Monday, August 25, 2014

The Issue with Comfort Zones

Comfort zones are interesting to me.  We all work so hard to get to them, but once we get there, we are really scared to step outside of the peace that they offer.  They provide us with a sense of calm, but I question whether or not they help us to grow.  If we spend too much time in the comfort zone, it is much harder to take risks and step outside.  I completely understand it.  There is rarely time where we take on a new activity and it turns into awesome right away.  Take a pen and a piece of paper…write your name on the paper with your non-dominant hand.  How are you feeling? Clearly the more you practice the better it would get, but if we are constantly reminded that we’re not good at a particular task, we are much less likely to continue doing it.  Having said that, there are not too many things in the world that we could do right away.  In essence, the learning always came from outside our comfort zones.

Some people step out of their comfort zones and try something new.  I am currently involved in an activity that doesn’t just fall a little outside my comfort zone, it resides miles away.  We are a few weeks away from Dancing with the Eau Claire Stars.  I was asked to be one of the contestants, and it has been quite the experience!  Now…I don’t consider myself a star, a dancer, and I don’t live in Eau Claire.  So…this could not be more outside my comfort zone.  The dancing portion of the activity is difficult and well beyond my level of expertise, which was clearly a switch for me.  I tend to pick activities where I feel like I can experience a relative level of success.  I had no idea how I was going to have that feeling in a choreographed dance.  Inevitably, everything I do tends to get my wheels spinning about how it relates to schools, students, staff, and professional growth.  So…here are a few thoughts going through my head as the process has rolled out…

Don’t waver
The longer it takes you to make the decision, the less likely you are to do it.   We tend to talk a lot in education…we discuss and discuss and discuss before making a decision and sometimes forget the most important part…actually making one.  Do your research, but when you commit…go.  Once you know you are in you will feel much better about the process. 

The Impact of Peers
As administrators we can lead the process of challenging staff members to grow outside their comfort zones, but when it comes down to the ownership of the process, the value of peers is incredible.  The support from peers as you take a risk in your practice can be a true motivator when it comes to confidence.  People want to be acknowledged for what they do, and that includes attempting to try something different.  This has to be the culture of classrooms as well.  Students will not go out on a limb if they feel like their friends are going to insult them or their teacher won’t support them.  I know really intelligent kids who do not participate in class because they are afraid of what their friends will say.  I know kids who knock others down emotionally because it is easier than admitting that they don’t understand or know the answer.  I have worked with staff members who don’t want to extend themselves for fear of what their colleagues would say.  I am lucky to work in a place where the support for peers is really solid, but even in that space it can be hard for people to step out of their comfort zones.
Have Fun
Find the fun…these dance rehearsals are hard for me because every time I try to do something I am constantly reminded that I am not good at it.  I feel awkward and frustrated when I can’t get the steps right.  I have really amazing teachers.  Allie and Amber are great dancers, and better people.  They have made this process so fun for me.  We laugh, shrug our shoulders, make things up as we go, and at no point have I felt like I am a burden to their evenings (though Amber may have a few bruises!).  We are having a blast…and I am so glad I decided to take part in the process.

I am so far out of my comfort zone.  Allie and Amber are fantastic teachers.  They ask the right questions and push me to get better, while understanding the concept that I am way out of my league.  I feel like I am accomplishing more every time we rehearse.  This feeling has to be a staple of what happens in schools.  Adults need to feel like they can grow, and not be stuck in a rut of their own professional development.  Kids need to feel like they are getting better and have ownership in how they grow. As you get ready to start the year, understand that you will be asking kids to step out of their comfort zones to maximize their learning and you can be an incredible model if you step out of your own.  Have a great start to the year, everyone.  Go Crickets!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Digital Leadership Day

Here are a few thoughts as part of Digital Leadership Day...

Over the course of the last 2 months I have had the incredible opportunity to meet face to face with phenomenal educational leaders across the country.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have even considered the thought of traveling across the country to connect with leaders from different states, talk about how we can change the educational landscape and create better environments for kids.  I didn’t think the power of 140 characters would lead me to Voxer conversations that have made me laugh, cry, and want to be a better leader because of the push I get from my friends across the world.  I didn’t think a simple conversation would turn into a session at an Edcamp that would grow into a radio show that would balloon into writing multiple books.  All of those things may have happened at
some point, but the impact of being connected digitally has made it substantially easier. The digital leadership journey, is just as it indicates…a journey.  We go down many paths that we don’t really know throughout our careers.  Some work out and some don’t, but all help us to grow.  The use of digital tools in the development of leadership skill has been a game changer for me.  The tools have allowed or conversations. Those conversations have challenged my thinking and grown a network that expands well beyond location.  The best and most connected leaders in the country are literally a tweet, post, or vox away.  The internet has changed school for students.  They have access to any content at any time.  The same holds true for leaders.  The opportunity for growth is out there.  If we are leading learning organizations, it is incumbent on us to model that learning.

Leadership and Management
The digital portion of leadership may not be essential…but it certainly has made me want to be a better leader.  We often get stuck in the day-to-day operation of what school looks like…and to be honest that is a critical piece to leadership.  Curt Rees and I were talking a few months ago about the difference between leader and manager.  The discussion veered toward the idea that great leaders have both vision sense and management ability. Philosophical discussions that happen in every social media forum are just dreams if you do not have a process in place to make change happen.  We can talk about how it should look or how we would like it to look or fawn over the latest infographic…but the attempt to move forward is where the new path for staff and students will be cut.

As I have indicated before, I live and work in an unbelievable school district.  We have unwavering support for our school from the parents and community, the staff is beyond wonderful, and the school board allows us to take risks and try new things.  We are a very small school so as we move into the future the use of digital tools will certainly be needed to provide opportunities for our students that they can’t get due to limited course offer
ings.  We use social media in our building on a regular basis.  Could we use them more often…of course.  We have some classrooms that have active Twitter feeds and connect with other classrooms across the world.  We have some classrooms using Remind to connect with families.  Our school district app has been very successful in communicating with our parents and families.  CricketTV has brought HS extra curricular activities to life for extended family not living in Fall Creek.  These are just a few examples.  As a leader, modeling the process for staff is essential, but it clearly does not hold the biggest card in terms of influence.  The staff in our building who have utilized the communication tools and connected to the outside world do it because of the feedback they get from students, parents, and colleagues.  If the positive comments are coming from any of those groups the motivation grows and the initiative starts to move.

Digital tools of today will be replaced with newer, faster, and more productive tools in the future.  The gold is not in the tool, but the process.  As leaders, we have an obligation to seek out and model opportunities that could help our students, staff and community.  We need to provide resources and time for people to dive into the process and grow through ownership of learning.  Self-guided exploration of learning is great for both students and staff.   We don’t need to have all the answers and often won’t, but if we are seen as leading the learning, we will be in a better place.  Go Crickets!!