Monday, February 25, 2013

A Teacher's Impact Lasts A Lifetime

In the book “Pyramid of Behavior Interventions: Seven Keys to a Positive Learning Environment” (, the authors speak about the impact teachers have. It’s an impact that lasts a lifetime. They ask the reader to consider these questions when recalling a teacher that they remember fondly as having made a difference in their lives: What qualities did he or she posses? What did that teacher do to make a connection with you? How did that teacher make your learning meaningful? What impact did he or she have on your life?
            I often ask this question at staff development sessions and regardless of the school, district, or jurisdiction, I get a lot of responses that speak both positively and negatively about the impact educators have. The authors provide this list of the most common impacts attributed in a positive sense:

ü  Cared about me as an individual
ü  Brought learning to life, made it real
ü  Took extra time to help me learn
ü  Was always fair, reasonable, understanding
ü  Inspired me to do my best

They also provide the list of traits most commonly associated with educators who made learning miserable:

â Did not know me or care about me
â Made the subject material dry and boring
â Was often unfair or arbitrary
â Yelled and screamed, put kids down, belittled students
â Seemed more interested in the subject than the kids
A recent event reminded me of the severe negative impact that can occur when educators don’t think of the power of their words and actions. Bear in mind that the sessions I facilitate generally involve highly trained, highly skilled, successful adults. Yet, there was a teacher recounting how his teacher humiliated him by publicly mocking his inability to stay inside the lines while coloring. This event occurred forty years ago and still has emotional impact. Some might say this teacher ought to “get over it” and let it go. I would suggest he has and has done so in the most positive and proactive way – he became a teacher to ensure that students left feeling inspired and capable not humiliated and questioning their ability. If this type of impact is felt by highly capable people what happens with the student who does not possess the resiliency, support, or belief, that they can overcome the negativity? We don’t teach subjects, we teach kids! If the role of the teacher is to simply disseminate facts and mark assignments, it would be much more efficient doing nothing more than on-line correspondence. Fortunately much more is expected, and delivered, in classes and schools all over.
      Lest anyone think that only negative stories become the end product of this activity, let me be clear – the positive recollections far outnumber the negative (which should make the negative easier to let go of). That does not surprise me, as innumerable visits to schools have clearly demonstrated that fact. Here’s one of the best ones that was shared: A teacher got up to provide a personal anecdote about her struggles as an elementary school students and how she was at the crossroads as another school year was coming to an end and high school was beckoning. She was fairly convinced that school and/or success were not part of her future. Her teacher at the time had taken it upon herself to write every student a personal note about their strengths and what she saw as part of their future. As a young student who was at the crossroads, the letter inspired her and reminded her of some strengths she had forgotten. While not the sole reason, the letter served as a catalyst to get her back on track. While the room was already pretty quiet as she shared her story, her next words created a stillness I have rarely seen replicated. She said, “I never had a chance to thank that teacher and I am so happy that she is here with us today.” She then identified the teacher to a tumultuous round of applause and not a dry eye in the place.
      In both of these examples, I am convinced that neither teacher did what they did to create a lasting impression. The teacher who wrote the letter was simply sharing her belief in the capacity of children. Unfortunately, so was the teacher who made an example of coloring outside the lines. They both serve to remind that educators do make a difference. It may not always be obvious in the moment, but it’s there. This compels us to ensure that our students receive more positive than negative, and that they learn to build off their unique strengths.
Schools are not factories producing things. Schools should be social places where students and staff learn together. The goal is to become a community of learners, where students develop socially and emotionally as well as academically. Teachers who do this very well or very poorly both leave a lasting legacy on many individuals.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

5 Steps to Ensuring You Don't Sleep on the Red Eye

            I really don't mind the travel and generally enjoy some down time on flights and in airports. I try to use the time effectively. However, once in a while I board a plane with one desire - sleep! My recent red eye was the latest example of that elusive quest. I had every intention of getting three hours of solid nap time but instead discovered five surefire ways to ensure that doesn't happen.

1.  Get the seat on the plane that doesn't recline. Stretching out is overrated. Who doesn't want to sleep sitting completely upright?

2.  Get the seat in the back row. You know the one - right by the washrooms. That way every time you nod off, the gentle flushing will wake you.

3.  Get seat mates who a) overflow the middle seat and therefore can't put the arm rest down and b) take the window seat but need to get up every twenty minutes (just enough time for you to get into a slumber) because of the stated "weak bladder". 

4.  Get the row that is surrounded by the two families on vacation who each have four kids ranging from 1 to 5 years old. Listen to them repeatedly tell their children it's time to sleep and reminisce about the good old days.

5.  Get the flight that travels just ahead of the storm but not so far ahead as to not be constantly subjected to the affects.

            I am fortunate to have this opportunity to travel and visit with colleagues. Regardless of my sleep level, their energy and enthusiasm always carries me through the days and beyond. For that I'm extremely grateful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Everything Looks Like a Failure in the Middle"

            I always struggled with the halfway point of the school year. It seemed like we were in that place where the early gains on our goals for the years happened so long ago and that the true fruits of our collective labor would never arrive. I knew as a school leader that was the time where we needed to re-energize our collective commitment and find the passion that reignited our work for the next months of the school year. Rosabeth Moss Kanter coined a Law about this and she phrased it thusly: “Everything looks like a failure in the middle”.

            It’s a great reminder for us that we need to celebrate the growth we have achieved and recall why we embarked on the work we have chosen. Although the temptation to return to the past (not so) glory days is strong, it’s important to remember why we moved forward and re-defined our WHY. A recent article that came across my Twitter feed was a fabulous piece on the importance of what we do, and especially so at this time of the year. The author spoke about a school in Union City, NJ (you can access the complete article at that has clarified their purpose. From the outset the WHY is clear: “everything is tied to a single theme — pride and respect in “our house” — that resonates with the community culture of family, unity and respect.” Schools, like this example, that thrive do so because they don’t lose sight of the end goal nor do they lose their enthusiasm and energy for getting there. They remember that the journey can also be enjoyable.

            Schools and educators sometimes lose sight of where they’ve been on the road to becoming what they can be. It may seem easier to turn back rather than continuing to navigate the unknown and uncharted road to success. If everything else remained unchanged there might be some rationale to pursuing that route. However, we all know that the only constant in the life of an educator is change. It’s today’s students that we need to educate, with all of today’s challenges and all of today’s advantages. In the end educators will always need to address the needs of the kids they have and not the ones they used to have or wished they had.

            I always appreciated the analogy that you can’t leap across a great chasm in two jumps. It takes commitment, and a firm belief that, not only can you make it, but that the leap is worth the effort. Mid-jump is not the time to have any doubts but instead it’s the time to hold your form and prepare for an excellent landing. See you on the other side!