one of the interior corridors, there was an unlocked door leading to an outdoor athletic field and a door to an internal storage room for athletic equipment; also unlocked. Anytime my attention was directed elsewhere, one or both of those doors would open.

As instructed, I took attendance at the beginning of class. As we approached the last ten minutes of the period I got the class’s attention and explained Coach _________’s instructions for the end-of-the-period attendance. Of course, the students began complaining that the Coach never took attendance at the end of the class.

I began calling names and attempted to make eye contact with each student as he or she answered. About a quarter of the way down the list, an African-American female student answered in response to the name I called. She was standing directly in front of me, less than ten feet away. A short while later, as I proceeded down the list, this same student answered a second time, when another name was called. I immediately addressed the student, telling her that, as she had responded to two different names, I needed to know who she was and, also, which of the two students whose names I had called was not present.

The student immediately and loudly insisted that she had responded only to her own name. When I repeated that I had clearly observed her responding to both names she began screaming denials at me, coming closer to me as she did so. Within seconds, two other girls, also black, came to her defense and also began yelling at me and, by that time, all three girls were within inches of my face, screaming at the top of their lungs; saliva splashing in my face as they did so. I had been standing against the wall next to the door and I was trapped against the wall.

“Coach ______ doesn’t take attendance at the end of class!” one of the girls yelled. “You’re just doing this because we’re black!” she screamed.

Another of the group screamed that “we all look alike to you white people!” and repeated her friend’s claim that I was just doing this because they were black.

By this time, my heart was racing and my ears were ringing. I could also feel my face turning red as they pressed even closer to me and as I struggled to maintain any semblance of poise. I could also see that other students were taking advantage of my predicament and leaving before the bell had rung.

Striving to keep an even voice, I asked the girls to calm down but there was no recognition that I had spoken and no lessening of their screeching. By that time, my head was pounding. As I felt a sense of panic creep into my throat, I was desperate to create some separation between the three girls and me. At this point, I reached out with both hands and gently took hold of the elbows of the girl directly in front of me to push her away.

As soon as my hands made contact with her, she reacted suddenly and violently, and screamed even louder, “Don’t touch me!” she said, “don’t you ever touch me.” She then pushed both of her hands against my chest and shoved me back against the wall. All three of the girls were now screaming so loud and my ears were ringing so badly that I could understand nothing they were saying.

I kept hoping another teacher would hear the racket and come to my assistance but no one did. Given the distance of the gym from the main hallway, it is entirely possible that no one heard the screaming although I would have thought it could have been heard at the far end of the building.

By the time the bell rang, my whole body was trembling and I was feeling a rage grow inside of me. Fortunately, within seconds after the bell had rung, the three girls were gone. All I could think about was that I didn’t even know the names of the girls who had confronted me. As the last few students streamed out of the gym, I asked if anyone could tell me the names of the three girls but the students just walked faster, avoiding my question.

Fortunately, this was the last period of the day. When the last student had departed I sat down, feeling exhausted, and tried to calm myself. Before leaving for the day, I wrote notes to the gym teacher and to Student Services, explaining what had happened, in detail.

At no time, after leaving the school that afternoon, did I hear from the gym teacher, the principal, or any of the school’s administrators.