AMPed

In one of our morning sessions during the first week back for staff on Wednesday, one of our teachers was talking about Dan Pink’s book When, that talks about the secrets of timing. I read it when it came out a few years ago, but I wanted to revisit the ideas so I decided to listen to a podcast this morning on my run that featured an interview with Dan Pink. The interview ended up being more about the chronology of his books, which was nice because it allowed me to think about an idea from one of his previous books, Drive. In his book, Pink talks about the three components of intrinsic motivation. As I thought about these three factors, my mind went to two different places: how do I feel about these three factors as they relate to my current position, and how does our staff feel about them. First things first, I’ll start with me:

Autonomy – I feel like I have a good deal of autonomy, or the ability to direct my work. I recognize that our school is part of a much larger organization, and there are going to be somethings that aren’t in my control. There are policies set in place for the greater good of the district, but within that space I feel I have a significant amount of decision making power to move the work forward. Based on what I learned about my personality type a few days ago, this is probably the most important aspect to me. I like to have some direction, but room to make decisions within that structure.

Mastery – While I absolutely have the desire to improve, I wouldn’t mark my current situation as high in this area. I think that, as a larger organization, I don’t have the opportunities to grow my skillsets unless I go out of my way to find those opportunities, and in most cases, take care of them off the clock. I’m motivated by the desire to get better, but my job/profession doesn’t build that regularly in to my work day.

Purpose – I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has committed their life to education feels a great sense of purpose. The impact we get to make in the lives of hundreds of students each year is almost overwhelming. I believe in what we do, particularly the parts that we have autonomy to decide – example: The Leader in Me.

If I could add one more aspect to this list of motivators it would be community. For those of us who have worked at schools, or in jobs, where that sense of community was absent, it’s clear to see why people choose to leave. I know that at times our sense of community is tested, or strained, but at the end of the day, this sense of belonging is what underpins all of these other areas.

I’ll be honest, I’m intensely curious about how our staff feels about these three areas. I created a super short anonymous survey and sent it in this week’s memo to everyone, and I looking forward to hearing how folks are feeling after one week back. I hope this data will give me information that I can reflect on. After all, what matters most is that our entire team feels like this is the place for them to grow, provide impact, and feel like they belong.

#conditproud

Dan

being a phoenix

I’m still reading Do Hard Things by Steve Magness and I’m still making notes because as an educator, and runner, his ideas really speak to me. However, my reading share this week is from social media. July is generally a magical month for me in general – vacation, Tour de France, Fridays off, etc. But, this summer was extra special because the Track & Field World Championships were help at Hayward Field in Oregon. Pretty cool to see the world’s best compete in an iconic stadium in the states, but I digress. Donavan Brazier is a US 800 meter specialist, he is, in fact, the defending world champ at that distance. Last week he failed to qualify for the final. I love lots of things about sports, among them is how athletes deal with success and setbacks. I think that, in either/both cases, it reveals quite a bit about our character. Anyhow, Donavan sent the following message out on Instagram after his world championship came to an end.

If you’re unfamiliar with mythical creature, a phoenix is said to rise from its own ashes and to be reborn. I love his post. You either roll over and give up, or you put the work in and commit to returning to greatness. A quick google search yielded the fact that this was, in fact, a quote from Deng Ming-Dao, a Chinese American author, artist, philosopher, teacher and martial artist. While I would have liked Donvan to cite his source, I’ll let it slip this time.

What does this have to do with us? Lots. From a campus perspective, I think that powers far beyond our control has attempted to turn us to ash these past few years – pandemic, virtual learning, etc. I feel like we are ready for a rebirth, better and stronger than ever. On a more micro level, we work with young people everyday and some of them, seemingly, turn to ash regularly. Being reborn a phoenix is about being resilient, which is something we all need to be. I’m looking forward to seeing how Donavan does back on the track, but more importantly, I can’t wait to see the work we get to do this year with all of our phoenixes, uh, I mean kids 🙂

#conditproud

Dan

Making a match

I think I could write about this Adam Grant quote for quite some time. I won’t. I will say this: we all have missteps, I’ve long believed that how we respond to them reveals everything about our character. Being humble is sometimes difficult in the moment, but in the end, has always been an easy place for me to find. The business of education is emotional on everyone’s part. I’ve rarely been in a situation where being humble and looking for a solution hasn’t yielded positive results. I’ll take that idea a bit further, I’ve never understood why some folks are so quick to dig their heels in over a situation that really isn’t worth that type of struggle. I figure, if we are interested in resolving a conflict, or solving a problem, then doing an autopsy on the misstep isn’t going to further that goal.

It’s always the right time to ensure our actions match the principles we hold most important.

if only

I started a new book last week by an author who has penned a few good ones, Dan Pink’s The Power of Regret. I”m finding it thought provoking so far, lots of connections to mindset and how we choose to frame our experiences. Early on he talks about the difference between at least and if only. He frames it in the experience of olympians and how happy the medal winners were. Survey’s show that while gold medal winners were, obviously, elated, the bronze medalists were far happier than the silver medalists. It’s often the difference between at least I beat everyone but two people and earned a bronze medal and if only I had done one small thing different I could have won gold. Interesting, right? Personally, I can relate to both of those thoughts as a runner. While I am firmly in the if only camp when it comes to nearly all of my results, I have found those thoughts to be motivating, to keep me getting up early and training, to continue to set ambitious goals for myself. To me, at least seems complacent; while there is a time and place to appreciate what I’ve done, at least, feels like settling to me, and I’m not okay with that. 

So, what does this look like professionally?  How should I be evaluating my decisions as a school leader?  What’s the best way to discuss the idea of regret with our students?  Lots to consider.

That’s not the entirety of regret, but it’s an entry point, for sure. I’m looking forward to reading/learning/thinking more about all this and maybe even hearing about how you guys frame these ideas in your personal and professional life. Cheers.

Sometimes, even in spite our conditions, we grow

I feel confident that my last Cat Chat of the school year, and really this year in general, can be summed up by the two pictures above.  The first picture, the one on the left, was taken last July at West Maroon Pass, which is about 12,000 feet in elevation somewhere between Crested Butte and Aspen, Colorado.  I shared this picture with our staff when we returned this fall to make a point about resilience and determination.  You don’t see much vegetation above the treeline, so when I saw these flowers growing out of the rock, I was struck by the fact it had managed to grow there.  Despite the elevation, temperature, and terrain, flowers were literally blooming in a spot that they had no business blooming.  What I told our staff was this: this pic appears to be proof that growth can occur, even when the conditions seem to be working against it.  That was us in October.  We were hoping that, despite an educational landscape obscured by pandemic restrictions, we would find a way to bloom.  Spoiler alert:  we did.

The second picture, the one on the right, was taken last month, when I was at around 100 feet of elevation, here in Houston while taking my dog for a walk.  There is a trail that leads from the road to an electrical station that is sometimes traversed by maintenance vehicles.  I found this little patch of flowers interesting as well, but for an entirely different reason.  Look closely and you can see tire tracks crisscrossing, seemingly, in every direction around these flowers.  It’s almost as if these flowers refused to yield.  These flowers found a way.  This is also us.  Pandemic, technology, winter freeze, quarantine, the list of setbacks could go on but we just wouldn’t relent.  Oh, and when I say us, I mean us.  It took everyone working together and believing in our connections to get through this year, and just like those yellow flowers, we made it happen.

Perspective is an interesting thing.  When I took the picture on the left I had no idea what this year was going to look like even though I knew it was going to be different; when I took the picture on the right I had no idea that it would juxtapose so perfectly.  So, which one is us?  Are we the flowers that grew despite the harsh conditions, or are we the flowers who simply refused to yield.  That’s easy; we’re both.

#conditproud

Dan

Fighting hyperbole

Sometimes I feel like there are only two versions of me, the most perfect and the most fallible. While I know it isn’t true, that there are loads of versions of Dan Greenberg somewhere in between those two polar opposites, I find it’s a challenge to see beyond those two at times. Perhaps I’m simply prone to hyperbole, or maybe I just fall into the same trap that lots of folks do. Either way, the way we decide to view this past year is going to take a little framing.

About a month ago I was reading this article in the NYT and a few ideas really resonated with me, particularly this: we need to stop calling this year lost. For better or worse, this is the year that we got, and like my mother often told me, in not so many words, when I sat down to eat dinner as a child, you get what you get. I loved that the article talked about our kids’ collective resiliency and how there are loads of unique experiences that we all endured that have the capacity to shape us for the better. I guess what I take away most is there is no value in lamenting the year that could have been and then calculating our losses based on that idyllic version. Accept the 2020-2021 school year for what it was, take the lumps and the lessons with us, and use that newfound wisdom to plan for 2021-2022.

Was it the worst year ever? Not by a long shot. It may have seemed like it at times, but I’ve seen campuses whether their way through unspeakable tragedies that would pale our current situation in comparison. Was it the best year ever? Um, no. I’m going to fight the urge to slap a label on what we’ve lived through, instead I’m going to focus on what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown, and what I need to do this coming year to get things back to normal.

#conditproud

Dan

Escalation of Commitment to a Losing Course of Action

I’ve been reading and listening to quite a bit of work from Adam Grant recently and I’ve really enjoyed what he has had to say.  I read Think Again which had me rethinking my tendencies to, well…rethink.  I’ve also gotten into his podcast Work Life.  In a previous episode of the podcast that I was listening to last week Adam was talking about the idea of escalation of commitment, specifically to a losing course of action.  Essentially it’s when you realize that you’ve made a bad decision and instead of changing course, you double down.  That part wasn’t what did it for me, it was this next part.  Adam described doubling down as when you tie your time, money or your identity into your decisions.  This shook me as I was reflecting on how we’ve managed this year.  Now I know, this year isn’t over yet, but with just 8 weeks of school remaining, I feel like it’s fair to take a look at some of the decisions (and rethought decisions) we’ve made.

Have we been honest when it comes to rethinking our decisions this year? Absolutely.  We would be hard pressed to find a single grade level that looks the exact same as it did when we came back to live instruction in October.  The key?  Maintaining our search for the best way to serve our students and the best situations to put our staff in so that they could be effective.

Have we escalated commitment when we see the course of action needs to change? Not really.  I think that as we’ve come to hurdles and challenges this year, the question has never been about how we maintain the status quo, rather it’s been about what do we need to do? Our goal has consistently been about maximizing our impact on our in-person and virtual students.  Often arrangements or class groupings have had to change, but the shifts were done when we realized we had hit a ceiling.

Have we tied our identity to sticking with the first course of action? Oh boy, I hope not.  I don’t know where I heard the phrase, it’s not about being right, it’s about getting it right, but I think this sentiment has been doubly true this year.  I genuinely feel sorry for the folks who tie their ego and/or sense of self worth to a single decision and then go on a misguided quest to defend it instead of serving the original purpose.  This year started out completely focused on making sure our students get the education they deserved, and every decision we made in that process has likely been rethought several times out of necessity.

I can’t think of a more miserable existence than that of a person who defines themselves by their first attempt.  Rigid and inflexible is no way to live at any time, least of all during a pandemic.  Hang in there friends, we’re almost there 🙂

#conditproud

Dan

Dissatisfaction

I find ambition to be an odd term. I generally drift away from it because, to me, it has connotations of folks who are constantly climbing the ladder and looking for what’s next – loads of other people like the term and that’s cool too. During a slightly soggy run last week I heard a version of the quote below on a podcast . 

Unlike the term ambition, I can really connect with the word dissatisfaction. The idea of being satisfied, in some contexts, seems like settling. To me, not being satisfied means I know I’m capable of better, of more. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that satisfaction has its place in some spots, but it doesn’t sit well with me in others. Personally, what drives me to be better is the idea that I know I can be.  Whether it’s work or my pursuits outside of the school day, settling isn’t something that suits me.

And then I started thinking about this year.  In a year where it’s nearly impossible to be satisfied, how do I live with the feeling of dissatisfaction each day?  After kicking the idea around for a while I realized that it’s not the feeling of dissatisfaction that has been weighing on me, it’s what I’ve seen dissatisfaction turn into in some folks – anger.  I mean, how long can you live with the feeling that things aren’t the way you want them to be without allowing it to sour you?  I can say that it’s not too tough to tell the difference when you’re talking to someone.  Dissatisfaction is focused on solutions, anger is focused on blame.  Dissatisfaction will drive you to find explanations, anger might just tell you to give up.

Well, there’s no give up here.  The road is rocky, the path is crooked, and it feels like we are perpetually going uphill, but this is the year we have and I’m determined to make it work. Dissatisfied at times? For sure.  ConditPround?  Absolutely.

Bounce

Brené Brown has a new podcast in conjunction with her dare to lead book and while it’s only a few episodes in I’m struggling with it. I thought the first episode was brilliant, but the second sort of alienated me to the point where I didn’t even finish listening to it. Weird, right? This is coming from the guy who has quoted her ad nauseam over the past few years since I discovered her books. I’m not deterred.

There was one part in the first episode that I had listened to on a recent solo run, that was worth a re-listen for me a little later. She was talking about the responsibility of an organization and its leadership. As a leader, Brown knows that there are going to be setbacks, that we are all going to fail sometimes and find ourselves face down on the floor, metaphorically speaking. What Brown says is that everyone needs to be responsible for their own bounce, to find a way to get back up and get back into the fight. She explains that, as a leader, she wants to be there to problem solve and be an active part of the solution but she can’t do it if she’s constantly picking people up and dusting them off. In her organization, everyone is responsible for their own bounce. We all now that coaching resiliency in our kids is something that we attend to each day, but as adults, bouncing back is something we all need to get good at.

I thought that idea really fit in well with our focus on being resilient this year – teachers, students, parents, and all school staff. If everyone owns their own resiliency part, then our collective efforts can be put into the problem solving. Maybe easier said than done.

I thought it was a great place to start when we look at how all of us are struggling this year given the monumental tasks that we face each day. Maybe knowing which parts we need to do on our own and which parts we can count on the collective for is a good place to be.

Hang in there and keep bouncing.

It’s the path we have

I was listening to the national news a few months ago and there was an interview with a gentleman who had written a book about Healthy Buildings. They referenced an article that he had recently written for the Washington Post linked HERE. I read the article and there were tons of things in it that I didn’t agree with, but that’s ok. I’m committed to NOT living in an echo chamber and I go out of my way to read and listen to people and ideas that I might not agree with. I feel like it makes me a more well rounded person and helps me better articulate my feelings…but I digress. At the end of the article he wrote something that I thought was pretty profound, it was this:

I wish it was different. We can continue to push for things to get better — and maybe our government will course-correct. Until then, we must forge a path forward with the reality we have, not the one we want.

Politics aside, that last sentence is everything. We aren’t where we want to be right now, but it’s our charge to create the way forward. We live in the moment we have, not in the moment we wish was here. All we can do is deal with our reality the best we know how.

How do we do that? I’ve found that leaning on each other works best. The only way we get through all of this is to acknowledge that it’s happening, have open and honest conversation, and find ways to get through it all together. You may have noticed that working together has become a theme of what I’ve been talking about this year. While I didn’t set out a few months ago with that message in mind, in the course of events that began to unfold in March and has led us up to now, I’ve found that the only way we are going to manage it is by pooling our best ideas and mustering our collective strengths.

Let’s agree to keep working together, being patient, and giving each other grace and I’m hopeful that the reality we have, will indeed, soon be the one we want.