Sunday, January 31, 2016

Don't let your leadership cause a Head-On collision!

Every September in Sweden, the citizens remember H-Day, probably some more fondly than others.  "Högertrafikomläggningen" ("The right-hand traffic diversion") was the day in 1967 in which Sweden switched from driving on the left-side of the road to the right side. While it may seem a bit comical now, it was serious business at the time, if you stop and reflect on the amount of planning that would go into such a switch, it is easy to question why even bother.  The background of the decision included over 40 years of debate in the country and once the decision was made by the government in 1963, it took four years of planning despite an overwhelming opposition from the public.  In fact, over 80% of the Swedish population opposed the switch but the leaders pressed on. Why? To begin with, most of Europe drove on the right side, including Norway and Finland (Sweden’s immediate neighbors) and more and more vehicles were being made to drive on the right side of the road.  Also, numerous studies had sited safety concerns for left-sided driving.  There were many more head-on collisions in Sweden per capita that other countries. And so the leaders pressed on despite opposition they believed they were making a change that would ultimately be good for the country. 
How does this compare to our leadership in education?  What sacred cows do we hold on to because it is the way we have always done it? Do we resist change because it might be an inconvenience and does not seem worth the effort?   In Sweden, they basically shut down the roads for a day, had lights, traffic signs and paint ready to go for an immediate switch.  They even bought over 8,000 buses with doors on the correct side nationwide to accommodate the change. They spent several years training drivers and preparing them for the change so that when it happened, it was actually one of the safest Mondays on record in terms of accidents. People were focused on their driving, had been prepared, and implemented the plan almost flawlessly. 

What if Sweden had never had an “H-Day”?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything would have gone on just as it was and people would have been content. However, maybe things are safer now….maybe driving between countries is easier and more likely.  My point in telling the story is not about the driving.  It is more about the vision, the planning, and the courage it took to make such a switch.  One that literally effected everyone in the country.  It took communication, courage, money, and time.  A lesson we would all be well served to remember when we are leading/seeking change in our schools and our system.  Not everyone is going to like it, but if we have a good reason, stick to the plan, and communicate/prepare everyone well, the change is much more likely to be successful and not a head-on collision.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Make 2016 About "Goal Accomplishment"

The turning of the calendar to a new year always brings a renewed interest in self-improvement.  It may be to eat healthy, exercise, learn something new, be a better person, or just finish a book, but many people set goals and/or resolutions every January.  The vast majority of them will never keep them.  It happens every year. 
If you are reading this, more than likely you work in education and January is the perfect time for goal setting and mid-year adjustments.  I thought I had a unique idea about some ways to start the new year, but it turns out my Twitter and Facebook feeds are both full of people sharing ideas about education resolutions…most far better than mine, but I decided to press on nonetheless.
Just like the age-old exercise resolutions, well intended aspirations often don’t last long. Here are three activities that have I have found greatly increase the likelihood of “goal accomplishment”:

1.        Write them down:  Sounds simple enough, but many people will tell you the exercise of writing down a stated goal leads to the likelihood it will be accomplished.  Why?  Who knows? My guess is that the very elementary task of taking the time to put enough thought into it to put them in writing give you that extra little bit of commitment.  It is sort of like a “To-Do” list, but if you subscribe to a growth mindset, it is more than a compliance to-do list, it becomes something to strive for that makes you and your students better.

2.       Celebrate Small Wins: As the old saying goes, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  Long term goals are great (and necessary to accomplish a vision), but small wins can serve as both a formative check point and as positive motivation. By the end of the month, you should know if you are making progress towards your goal. If your goal is to lose 10 lbs. it is easy to jump on a scale and determine if you have accomplished your goal or how much you still have to go, but if you are working on a specific skill or teaching strategy it may be more difficult to assess how you are doing.  Take time to know if you are improving….either with student results or your own practices. 

3.       Have a clear success criteria:  One of the biggest reasons goals are not accomplished it because we fail to articulate clearly what we are trying to accomplish, how we are going to do it, and how we will know we have accomplished it. Often we have goals like “I’m going to get better at giving feedback.”  What does that even mean? The frequency? The quality? And isn’t the purpose of giving feedback so that students will improve?  If so, might that truly be the success criteria for effective feedback.  There are countless other examples of broadly based, well-intended goals without a clear cycle of assessing for success.

One of my favorite TED talks of all time is a simple, lighthearted look at 30-Day Challenges by Matt Cutts.  He touches on many of the principles above, but does so with a common sense approach to goal accomplishment. Here is the link:

Whatever you are trying to improve in 2016, I wish you the best of luck….I hope you know by the end of January if you are making progress.