All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Cost of Playing Up

How many times...

  • have we underachieved because we didn’t take advantage of an opportunity?
  • was it because we were afraid of failing?
  • was it because we thought we couldn’t?  
How many times...have we kept our children from succeeding because we were trying to protect (make it easier) them so that they could?

The cost of reaching higher than we thought we could reach is small compared to the cost of staying safe which results in more painful assurances of staying put in long term mediocrity.

While I am always considering how to push my sons to take chances and explore in an attempt to be better than if they had not, the thoughts for this post came to me as I sat contemplating two recent events with them.

First, we were happy that he had fun on the ropes course and surprised at how easily he moved through the second of three levels.  Then he came and asked to go on the third course.  My youngest son is 7 years old and fancies himself somewhat of a spider man clone.  I informed him the rule was that the third level was restricted to kids 13 and older.  He asked again so I told him I would ask.  The guide hesitated and after asking how he did (very well was my answer) on the second level, informed me that he would let him.  The only restriction was that the guide would stay right near him in the event he fell...which he did...twice...as many of us looked on from about 40 feet below!

Second, the decision came quickly.  Yes, we had thought and spoke about it for over a month, but when the time came it seemed as if we still rushed in.  The only somewhat saving grace was that he had made the final decision himself; just like we had been teaching him.  My 9yr. old son was now playing football a level up with the older (by two grades), bigger kids. His other choice was to take it easy for a year and play later. We were concerned about the contact with more developed kids, but stood by as he got knocked down and struggled to keep up in the drills.

Often, as parents we do our best to help our children succeed and excel at what they do.  That is only natural.  The part we miss is that often greater success lies just behind greater risk and fear.  This is easy to verbalize, but a whole lot harder to watch.  Especially with our own children.  

In this day and age when we have changed the label of helicopter to snowplow (or lawnmower) parents it is easy to say that resilience (or lack thereof) comes from parents protecting their students too much. I believe it may be linked to something deeper. How many of us teach children mental toughness and character by explaining to them that life is not about drifting to the end, but purposefully moving from accomplishment to accomplishment? How many of us teach our kids to play up?

Playing up means playing above your perceived skill level and taking chances that you are better than you believe. Everything in life comes with a cost. Especially playing up. We are consistently (or should be) telling our students and children that every action has a consequence (or costs something). The issue is that we may not be explaining it effectively. Its really as simple as every action gets a reaction. Sometimes the actions we take have good consequences. Sometimes they don't. Either way...there is a cost.

Unfortunately for those who struggle with delayed gratification, good decisions are not as appealing as the bad ones and while they do not seem to cost a lot in the present; the cost is huge in the future. These individuals need to identify a purpose that will drive them to push through setbacks and obstacles until they accomplish what they are striving for.

An acronym to think about:

You're going to run into failures. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to fall down.  The idea or path to success lies in the getting up.  You build your character in difficult times when you struggle.  There can be no learning without  the Ideas to build your character and get right backup
By playing up you create opportunities you never realized you would have. Remember the phrase “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.  The willingness to work through difficult times leads to easier moments we used to think impossible.
No matter how a person measures success there is one thing that hold true; true success breeds success.  Once a person leaves their comfort zone, struggles, and succeeds, they realize that they never knew how far they could get until they got there.  If we teach students to be purposeful and persevere there is no limit to the amount of success they may achieve.
Acting purposefully and building character are two very difficult things to accomplish for many people; much less children.  But there is nothing that is a better teacher than experience.  The issue is lasting through that experience.  Once a person has met and pushed through hardship, there is a moment that they realize that they are more capable, tougher, stronger, braver, and deserving of whatever they wish to become.  That is character saying yes when other say no.

By the way...my youngest son finished that third level and continued to talk about how proud he was because he didn't think he could do it. He just kept going and repeating; “Don't look down, you can do this.” until he made it a reality.  My oldest? He kept getting up until he began keeping up in drills and knocking 6th graders down. His answer when asked by former teammates and friends which level be liked better? “I like playing up because I have to work harder or I won't do good. I feel like I'm getting better” was his reply though a pride filled grin.

Easy for a parent? No
Needed for the kid? At times
More beneficial to learn resilience, be purposeful, and build character than being safe? ABSOLUTELY!

Step back a little.  Let them play up. They may just surprise you...

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Set Expectations, Not Excuses and Success Will Come

This was a post that I put as a message in my weekly newsletter to students, staff, and parents.  As I reread it, I realized not only is it only a small part of a bigger topic/conversation, but a message for everyone no matter their path or position in life.

It is as follows:

Now that we have reached the end of the Third Term, I thought it may be helpful to point out something as the year is officially in the “last lap”.  Whether we have good grades, have met some goals, or failed at both; many of us can do better.  Unfortunately, often when we are faced with a failure or adversity it is easy to make an excuse as to why it cannot be done rather than shouldering some hardship and a lot of responsibility in an effort to get it done.  Additionally damaging is when we use the excuse that we either cannot do it or are not good at it because that’s “just the way it is.”  This is where expectations come into play.  I often think of a quote attributed to an unknown 6th grader that said, “My teacher thought I was smarter than I was – so I was.”

Just recently an article was forwarded to me that illustrated the power of expectations.  It rehashed an old experiment known as the Rosenthal Experiment and how it relates to the Pygmalion effect.  I have included this short article for you to read here. You may have never heard of either of these two things, but a quick summary is that this study illustrates “the phenomenon that explains better performances by people when greater expectations are put on them.”  So how does this apply to the beginning of the end of the school year?

That is one thing I expect you already know.

If you need a higher grade to pass a class…set a goal and expect you can accomplish it.
If you are not doing well in a sport…expect to do better and get it done.
If there is anything you want to get or do better at…think you can and then do it.

This sounds great, but you need to remember nothing comes without work and sacrifice.  It is supposed to be uncomfortable.  That is the only way we know we are pushing ourselves hard enough to grow.  In the end, we are the only ones who really decide how successful we are and that is by expecting the best of ourselves and believing that we have the ability to achieve it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

True North

This post was something I had thought about at the beginning of this year, but left at the title because of other pursuits.  It caught my eye again and combined with some current circumstances seemed to be an appropriate time to revisit.  A few things had come to mind as the summer was winding down. I started thinking about the school year and all the new things the students and I would be experiencing, but the one that thing that had inspired this post had to do with discovery and its importance.

Most of you who read my blog know that I mostly post about character, perseverance, and learning.  This is in that vein, but from the perspective of not only our impact as educators, but also its importance. We have all heard it and even repeated Plutarch’s familiar phrase; “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited.”  I personally explain it with the following phrase. Teaching isn’t about acting on someone, but rather having them act for themselves.  I find this to be common sense if the true definition of understanding (according to Howard Gardner) is being able to take new knowledge and successfully apply it to an entirely different context. However, I want to take it a little farther. 

Everyone one of us has a key to our life.  Our “True North” if you will.  It consists of our core values, experiences, and lessons learned.  While it is not always clear to us, it exists and dictates your passion and happiness with life.  It has many names; purpose, meaning of life, destiny.  No matter what label, it is important to align your whole life with it to achieve your maximum ability to learn, potential, and satisfaction.  Personally, I spent most of my younger years trying to figure out what I wanted to do before realizing I want to help other people by passing on the understanding I had come to concerning the opportunities available through education and character.  My “True North” lay in the dissemination of mental toughness and the idea of learning through failure by taking what you have and making it something better. I have truly believed in the concept of over, under, around, or through my whole life, but like most, never recognized my current existence, experiences, or strengths as something to share.  I wasn't always ready for education. I was the first person in my family to go to college (because of what I accomplished on the football field). I was almost even better at twisting arms on the wrestling mat during those years.  In fact, I’ve made a habit out of doing things people told me could not be done because I believe that there are no impossibilities with passion, hard work, determination, and the ability and willingness to grow from my mistakes; get up from failures or in short…keep moving north.

To be great, effective educators we must help students with this aspect of their life.  There must be a blurring of the lines between the content we are teaching and their lives if we expect students to be engaged to a level at which they retain and understand the lessons throughout the day.  Fact is, everyone has a key to their life. Every student has a key to their learning and understanding.  As educators we must find their key by looking at what they have done in the past and meshing it with where they are at currently. If we truly want to unlock the potential growth in students we must discover what they aspire to and integrate it with how we approach them. This is essential because life is education.  Trying to separate students’ outside life from the material (and location in which) they are learning creates a disjointed experience that benefits no one.

I believe that very rarely does anyone really know where their true north lies from the outset.  This is because we all get temporarily blinded from time to time as we exist in those spaces of happiness and satisfaction that populate our days.  Unfortunately, these fleeting moments are not what help us fill our potential.  Our true potential will not be measured in these small increments, but rather from the lasting impact of our influence we have upon those others whose lives we pass through on our journey in the world.  Those of us in education must remember the words of Robert Frost when he said; “I am not a teacher but an awakener.” We must work with the students to help them begin the journey of discovery.

Education isn't about what happens to people, but what happens within people. How are you sparking that flame exciting that fire?  We need to stop doing to students in the classroom and begin letting them act.  Do not act upon them.  As E.M. Forester said; “Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon”

And really…in the long run, who truly cares about the shape of the spoon as long as it serves the purpose we need it for; to feed us.

Friday, March 11, 2016

March is the Month for Perseverance

Thinking about the past few weeks of students highlighted in the newsletter for receiving awards the theme for this month’s character initiative, and the long stretch that March is during the school year; I can’t help but focus on the importance of perseverance.

We should be proud of all those students who have taken a risk and stepped into an unknown experience because they wanted to and found success in the face of sacrifice and struggle, but we should also be incredibly proud of those students who do the same, fall short of accolades, and still continue to push forward.  Those students are harder to spot because they are often silent in their determination or feeling down because of their most recent failure.  I know we all say that you cannot learn without failing and that you need to fail before you can succeed…yeah…while that is true...it’s a little easier to say when you aren’t the one failing.

Speaking of failures and persevering through to success; check out this list of famous individuals who did just that!

What I’m saying to everyone is that if you:
·         are trying or even thinking of trying something to be a better version of you, do it
·         see someone working hard and struggling to continue, don’t distract, but support them.

Because in the end, we only find out how good we can be by pushing until we fail…and then doing it all over again to get a little farther.

We all need to support our students who are giving it their all and motivate those to achieve what they can…

Or as Kid President says in this video pep talk; "We were made to be awesome!" 

Now go out there and do what you were made for today.  Not tomorrow, but today...get started.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Doing the Right Thing: It's About Perspective

The high school I lead is always looking for ways to improve the climate so that students and staff alike have a positive, welcoming place to learn.  Creating such a place requires more effort on the part of those who are part of it than whatever group is creating initiatives.  Ideas don’t make change; action does.

We have entered the second half of the year now and with that comes added stress and a tendency to become increasingly hyper-focused on what we want to do and how every encounter we have impacts our world.   Instead, if we all want to have a more positive experience we have to adjust our focus.  Instead of it being on us, it needs to be on those around us.  Consider the following:

Integrity:  What we do when we know that nobody is watching.  Or in school terms…when we know we aren’t being graded or evaluated.

That phrase often adorns the walls of classrooms and is repeated by people who insist that character and integrity are the cornerstones of a positive climate and culture. What isn’t discussed is one of the concrete requirements of being able to exhibit and practice these qualities.  The willingness and ability to consider what others may be thinking or experiencing.  It sounds counter intuitive but it really isn’t. It’s more about changing your perspective. Want to improve your experience?  Think about those around you and begin by helping to improve theirs.

Check out this short video for an example.  I’m sure we can all find an example of ourselves within it…I know I did.

Give it a try and remember; Be Purposeful, Act With Integrity, and Build Your Character.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Take the Small Steps

There were quite a few reasons for this post, but it really hit me when I started discussing students and setting goals at the middle of the year.  We all set goals, but how many of us attain them? More importantly, how many students even understand how to go after their goal once it has been written down?   This post focuses (in short order for brevity’s sake) on that piece.  It is meant to shed some light on succeeding by not focusing on the end result, but instead the small behaviors that get us there. 

Consider the following statement.

Consistently taking the small common actions is what leads to uncommon, incredible results.

How many times have we heard this phrase, thought it made sense, and started to follow it only to stray from the consistent aspect, not achieve greatness, and then discount the saying?  There is only one way to realize success (in any area) at a level that will surprise even ourselves.  We must be purposeful and practice mental toughness and character.

We have all heard of the idea of setting goals and that they are essential to anyone’s success.  Unfortunately, that message is often not understood by many people due to the counter intuitiveness it takes to be successful at attaining those goals.  It essentially comes down to the following:  You achieve your goals by not focusing on them. Rather, you realize long-term success by focusing on the small incremental behaviors that move you toward your goal.

Wait…how do you achieve something by not focusing on it?  It has to do with character, mental toughness, and perspective.

Sooner or later, anyone who has tried to accomplish something in life realizes the most important aspect; control.  There are people who will tell you that you must take control of your life to be successful, while others quickly retort that too many things are out of your control so it is useless and success comes more from luck than control.  I assert it that the former is unrealistic and the latter is all about excuses.

If you set a goal and then try to control every part you will fail.  The true road to success is to focus on the smaller aspects that you actually have control over.  What I’m talking about are your behaviors.  I will keep the example to academics, but this system works for any area of your life.

Academics – We usually (unfortunately, too often) measure academic success by grades.  So we tell our students to set goals to address what grade they are receiving.  That’s good; however it’s more important to realize what part of that goal to focus on so that it is manageable, attainable, and long lasting.  There are many factors that go into grades (most people know this) that are not entirely in the student’s control.  So the idea that they will reach their goal is unlikely; resulting in another failure and the deep down belief that they will not be successful no matter what goal is set.  Instead, students should focus on the behaviors that they have complete control over; their own.  What behaviors typically produce good grades? They must:

·         Complete homework
·         Participate in class
·         Study on their own
·         Stay for extra help

These behaviors alone will not help unless they are done consistently and become habits.  If students focus on setting a schedule they will keep and then practice it consistently no matter what temptations (mental toughness) or hardships (character) get in the way, they will reap the benefits of the behaviors (better grades) without focusing on them.

We become what we view as our reality.  Students (and adults) who set a vague goal often do so for one of two reasons.  First, they may not understand how to set goals.  Second (the darker side of this) is that a vague goal is easier to excuse if we fail.  Whenever someone approaches (or sets) a goal with the idea that they will probably fail anyway is going to want some wiggle room to make excuses. Hello vagueness.  If the focus is on small behaviors that we can check and succeed at each week; success follows due to the pride and self-confidence built up in the behaviors that become habits.

Mental Toughness
There will be temptation and distractions that are followed by failure unless there is commitment.  Changing behaviors is not easy and it takes the ability to identify the behavior that needs to change or start, create the plan to do it, ignore the temptations, and follow through.

We all need to learn how to fail.  I could say the famous “fall down seven times and get up eight”, but really…who hasn’t heard that and still done the opposite?  I have come to understand that getting up is great, but learning each time you fall is the only way to keep from falling again.  Every little failure (missing that one homework out of 5 this week) is an opportunity to recommit and grow.  When you fail at something you are given two choices; quit or carry on.  Think about all those resolutions about weight loss that are made each year.  People eat better and exercise for a month, don’t hit the goal they set, and instead of realizing the progress they have made quit the behaviors that will help them realize long lasting success. It’s not that character counts rather, character is the only thing that counts.  It is only strengthened through adversity, because improving ourselves never gets easier; it’s just that we get stronger character.

In the end, be purposeful. Focus on the small steps and stick to what you want by avoiding temptation and facing adversity.  Don’t think about the end.  Think about teach step and as you accomplish it, count it as a victory. Long lasting success isn’t attained with one fell swoop.  It is reached through incremental change over time.