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Intended Shades of Gray

28 Jun

During my years as an undergraduate, I remember a story told to me by an art professor of mine. He was a tad esoteric, wildly passionate about painting, and adored color. The story  stuck with me all these years,  and I’ve never ceased to apply the lesson learned.  He told of a time when he needed a large quantity of gray to do some painting around the house.  The project started with a gallon of white and gallon of black. He proceeded to dump the entire can of black into a large 5 gallon bucket, and then dumped the entire can of white into the same bucket.  Guess what happened?

Drum roll please….

He was left with pure black paint–two gallons of it to be exact. Get it? 1 Gallon of Black + 1 Gallon of White = Black.  Now, if he had started with the bucket of white, and only added a few drops of black….well then, we wouldn’t have  a colorful analogy to be  shared here.   That gallon of black paint literally consumed the entire gallon of white.   It’s kind of funny how this basic kindergarten paint mixing lesson seems so obvious now, doesn’t it?

Think of the application this simple paint mishap offers our work, professional lives, and business. Are we inadvertently dumping all our white into the black and not getting the results we’d anticipated? Are we losing valuable resources because we’re investing in the wrong locales?  Do we need to reconsider better use of our people power, energy, and learning? Are we continually allowing our buckets of white  to be consumed by pots of black? So now that we know, let’s make the better use of our paint. Go forth with purpose, in using your time and resources, to masterfully create your intended shades of gray.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

Why Another Staff Meeting?

19 Jun

Author Scott Snair describes  the one-on-one  meeting as a “powerful personal vehicle of influence.” This is brilliant, and really a no-brainer in my book. We know that personal interaction is far more meaningful than the whole group-time-sucking-wheel-spinning-stuck-in-the-mud staff meeting. So, why do we continually insist on a culture of traditional staff meetings in the world of K-12 education?

One book I’ve turned to for inspiration, gems of wisdom, and just no-nonsense goodness is the following:

  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motivational Leadership, by Scott Snair

In this text Mr. Snair, a West Point Naval Academy alum, gulf war veteran, and among other things, a leader in the business world, shares the following guidelines for staff meeting criteria. He references an earlier text of his: Stop the Meeting, I Want to Get Off! in which he proposes  a list of questions to answer to help determine  if, a meeting is necessary, or unavoidable. Here’s the punchline:

  1. Are you holding the meeting because that’s the way it’s always been done? Are you giving in to  status quo?
  2. Could the dynamics of the group actually derail the overall  progress?
  3. Can this information be replaced by walking around and talking to folks, on-on-one?
  4. Can this meeting  be replaced by mentoring of individuals?
  5. Can this meeting be replaced by strong leadership?
  6. Can this meeting be replaced by better utilizing organization resources?
  7. Can this meeting be replaced by delegating?
  8. Can this meeting be replaced by better use of information  technology or communication?
  9. Is the meeting being asked by another higher up? Can you deny the request appropriately?

So, after reviewing these questions, you ask if the meeting is 100% percent necessary. If so, then you make it happen.  The next steps include ensuring that you actually follow through with an effective meeting–and clearly understand why most meetings fail, but that’s another post. Keep rolling these questions around in your rock tumbler. I wish you well on you efforts toward planning, executing, and following through with  efficient and effective staff  meetings.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

Chaos Theory, Tension, and Lincoln

17 Jun

Chaos, tension, and strife. These are three things that,  if given the option, we’d attempt to eliminate  from everyday life. There are those exceptional individuals, however, who  find ways to not only cope, but thrive in the midst of chaos. One such individual who comes to mind is Lincoln. Yep, good ‘ol Honest Abe.

Abraham Lincoln, during his tenure as our nation’s leader exemplified expert  management of chaos, tension, and among other things, a war. Lincoln has been described by some as  a Master of Paradox. This point is beautifully illustrated in  of my favorite professional titles:

  • Lincoln on Leadership, by D. Phillips

In this text, Phillips paints a picture of Lincoln in which he mastered the art of paradoxical leadership. Lincoln led his constituents, his troops, and a nation by being unyielding yet flexible. Demanding yet compassionate. A risk-taker yet calculated. Authoritative yet collaborative.  So how was it that Lincoln managed… the chaos, the tension, and strife?  How should we deal with the chaos and tension in our professional lives? Why does is take us so many college degrees, text books, and seminars to figure this out, when Lincoln had this under control way back in the day?

I believe the answer is simple. It’s  because of one thing Lincoln did  better than the rest of us. He  understood people. Did you get that? Lincoln really got it.  Lincoln listened. Lincoln walked with the troops. Lincoln had compassion.  Lincoln just plain rocked.

So, what’s the lesson for us? What are we as educators, school administrators, and  parents to do? First, be like Abe. You  must know who you’re leading. Walk with the troops now and then. Lend them your ear. Listen to what’s important. Know your audience, and perhaps someday, you too with be a master of paradox.  But then again, at the very least,  let’s just hope that chaos, tension, and strive won’t throw you for a loop.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

The Infinite Probability of Success

16 Jun

The infinite monkey theorem[1] states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

In this context, “almost surely” is a mathematical term with a precise meaning, and the “monkey” is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters ad infinitum. The theorem illustrates the perils of reasoning about infinity by imagining a vast but finite number, and vice versa.

This  leads me to roll the following thoughts around in my rock tumbler…

This infinite monkey theorem demonstrates how we could theoretically experience success if we kept up an attempt, forever. Now if success is possible when given infinite opportunity, it begs the question, who has that much time?  I don’t know about you, but as a school administrator, I must rely on a more practical measure.  It’s imperative we look for shorter term gains, rather than hoping  for success via the theoretical and probable accident. The truth is, we don’t have unlimited time to hunt and peck, one unsuccessful keystroke at a time.  We busy educators need results, sooner than later.

When I need results, I turn to research. I turn to the folks in white lab coats who have more theories, time, and money than me. I turn to experts who study and publish work straight from the think tanks.  A great deal of this research tells us that targeted goal setting, coupled with specific, manageable, and tangible action moves us toward success.

So, what’s this mean for us as professionals? We need practical strategy. Some of my favorite goal-setting tips come from the following books:

  • Strategic Acceleration, by Tony Jeary
  • The Power of Focus, by J. Canfield, M. Hansen, and L. Hewitt

In these texts, we glean these strategies:

  1. Clearly articulate one professional goal. Give it a timeline and purpose.  Make sure  the goal aligns with your core values. If not, chuck it, and start over.
  2. Determine why this professional goal matters. Remember, it only has to matter to you. Don’t be swayed by the next best thing. Bandwagons come and go. March to your own professional drum (even when off-beat).
  3. Determine what needs to be accomplished this month,  this week, and tomorrow. Write it down.
  4. Write a daily behavior which will move you one step closer to this goal. Write it in your daily agenda, calendar, or write it in Sharpie marker on your hand. Do whatever it takes to follow through with the behavior. Think about how you will hold yourself accountable for completing this goal.

These simple steps won’t require you to break a sweat, but will require a bit of brain power, which is a good thing in my book. Let’s be purposeful and not rely on the statistical probability that we could create a masterpiece when given an infinite amount of time. We don’t need a theoretical accident, nor typewriting primate, we just need good strategy–one keystroke at a time. Begin by planning, and acting upon, a daily strategy which will  ensure success, sooner than later.  Here’s to making each keystroke count.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

[1] Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2004, July 22). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved June 16, 2010, from