Category: Solution-Focused Leadership

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

If this is your first time reading a post of mine, let me please tell you I am not an ordinary individual who always does things the way you expect them to be done. So….I love Walt Disney, crazy acronyms, inspirational videos, music, and thinking way outside the box people feel comfortable being inside of with no complaints, well, a few. When asked, “Who else has tried this or is doing this?” No one, I don’t follow the paths of others; they follow mine. This needs to be your response to get things going!

I was an Assistant Principal in my hometown middle school with an enrollment of 300. It was not too long that I found myself as Principal of a middle school in a large unit district with an enrollment of 600. A very diverse group of students, low-economic and other challenges the students and families faced to thrive. Staff also faced many challenges as they had administrative changes often and did not have opportunities to connect for sustainability. The first words I thought of when I looked at the big picture for all of them was: relationships, trust, connections, and solutions. They all had been through so much and needed the essential foundations to build. We needed solutions that would not be complicated, simple to apply, gave all of us ownership, but most importantly, trust in ourselves, peers, staff, and community.

It takes work, time, and effort to make this kind of climate and culture change. It does not happen on day one. Consistency in what you say and do, today, tomorrow, and every day after. Believe entirely in what you are doing because the perspective of others is what counts in making the change!

On day one with the students, I asked them all to the gymnasium to sit in the bleachers to introduce myself. I asked all staff to leave. Say what? The looks on the faces of the staff matched that of the students. “This lady is crazy; she is not going to make it on day one!” I repeated, “It is okay staff, Take a 10-minute break.” Finally, they began to move. I could still see them standing in the outer hallway. Did they not trust the kids or me? Maybe both of us?

I raised my hand. I started asking kids to raise theirs. Soon everyone had their hands raised. No one was talking but looking at me, all 600. This is how I start to speak. I will raise my hand; you do the same and look at me with no talking so we can begin. I trust and respect you, so I do not want to yell. Could you show the same to me by following this procedure? Hands down

This is when I also tell them about only having two rules. We will talk more about how to implement these at a different time.

“How many of you looked in the mirror today? Come on; it is middle school. I know you did! In our main hallway, you will find a mirror I placed there. I will place some particular messages around it each week, so when you look in the mirror, you can think about my message.”

The one for this week is:

“Mind is a flexible mirror, adjust it, to see a better world.”

Amir Ray

I was placed here to be your Principal. Many people from my hometown thought I had done something wrong. I asked why? They said because this was a horrible school. No way. It is not, and we will show you!

Now, please think about their perspective. People have a perspective that this school is not good. I am looking at you and know we can change that perspective. All we have to do is make a few adjustments in their minds to see through the mirror the greatness inside this school. It will take trust, connecting with our community, building relationships, and working on solutions. This will take time, effort, and hard work, but this will be the best school ever!

Active lessons in the halls

The mirror in the hallway costs $3.00 on clearance. It was one of those dorm room mirrors for doors. It worked out perfectly in our hallway, hanging horizontally. All students passed this intersection so they could all look in the mirror and receive my message. I am happy to help you with messaging if you have a specific area you want to address. It did help and was successful, along with a few other things we did. Our staff, students, families, and community worked hard to turn this school around to find success.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, what do you see? Students and staff working to achieve!

  • “The mirror reflects what you want to see, but those who see you reflect on what they see.”-Brenda Yoho
  • Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.
  • “Reflect what you want others to see and be.”-Brenda Yoho
  • Mirrors don’t lie. They only show part of the truth.
  • “What you see in others has more to do with you than them!”-Brenda Yoho
  • “Your words are a mirror of your character; choose them carefully.”-Venkat Desireddy

Imagine, what words would you choose?

In 2004 Rolling Stones labeled John Lennon’s song Imagine the third greatest song of all time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolling_Stone%27s_500_Greatest_Songs_of_All_Time The list was updated again in 2010, and it remains in its same ranked position.

I have utilized the theme of “Imagine” several times over my career in education in different settings and ways. It is a timeless vision of hope and inspiration. The word has been used in the last couple of years as “re-imagine” to view how things already established should be changed. Could manipulating the word imagine like this take the elements of hope and inspiration away?

I am guilty of getting caught up in the overuse of word verbiage and trying to do catchy phrasing to grab the attention of others. Creativity should never risk the foundation of the meaning. Imagine is creating “new ideas.” We need foundations as a world to stand on for us to begin to live as one.

The song Imagine by Lennon was recorded in 1971. During this year, society was feeling the turmoil of the ’60s as demonstrations were being held against the Vietnam War. Apollo 15 landed on the moon. Gloria Steinem spoke in America at the feminist movement. A hectic time in society.

Looking at our society today, we are living and feeling turmoil as well. We have experienced demonstrations, an established Space Force now, and a “Me too” movement to support women’s healing involved in sexual violence. In addition, dealing with a global pandemic, mistrust in government, clear divisions, continued rise of social and mental health needs, and the list could continue. Parents are apprehensive about their children’s education during this time of shutdowns, mask mandates, vaccination mandates, curriculum modifications, and how to address the needs of all children.

Music and education reflect what happens in society during the points of time in history. One of my favorite songs is Heal the World by Michael Jackson; he released it in 1991. It is a beautiful song and reminder of clips of history we have overcome but still work to keep moving forward in making things better for the next generation. This short video clip of Kids United is from 2016.

If you could write a song for today to help inspire those worldwide, what would be the key phrases you would use? Would you please share a few thoughts and impressions? I look forward to words of encouragement, wisdom, inspiration, and more!

A foundational piece we can stand on to move forward with improvements for the next generation and to fuel our souls with hope begins with_________________.

Teachers and Leaders, encourage failure!

This title may need to be explained! It is not that I am encouraging all of us to fail but to innovate and become resilient. The title is also not saying teachers and leaders encourage their students to fail. It is the approach and strategies we use to help children grow.

One year the theme I selected for our school year was “Failure is not an option at SVMS,” based on the book written by Alan Blankstein. In his book, he points out six principles that guide student achievement. It is a perfect book to utilize with staff to work on improvement plans, reviewing data on instructional needs, practices, and curriculum. I was and am impressed with Alan Blankstein because he shares his own stories of struggles and how educators do change the lives of others.

But my title says, “encourage failure?” You can utilize the theme and the practices by engaging in examples of why it is okay to fail but not stop. We have many examples in history of individuals who failed but continued to try and found success.

15 People who failed on their way to success!

https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/15-highly-successful-people-who-failed-their-way-success.html

Children need opportunities to learn, explore and discover. It is acceptable to take risks, chances, make mistakes and fail. Is your classroom or school environment a place where children feel safe to make mistakes, or are they working in an “answer getters” mindset where the correct answer is the only way?

I want to repeat one of my phrases for you: “Education is something we do with children, not to them.” To help build a growth mindset, innovation, creativity, resiliency, and academic success, “encourage failure.” Suppose children focus only on reaching the correct answer without inquiring the why, how, and what; then the next level of learning is never reached. How will we find the next discovery, cure a disease, invent a new idea or solve a global problem if we do not help our children learn how to dig deeper in their learning.

Feel free to reach out to Alan Blankstein @AlanBlankstein. If you have not picked up any of his books please check out his latest book Breakthrough Leadership https://us.corwin.com/en-us/nam/author/alan-m-blankstein

Help children build resilience by embracing the understanding of failure and the lessons they bring to help make toolboxes to conquer more issues as they are part of their path.

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
  • Collaboration to review all materials
  • 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?)

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.

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!

Praise with Purpose

In the attached article you will find information on positive praise, especially for middle school students. “When middle school teachers praised students at least as often as they reprimanded them, class-wide on-task behavior improved by 60% to 70%, according to a BYU study.”

One of the most important things I stressed to staff was always to address the child by name with a positive greeting before you addressed a behavior. Children want to know that you know them, see them hear them before you ever try to teach them anything.

“Researchers observed 28 classrooms across five middle schools. They noted that teachers gravitated toward criticizing statements four to nine times as often as they used statements giving praise.”

Action steps

  • Challenge yourself to “praise pays.” When I was a teacher, I had some challenging students. So I made up little games I played they no one else knew about. I would place ten bingo chips in my right pocket in the morning. Every time I gave praise, I moved a chip to my left pocket. When I gave a critical comment, I moved one to my right pocket. (If I did not have any in my left pocket to move to the right, I would have to get one from the jar on my desk.)
  • Some days I needed to focus on specific individuals. I would then use a little clipboard with all student’s names. I would use symbols that was code for me to help me track my praise and critical comments.
  • One of the additional things I did was as a class we did a praise party pop’in pot! It was a can decorated as a popcorn pot! When it was full we would enjoy a praise party. It worked the same way my bingo chips did. If I heard a student giving praise they came up and put a chip in, but if I heard critical stuff one came out.

As principal at a middle school we did some of the same things. We had a clear tower by the front office and students could drop off praise tickets they received. We did drawings and when it was full we had a building party.

What do you do to praise? Building a positive work, teaching, and learning climate and culture takes planning. Planning does not mean it is not authentic but intentional with purpose.

Praising students works better than scolding, study finds