What Matters Most?

As a leader, especially during this time, the importance of “what we do,” “how we do it,” and “why we do it” are critical questions to ask. We have asked them before, but how does it help us to answer the biggest question of all? What matters most?

“Mother Norman, I am so sorry for the loss of your husband.”

“Oh daughter, I know, let me introduce you to my son.”

Going to the visitation of one of my co-workers from my early years was just like going to a family reunion to see relatives you haven’t seen in a while, even though you may not live that far from each other. “Mother Norman, ” as I have called her for years, was the teacher who I looked up to as I learned to be a teacher. She was one of many who helped prepare me for my journey through education. Her brother would become our Superintendent. He hired me for my first teaching position and then in my first administrator position. So many great learning opportunities and training. Thank you Mr. Tate.

I left the comforts of my hometown to travel a short distance to a larger school district up the road. My first year as principal was terrific. The staff, students, families and everything felt just right for me.

“Mr. Denman wants to see you in his office.”

I can remember hearing those words coming from the phone and the echoes of the voices telling me all day of the sudden leaving of the middle school principal. My heart sunk to my stomach. I could not let anyone see my feelings.

As I arrived to the office, it was true; I needed to move to be the principal of the middle school. I left the building headed back to my school processing all that needed to be done, when a call came asking me if I could return to talk to the Superintendent.

I entered Mrs. Mellen’s office, and she said, “ I am so sorry; I know I told you I would not move you, but I had no idea something like this would happen.”

I understand. Leaders have to make decisions based on what they believe is best. As part of this team and organization, I have to choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. A great deal of work has to be done. One thing I ask is to have permission to talk with my current staff first before they hear it from the news.

“I don’t think you can get that accomplished before the board meeting tonight.”

I can and I will, if I have permission. “I will check with board president and a few others to get this approved.”

Thank you! Trust, my word and helping to guide them through this transition is essential to me. It will provide a better transition for all of us.

Telling news you do not want to give

  • Practicing solution-focused leadership provides a systematic approach to communicating any form of news you need to deliver.
  • First, identify the problem the organization faced. Point out the importance of the time of the year and the needs of all involved.
  • Then provide the possible solutions the organization could have selected from and weigh against outcomes. (In this situation, I was able to pull from the information I thought could be used. I had four years of positive middle school experience previously. Our team worked to secure a grant successfully to change the school to a middle school concept and turned it from failing to succeeding.)
  • Decision made and moving forward. Clear communication of the decision made and how you support being part of the solution is stated. We all must do this to continue the great work we are doing. Provide the connection between them and the decision and the overall mission. (In this case, the school was a feeder school to the middle school I was moving to.)
  • One last thing to remember!
  • We do all of our work together in all of these buildings as one. Students and sometimes staff move around from time to time, but one thing remains the most important. What matters the most? We love what we do for those we do it for and those we do it with because, in the end, what matters the most is the relationships we build along the journey.

Take-Aways

  • Practice solution-focused leadership
  • Relationships matter
  • Clear communication
  • Remember the what, how, who and why to understand What matters most!

Are you dog tired?

Leaders make hundreds of decisions daily that impact lives. Depending on the nature of their work, it can be very intense for them, testing strength physically, emotionally, and mentally. Many times leaders put in long days, and adding all of this together can be exhausting.

As a leader, you try to keep the spirits up and to motivate others. Leaders listen to concerns and do their best at finding solutions. But we all have been there. There is always some negativity out there. You have that one person who chooses the pathway of “Oscar the Grouch.”

I had an Oscar. We are friends today, even after our experience of making changes. It is a process of building up relationships and getting to know the personality of those you are working with to help. I do not recommend this particular approach unless you want to use my story as an example to all staff to lighten the mood to discuss climate and culture.

“Good morning, Janet.”

“I don’t know what is good about it.”

“Are you tired today?”

“I am! I am tired every day when I leave here and every day when I come. These kids and stuff around here wears me out!”

“Well, I think I know why you are tired.”

“Why do you think I am tired?”

“I think you are dog tired because you bark all day. Try smiling and giving positives. See if that makes a difference. Glad you are here today! Smile; it is a beautiful day!

We both smiled, and this broke the ice to begin to clear the path for change. I have changed the name, but I know she would not have cared if I used her real name.

Your passion and heart lead you to follow a path of service to others. The journey is filled with many opportunities for growth, challenges, rewards, success, and achievement. If your actions and steps along the path created inspiration for others to believe, dream, learn, laugh, love, and become more, you have accomplished what lead you to start this path. “Oscar the Grouch” needs a reminder of the value of their “why” to the “what” they do each day! They genuinely want to make a difference. A little support gets them on the right path.

We can all have our moments of being “dog tired” at our job and home. It is good to remind ourselves when we model negativity in our day, it carries over just as much, if not more, than our positive outlooks. Complaining, being short and tones in our speech send messages out often unintentionally to signal it is okay to act this way.

Clear communication, establishing a transparent positive culture, and building trust for each other, will provide the pathway to growth opportunities. Your culture and climate are essential as you move forward to improve. “ In short, culture is how we behave, and climate is how we feel. Culture is the way we do things around here, and climate is the way we feel around here.”-Second Edition Transforming School Culture, Anthony Muhammad (Gruenert & Whitaker, 2015, p.10)

Improvement Solutions

  • Improve areas identified
  • Mission statement established all members believe and follow
  • Partnerships with all stakeholders for valuable input
  • Accountability assigned for action steps
  • Time lines established for goals

Impact your team today!

As you ponder the thoughts of being “dog tired” let me remind you of a few things.

  • You survived a global pandimic
  • You made quick decisions to change in order to react to this global crisis
  • Everyday is another day you helped others face issues to overcome
  • You have and are supporting others in difficult times
  • You are doing a great job!

Action Plan

  • Clarify your vision
  • Commit to positive thoughts
  • Be consistent on your focus of performance
  • Strengthen your confidence and support this in others
  • Control responses in all situations (verbal, written, body language)
  • Be the solution daily! (If not you then who?)

What is at the core of your leadership?

“Corey, Aaron, and Justin, I would like to have you three be the leaders from our class to represent us. We will be presenting the Twin Towers model to the city for a temporary display.”

Their faces filled with smiles and big bright eyes. Priceless. No one would have used leader to describe these boys. They were in trouble, missed school, and had difficulty in academics. However, in our project-based learning activities following 9-11, they shined bright. They loved painting, measuring, and building these towers. When the reporter and photographer arrived, it was their time to shine. When their pictures landed on the newspaper’s front page along with their quotes, they were walking with pride. A change just happened for them—an opportunity to lead with pride.

Leadership can come in a moment when you need it. Maybe it does not last, and sometimes it does. Often it comes by someone giving you a chance to show others what you can do.

If you Google leadership resources, you will find 807,000,000 results. Narrow your search by focusing on one leadership element, but you will still find a large number. If we have all of these resources, we should have excellent leaders! Do we?

If you are reading this, you are interested in leadership, or you are a leader. Thank you for your leadership! It is a vital role with so many responsibilities.

Individuals look to the leader for strength, safety, solutions, spirit, and so much more. When did you discover you were a leader? Did someone tell you? Was it because of a job you held? Maybe it was when you organized the Christmas party? At some point, you knew the word leader was part of how others would describe you.

Now that you know you are a leader, what is at the core of your leadership? What describes you as a leader? How are you different from others? Are you like another leader?

Leadership is an ongoing process. It is something you continue to develop as you learn from:

  • Lessons you have completed on your journey
  • People you have listened to and watched
  • Associations/Organizations you joined
  • The networking you have done with purpose
  • A mentor you have gained

Knowing who you are as a leader is essential. Understand your “why” so you can help those you lead find theirs. This “why” is the core of your leadership. It leads you in “what” you do.

Everything I do each day is to make today better for someone. My “kids” (students) are essential to me. They know it too! The “why” in “what” I do. The “why” is the passion behind your work and “why” you do “what” you do. When others see your passion, your “why,” and purpose, they get excited because you are, your enthusiasm becomes contagious, and your authentic approach builds a strong trust.

STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO GROW AS A LEADER

  • Master your position- Be the best at “what” you do. Let others see, model. Share with others the “how.” Nothing speaks louder than this.
  • Thought Leader- Join in discussions, share ideas, read others’ work, create content yourself, acknowledging others’ work, gain a reputation of knowing and maybe begin a blog. Soon you may be presenting at conferences and much more! You decide the level you want to be at, but the most important thing is to help others.
  • Be a mentor or coach- I had/have mentors. They are amazing to learn from always. I have been/am a mentor/coach, and it is the best. Learning happens for all involved. Always be willing to learn and to share what you know to help others grow!
  • Focus on Future- What is your strategic plan, what does it look like regarding the future? Great Leaders have a focused vision, taking responsibility for supporting their team in implementing a plan to succeed today and in the future. By providing a clear path for the future you build hope. Hope is what is needed in order to heal, forgive, accept and establish the journey forward.
  • Reflection- take time to look at your core (Values, Beliefs, Vision, Characteristics-Integrity, Humility, Trust, Honesty). Make sure others see your reflection in the same way you believe you are reflecting it.

Thank you for being part of the solution daily. Leaders lead by example while lifting others. They willingly share what they know with others and always look for ways to provide more learning for those they serve. Leadership is the core to the success of all of our organizations. Thank you for all you do.

How are you?

Do you ask this question to others? “Hi Jane, How are you today?” It is a simple question as part of our greeting and not an in-depth question many may need to answer. As schools returned to face to face, businesses are trying to maintain without workers due to no applicants, and companies are trying to ship materials to places in need as materials become available.

How can we greet our coworkers and employees in ways to help them and to check on how they are? At this time, it is so important to check on others and to let them understand they matter to us. Many things are causing stress to others and maybe even for ourselves. Letting others know is the best way to find solutions. I have a former student missing and a former student who just killed himself. My heart breaks for their families. These young men I think of as “my kids,” and I picture them in the time we were together. The charisma of both these kids is amazing, fun to be around, friends with many, and nice looking. If someone asked me, How are you? “I am fine, just fine.” Am I?

Most people do not tell others the truth. They mask things that are bothering them. People pass you all the time. Do you notice them? How much do you know about the people you work with daily? How about those you use to work with but not anymore? Neighbors? Family? Do you check on any of them? The truth is rarely told on how we are. https://youtu.be/lbqS806GU4I

Change the questions. Change the responses. Let the truth be told, and solutions will be found. #Bethesolutiondaily Find the resources to help others in need. Reach out to others when you are in need. You matter, we matter, together we matter, and we will be fine! Faith, hope, and love for one another.

What to do? According to data?

In every organization, data-driven decision-making was and is a phrase repeated often. Sitting around a big conference table, I can recall talking about the stacks and stacks of data collected by an individual for us to utilize. However, we all looked at each other with a huh what. Data-rich and information poor, why are we collecting all of this data, and what is it being used for?

Understand where you are, where you want to go, and then how you will get there. One of the biggest things we noticed was the duplication of data. We were assessing to answer the same questions.

What do you need to know and find solutions for to achieve the goals you established? Looking at your situation, what is the most critical issue facing your organization?

Mental health is an issue that is revealing itself as a priority since the pandemic. It has always been important, but recent data reveals it is steadily increasing with our children.

“Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a 31% increase in the proportion of mental health-related emergency rooms visits in youth ages 12 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More youth are also reporting increases in depression, anxiety, and stress, according to a YouthTruth survey.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pledged $85 million in funding to address the mental health needs of our children and teens. To learn more about funding and data, please read this short article:

https://www.k12dive.com/news/biden-administration-pledges-85m-to-support-student-mental-health/605750/

A clear focus on what improvements are needed will help to target these areas with direct assessments and instruction. Providing the strategies to support the desired outcomes will keep a transparent approach to achieve positive results.

Blessings, rights, freedom-multiple them

The alarm sounds, and we are off to a new day! The daily calendar is full! Every minute is scheduled with tasks to complete, meetings to attend, places to go, meals to prepare, messages to answer, decisions to make, and the list goes on. When is there time to notice the blessings?

Instead of focusing on the “what we have,” it seems we have enough time to focus on “what we don’t have.” A question was asked to me about another individual, “When do you think she will stop being mad at the whole world?” My answer is: Instead of focusing on our trials and losses, stop talking about them until all we can see on the horizon is darkness instead of light and begin to pay attention to recognize blessings. She and others like her will continue to believe they have no blessings at all.

Your blessings include life, family, friends, freedom, talents, possessions, and abilities. Daily you are blessed through these gifts you have received, and they multiply when you share them with others. My heart is filled full when I receive a message from someone that they have liked what I have written or will use it to share with others. Joy is in giving to others and hoping it provides them more.

I continue to work to put my blessings to work for others. My passion and purpose are to provide for others solutions. It is through a positive mindset and collaboration with others many accomplishments can be made.

Change your focus to see the blessings you have and could miss if you are not looking.

My Day is great, because of you!

It is a blessed day because of you! Share Monday motivation, moments of kindness, minutes of memory-making, and more meaningful conversations with those you meet!

Pick a favorite quote and post it so you can see it all the time. Could you share them with others? Drop a note to co-workers, be the positive light and help others find hope.

Do you know what they think?

We live in a society where we are always seeking others’ thoughts, or are we? Do we want to know? Will we change anything based on what they tell us? We enjoy seeing that like on a post we make on social media!

We know what we believe, and it is the truth for us. Our beliefs and values are what we work hard to stand up for daily. As we work in our organization, we do the same but add a layer to deliver a service to those we serve.

The delivery of the service takes input from the customers receiving the service. Addressing solutions always begins with conversations and input from those involved. Every time I visit one of my doctors or a healthcare facility, I receive a survey by phone to answer questions about the service provided. I believe more and more companies and organizations are seeking input from customers on how to continue to improve their services.

As teachers and administrators, do you think about the need for feedback? Evaluations are completed, but are we getting direct feedback from those we serve daily? Are we getting feedback from our colleagues?

A group of students came to talk to me one day in my office. I gathered them around my conference table. They were already well trained in my problem-solution-based system. They began with their stated problem. “Mrs. Yoho, we believe our teacher is racist.”

What facts do you have for this problem? Because you know I do not see this in any of the staff members.

“She acts differently when you come by or are in the room. She picks on kids of color. The other kids can get up without her saying anything. She is constantly nagging on us.”

I listened to all of their concerns. I knew there had to be a misunderstanding, but these are real feelings. A change had to happen because even if the teacher was not racist, the students perceived her to be. How would you respond?

I talked with the teacher, and I told her I did not think she was racist. However, some of the students believed she was. I told her of a time I was accused of the same thing. This helped in our conversation.

When I was accused, my first reaction was anger. I was mad. How in the world could anybody think that about me? Then I settled down and took some time to reflect. Have I allowed them to get to know me? Have I had the opportunity to get to know them? We do not know each other, so it is easy to misunderstand if we do not know.

Start using feedback tools to help understand how you can improve, what is working, what is easy and difficult. You can do a SurveyMonkey poll, do quick post-its to stick on the door on the way out, put up posters with prompts kids can vote on, and so many other ideas!

Acquiring information is the key to improving, focusing on what kids need, and turning problems into solutions. I often said, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” I had some staff members puzzled by some of the crazy things I said until they found themselves in a situation like this. We don’t know what we don’t know until we know, and then we need to know more!

Everyone has a story. Learn the stories and share yours. Gather all of the feedback you can to continue improving, adjusting, and serving the best you can. We all need you!

Input vs. Output

I have questions about the title of this post. Do you have more input or output in your day? In other words, are you receiving (input) information more than you are producing (output)? What are the sources of the information you receive?

Accountability has leaders focused on the source of output and making sure there is a high volume daily. Depending on the field of work, I question the quality of the volume of output measured by the input. Should leaders focus more on the input their staff is receiving?

I spend 60% of my day reading. What are the sources of this reading? I select books based on recommendations from other leaders, also from the organization I work with to help authors with book launches, blogs, podcasts, webinars, articles from professional organizations I belong to, emails, and my daily devotionals/bible. This input is valuable to me, but most importantly, it influences my thoughts.

I wrote a book about school improvement; it’s not good enough. My opinion! I took time to learn more about how to have a quality book, what the steps are, what do you need to do, know, and so many other things. I was gaining lots of input! During this seeking input time, I had opportunities to meet, listen to and gain wisdom. It is a blessing to have taken the time to do this and to write a new book.

Time is a non-renewable gift! I always say, “Unwrap today as a gift. It can not be returned, exchanged, or saved. Use the hours wisely.” The time I have spent on writing has provided me with healing, sharing, ways to serve a purpose, and opportunities to provide support to others.

Take aways

  • The quality of the work we do depends on the inputs of information we allow to influence us.
  • Output accountability should be measured on quality and not quantity.
  • Leaders can support individuals by providing quality resources for input.
  • Time is non-renewable!

Review your calendar, agenda, or schedule. How much time is allowed for input? As a leader, what are you providing to staff to enhance the quality of the input others are receiving? Remember, time is non-renewable! Make all communications quality and not just quantity!

Be the solution daily! Others count on the quality of your output to influence the input they receive!