5 Steps the Help Your Crew Embrace Change

A blog by Shelley Burgess, co-author of Lead Like a PIRATE

My friend George Couros reminds us in his book The Innovator’s Mindset  that “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”. I wholeheartedly agree.

In my experience, it can be a long journey for some people on the team to see the upside of the change.  Unfortunately, the reality is they often get overwhelmed by it.  As an educational leader who admittedly asked a lot of people, I often found myself in my office or in a classroom where someone on my team would confess that they were overwhelmed and didn’t think they could “do it”.  As a leader who genuinely cares about people and believes wholeheartedly in supporting my team, this was always challenging for me.

So it got me thinking… How could I respond in a way that conveys my genuine compassion for the person without letting her “off the hook”?

Over time, and after a few bumpy conversations, I found that there were five components to a successful conversation with a person who was feeling overwhelmed by the work we were trying to do:

  1. Acknowledge change can be hard. Don’t dismiss their feelings of being overwhelmed or the feelings of “I can’t do this”. They are real… treat them as such. Express understanding, demonstrate empathy and let them know you care.
  2. Remind them of the why. Revisit the reasons for the change, the best hopes for the change, the “data” that helped us decide this change was critical for our school community.  If you followed the Lead Like a PIRATE practice of involving the people impacted by the decision in the decision making process, reconnect them with the reasons they decided to support it in the first place. Be genuine, be specific, be thorough.
  3. Remind them of their value. Let them know you believe in them, that they are an essential member of the team and that we can’t do it without them. Share the confidence you have in them to do this.
  4. Offer support.  Ask “How can I help?” “What do you need from me?” “Is there something we can take off your plate?”  If they share something that you can do… Do it! Commit! Follow through and make sure they have the support they need.
  5. Thank them.  Express your gratitude for their commitment, for their perseverance, for their willingness to push through the challenges to make school AMAZING for kids.

While not foolproof, I (and leaders I have coached) have used this process many times with great success. Change IS an opportunity to do something amazing, but we also have to be wiling to coach and support our crew on the roller coaster ride that change can bring for them.

Start By Picking Up the Phone

By Shelley Burgess

We talk (and complain) a lot about parent engagement and parent involvement or the lack of it in our schools and districts.  In my experience our default is to blame the parents for the lack of engagement – it’s easier than taking a look at the practices and policies we have in place at our schools. Does what we have in place actually make parents feel welcome? valued? important? I have had a few experiences over the last couple of months as a parent that make we wonder about the environment we are creating in our schools for parents.  I’m sharing them with you below, and I would love to hear your thoughts!

I actually just spent about twenty minutes of my morning trying to get the answer to one simple question at my daughter’s school. “What is the state testing window for the school this spring?”  My mom wants to take our daughter on a quick trip in May which would mean she might miss a day of school.  Before agreeing to the dates, I wanted to make sure that her absence wouldn’t fall during the State testing window.  As a former principal, I know what a grueling task it is to plan those schedules and the difficulty that comes with scheduling make-up tests for students who are absent.

So I started with the school calendar on the website and found nothing.  I went to the link they have on the site for testing and found nothing, so I called the school.  The first person who answered was a student, and I asked my question.  She placed me on hold and without anyone ever coming back on the phone to speak with me, I was transferred to a generic voicemail box.  I hung up and called again.  This time, instead of a person the standard recorded message giving me the school address, the school hours and the address to the website where I was told I should be able to find answers to most of my question were recited to me.  I was then told I could “press 1” for this office and “press 2” for that office… I think there were nine choices all together, so I started with the school counselor for students with last names “A-M”.  The phone rang four or five times and I was sent to voicemail.  I hung up, called back heard the address, school hours, website information and number options again.  I pressed the button for the second counselor “N-Z” as I just had a generic question anyone should be able to answer. I was sent to voicemail.  I hung up and called back.  I tried the attendance office, both assistant principals, the principal’s assistant and every other extension except for the cafeteria.  Every attempt was sent to voicemail. I kept trying as my mom was sitting with me and hoping to confirm the dates.  Eventually on one of my calls another person answered instead of the machine.  I asked my question and was placed on hold for a few minutes.  The gentleman who had answered came back on the phone and told me testing was “during the month of May”. When I explained my situation and asked if he knew when in May, he didn’t know and told me I should check the website.  I let him know I had done that and nothing was posted.  He told me I should call back later, “like maybe after 2:00”. He didn’t offer to take a message and have someone call me back.  So I will try to call again in another 3 or 4 hours.

I’m not sure I would be writing this post if it were just this one instance, but it comes pretty quickly on the heels of an experience I had with my son’s school a few weeks ago.  I had received a “robocall” and an email from them reminding me about my son’s absence the day before and informing me I needed to clear the absence. I appreciated the reminder.  The email was one that did not allow replies, so at about 1:00 that afternoon I called the school to let them know my son had been sick. The phone rang seven or eight times, and no one picked up, not even a machine directing me to “press 1”, so I waited a few minutes and called again – the phone just continued to ring – no answer and no machine for me to just leave a message about the absence. So I went to the website to see if there was either a direct number for the attendance office or an email for the attendance secretary.  Neither were listed on the site.  I called the school again, and still no answer.  I tried a few more times over the course of the afternoon to reach someone on the phone.  I never was able to get ahold of anyone nor could I leave a message.

Eventually that evening, I made a decision that I would email one of the assistant principals… I honestly wasn’t contacting her to complain.  I have met her a few times, she has always been very responsive, she is a PIRATE fan, and I know she cares about the school. I reached out because if it were my school and a parent had been trying to call all afternoon without getting through, I would want to know.  So I went on the school website, clicked on the link for the assistant principal’s email and shared the experience I had just had.  Later that night, I received a response to my email from a principal at another school in the district… she was very nice, but also let me know that I had the wrong email address and that for whatever reason the link on the website for the assistant principal at my son’s school went to her inbox at another school, so my initial email to the assistant principal never went through to her.

The next morning,  I tried to call the school again and I still had no answer and no machine.  I live very close to the school, so I ultimately just decided to drive down to the school and go to the office to clear my son’s absence since I was having no luck calling or emailing.

While I have others I could share, the final incident I will highlight is one that also happened at my son’s high school.  He is typically a straight “A” student with excellent citizenship grades, so calls from his teachers are rare (those phone calls home to share something good your child has done haven’t really caught on in our neighborhood). So I was surprised when he shared with me that we might be getting a phone call from one of his teachers.  We were in the car with my son and a few of his friends who all happen to be in this same class.  We asked them what happened and they proceeded to share their version of the story which apparently involved all three of them, so I was well prepared to talk with the teacher.  The phone call did in fact come that night, but to my surprise, it was not the teacher on the other end of the line when I picked up the phone.  It was a call that his teacher apparently scheduled through the automated system.  In a robotic voice I was told, “This is Ms. _____. Your child was (pause) disrespectful in class”.  That was the extent of my parent phone call home.  No teacher, no description of what happened, no opportunity for me to hear her version of what happened (as I’m almost certain it would have differed from the one three teenage boys told us), no opportunity to discuss consequences or for me to offer support.  Just a “robocall”.

I’m sharing these stories not to blast the schools that my own children attend… they actually have wonderful people who work in their schools, but I’m sharing them because I think they really highlight a problem that we as school and district leaders need to be cognizant of when we are establishing policies, procedures and practices in our schools. Situations like the ones I described above don’t make me want to be more involved as a parent… they actually do just the opposite and have caused me to believe that communicating with the schools my children attend is actually a rather frustrating experience.  They don’t leave me feeling that the schools actually want to talk to me or want to engage me… they feel instead like there is a firewall system designed to keep me out.  I understand that schools are hectic places and people are busy doing their work, but isn’t being responsive to parents part of that work? We say we want more involvement, more engagement, but I wonder if what we really mean is that we want parents to do what we tell them to do according to our rules at a time that’s convenient for us.

I am certain that the installation of all of the robotic message systems have been put in place with the intent of communicating more and with the intent of being helpful to both staff and parents, but the reality is that I wonder if we have taken them too far.  Rather than helping, they have created extremely frustrating situations and in these instances at least, I have felt like communication has gotten worse rather than better… more impersonal rather than personal.

Dave and I talk about  the importance of creating experiences for students and staff in our classrooms and schools, but shouldn’t we be creating them for our parents too?  And while I would LOVE for our neighborhood schools to embrace the use of social media, create YouTube Channels and share video newsletters and so many other wonderful strategies we know some schools are using to engage parents… Maybe it starts with simply picking up the phone.

Some questions to consider:

  • Do you know the user experience for phone calls coming into your school?
  • If you have students answering phones, have they been trained in customer service techniques?
  • Does the experience parents get when they visit or call your school make them feel welcome and more comfortable doing so again?
  • Is contact information easily accessible and updated regularly on your website?
  • Do contact links go to the right places?
  • Are important dates easily accessible?
  • How many robocalls go out from your school each week? day? hour?
  • Do you know how teachers use the robocall system in your school? Have you communicated expectations about use?
  • Is the way you use your robocall system making communication better or worse? Have you asked your parents?
  • What’s one step you could take to ensure customer service for parents gets better at your school next week?

The Importance of Sanctuaries

By Dan Tricarico, Author of The Zen Teacher

Where is that place you go to heal, to renew your spirit, to lick your wounds when life has been less than kind?  How do you go about creating that feeling of wholeness, erasing the overwhelming notion that The Universe is out to get you, and cultivating the sense that, at the end of the day, things will ultimately turn out all right?

In other words, where is your sanctuary?

Merriam-Webster says a sanctuary is a place where “someone or something is protected or given shelter.” That shelter might be literal and so the sanctuary might be a building or place–a church, for example, or a park, or a mountaintop, or the ocean, or your house, or sometimes even the classroom where you work.

But it might also be figurative, a protection against someone else’s rage or abuse or a shelter against an overwhelming personal sense of sadness, frustration, or fatigue.  In that case, perhaps, your sanctuary is a state of mind that arises from experiences you have–praying, listening to music, or spending time with loved ones.

Given the stressors of modern American education, it is crucial that we, especially as educators, have a place to retreat to where we access and develop that sense of calm and equanimity that allows us to regroup and come back to our work-a-day lives refreshed and ready to go another round with the challenges life throws at us.

As author of The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom, I’ve made it part of my mission to ensure that people in all walks of education are taking care of themselves so that they can not only survive, but thrive in the classroom. My goal is to make certain educators are creating the conditions where their mental, emotional, and spiritual healing and rejuvenation is valued and looked after, so that we all make it through to retirement or whatever our life may hold after we leave our schools and classrooms.

Years ago I read a book called The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker Palmer and it changed the focus of my entire career. Palmer gave me permission to teach who I am and to see teaching as a path and a struggle and a grand experiment that won’t always go perfectly but, if my heart and mind are in the right place, will always make a difference for my students who, like us, exist in a largely indifferent world. In short, he helped me turn my classroom into one of my sanctuaries.

Palmer, who is now a columnist for a site called On Being, recently wrote a post discussing the importance of sanctuaries. True to Palmer’s form, the entire column was inspiring, but the following quote resonated with me particularly deeply:

 

“Today. . .in a world that’s both astonishingly beautiful and horrifically cruel, “sanctuary” is as vital as breathing to me. Sometimes I find it in churches, monasteries, and other sites designated as sacred. But more often I find it in places sacred to my soul: in the natural world, in the company of a trustworthy friend, in solitary or shared silence, in the ambience of a good poem or good music.”

 

What Palmer tells us here is that what matters most is not what or where our sanctuary is, but that we have one. It is our own realization that we have a sanctuary and how it helps us create a sense of focus, simplicity, and tranquility that ultimately saves us.  Our sanctuary becomes a safe haven when life confounds, a sacred space where we can find stillness, silence, peace, and contentedness when we are pushed to our limits.

The truth is: Life is too difficult, too challenging, too full of pain and grief and violence to not find a place where we can rest and heal and grow. We so often need a respite from the world where we can find a way to deal with the chaos and confusion. All of us will face troubled times, so it is imperative that we find a place of protection so that these troubled times do not consume us. We are too important, too special, too loved– even if we think otherwise–for that to ever happen.

So if you look around and don’t see a place or a situation where you feel safe and secure and can wrap a blanket of security, warmth, and love around you, either make it a priority to find one or ask for help from someone you trust because everyone needs—in fact, everyone  deserves–a sanctuary.

Where will you find yours?

The Innovator’s Mindset Worldwide MOOC

Dave and I would like to personally invite you to participate in what will surely be an incredible book study starting on September 17th.3d-im

In less than one year since the release,  The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros has been a complete game changer in education. This book has sparked powerful conversations, prodded people and systems out of complacency, and driven real change in ways that are truly astounding. It is already being used as a text in multiple university education departments and book studies have been conducted literally worldwide. Over 200 people have given it a 5 Star review on Amazon and thousands of books have been sold each month. The positive response to George’s work has been overwhelming. To say that we are proud to be his publisher is an understatement.

But not one to be content with this success, George is creating an opportunity that is truly NEXT LEVEL.

Starting on September 17th, The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC is kicking off an experience that will be unlike anything ever offered in the way of a book study. It is specially designed to not just study the book, but to move way beyond that into implementation and true innovation.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course and that is exactly what this will be.

Massive: Well over 1,000 educators will be participating by the time this is ready to start.

Open: Anybody can join. Just get the book and use any or all of the various methods to participate. In fact, there are already educators from OVER 18 countries signed up!

Online: There is a Twitter component using the hashtag #IMMOOC, there is a Facebook Group, a blog site, and there will even be YouTube Live interviews with influential educators. Can’t make it at the time of the live video? No problem…all of them will be archived and shared!

Course: This so much MORE than a book study. It is truly a fully developed six week course put together by George and the amazing, innovative educator, Katie Martin (@KatieMTLC). Every participant is also encouraged to share their learning using blogs and/or video and to develop an innovation project. (Want to follow the writings of fellow participants? Here is how.) This is not about surface level platitudes…this about diving in DEEP and making a true impact!!!

Please share this opportunity with everyone you know and prod, push, and cajole educators in your system to join you! This could be exactly what your leadership group needs to change the conversation and truly shift the paradigm to one of true innovation. As George says in The Innovator’s Mindset, “Change is the opportunity to do something cw34er7wqaeo1zt-jpg-largeamazing.” Don’t let this opportunity pass you by!

Read all details on the blog right HERE or go STRAIGHT TO THE SIGN UP PAGE HERE!

Thanks!