Tag Archives: goal setting

Learning to Leap

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Taking a Leap

Some leaps, like across a puddle or over an object on the floor, aren’t that big. We do them without even thinking. They don’t scare us and we don’t really think about them. Unless we’re 6. And the puddle is very large. And we aren’t wearing rubber boots. But, if you’re like me 6 year old, you’ll leap anyways. Because it’s fun. And you just might make it. And the worst that can happen is your socks get wet. And it’s fun. So much fun that even if you do get wet, you’ll do it again and again.

As we get older, we begin to assess the leaps we take a bit differently. Will it ruin my shoes? Do I really want to walk around with wet socks? I might hurt my ankle. I might fall and that would look bad to people. It might be fun but…. so we quit even leaping over puddles. We avoid them, going around them so we don’t have to leap.

Seth Godin, in his post on February 29th celebrates leaping. A whole year? A whole year for leaping!

Leaping powers innovation, it is the engine of not only our economy, but of a thrilling and generous life.

Of course, you can (and should) be leaping regularly. Like bathing, leaping is a practice, something that never gets old, and is best done repeatedly.

But if we don’t leap regularly, we get out of practice. We get scared of leaping and trying new things. We worry about failure, what other people will think and say. As educators, we talk about FAIL as something like First Attempt At Learning. But it’s safe failing where the puddles are big enough to get our feet wet and we won’t have to wear wet socks all day. We forget that, if we don’t want wet socks, we can take off our shoes and socks and leap. We may get wet but we will learn some amazing things. We’ll demonstrate to our students that leaping is okay. That maybe, if we roll up our pants, that we can try even bigger leaps.

Innovation in Education

The existing power structure wants to maintain the status quo, and is generally opposed to the concept of leaping.  Seth Godin

This, I believe is one of the greatest things we need to overcome in education. Innovation might be happening but, in general, the status quo of education does not want to change the current structure. Our current structure continues to look the same no matter innovation is taking place in isolated places. Even our current system of PD continues to employ a system of bringing in speakers to deliver a message – controlled, with little chance of anyone getting their socks wet – even when if is a discussion of innovation. Disruptive Innovation  requires the opportunity for people to leap.

In education, our current system does not encourage people to leap. Now, people do leap and we have instances and examples of people trying different things but, for the most part, they continue within the “existing power structures… to maintain the status quo…”.

Greg Satell explores how innovation can be encouraged and leaping can be maybe become more enjoyable.

 The truth is that there are many paths to innovation.

Allowing people the opportunity to leap and try things is important. So is encouraging them to take a leap and working together to help each other leap. As Satell points out

most firms will find that to solving their most important problems will require skills and expertise they don’t have. That means that, at some point, you will need to utilize partners and platforms to go beyond your own internal capabilities.

Networking and connecting are essential components of learning and leaping yet are often underutilized in education at all levels. This doesn’t mean that we don’t look for experts within our own schools. In fact, it means that is exactly what we need to do – building on the strengths of those around us to figure out areas where assistance and support might be needed. Too often it is assumed that schools lack innovative capabilities when, in fact, the skills of the people within the building are not being fully utilized as the current power structures tend to focus on deficits and weaknesses instead of building upon people’s, students and teachers, strengths and passions.

In her blog post Drops of Glue and Scribbles too: How do we start to see things differently the author Aviva discussed seeing what is happening in the classroom from different points of view.

The point is that we may all have these students that are at different developmental stages, and that’s okay.

Allowing and encouraging others to leap is important. In schools and classrooms, providing opportunity for such leaping is critical to student development. Like students, people will be at different stages and, depending on their experiences, may need encouragement to leap.

In his post, Seth Godin states:

 In fact, if you want to make change happen, if you want to give others a chance to truly make a difference and to feel alive, it’s essential that you encourage, cajole and otherwise spread the word about what it means to leap.

Right now, tell ten people about how you’re leaping. Ask ten people about how they hope to leap…

For me, I’m leaping by trying new things, such as the ITTNation podcast with my friend Dave Bircher. I took a huge leap a few years ago by stepping away from my job as a school administrator and returning to graduate school. I am working on a number of presentations for upcoming conferences – Rural Congress and ULead – where I will be presenting on the topic of leadership and change.

Am I worried my socks will get wet?

You bet! I’m worried I might fall but I also know that too often one talks oneself out of doing something because of fear of the rejection. As I’ve learned, in order to leap, one has to develop characteristics  to leap, one being not  to dwell in the past and another is to be positive about the outcome.

Regardless of the “success” of these endeavours, the learning I will do along the way will serve me well and help me to try leaping yet again.

It could almost be written down as a formula that when a man begins to think that he at last has found his method, he had better begin a most searching examination of himself to see whether some part of his brain has not gone to sleep. Henry Ford

I’d love to hear how you are leaping this year and how you are encouraging others to leap. Leave me a comment or link to this post as you describe your own “Year of Leaping”

#saskedchat – November 12, 2015

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Our topic for the November 12th, 2015 chat was Moving from Teacher Competition to Collaboration. The participants were eager to explore this topic and had great insights into the reasons why competition sometimes masquerades as collaboration and how, at times, cooperation can be substituted for collaboration. Both Competition and Cooperation allow school staffs to get things done and to get started on initiatives and implementation. Teachers are “involved” in the the implementation but it’s not their implementation. Collaboration is not something most people do naturally. We’ve learned to cooperate with others but collaboration is more than just cooperation.
Professional Learning Communities co-creators Rick DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, and Robert Eaker would define collaboration as teams of teachers who work interdependently to achieve common goals — goals linked to the purpose of learning for all — for which members are held mutually accountable. This type of definition seems to take all the fun out of teacher planning time, but it is exactly what needs to be in place in order to build strong students and strong teachers.
It’s more than just working together and includes setting goals, timelines, data, checkins, planning, reflecting, sharing ideas, disagreeing, readjusting, and making adjustments. In my own experience, there is often a big emphasis on everyone getting together and not rocking-the-boat which often means that some things are ignored or let go in order not to make waves. Part of collaboration is everyone working together, putting effort towards achieving a goal/set of goals and, sometimes, crucial conversations are necessary to continue progressing. During a time of increased public scrutiny of education, a solid and united front becomes more important than innovation and creativity.
Competition is something that isn’t regularly discusses but can lurk in the halls and staffroom, undermining the best intentions of teachers and administrators. In a period of school ranking, student testing, and reform implementations, schools have become grounds for competition where one-up-manship can become more important than doing what’s best for students. Educators get caught up in “Edu-speak”, discussing education and learning in such a way that few outside their own circle can understand what they are saying, creating a further barrier.
Another dark side is the implementation competition in which schools are compared to one another in the relation to how well they are implementing particular programs. In all these cases, instead of sharing and collaborating on projects, schools and teachers are “compared” to others to see how they measure up with the general public being brought into the mix through published school rankings.  Often competition becomes a comparison with winners and losers. Social media can act as yet another avenue for school competition as schools, instead of collaborating to improve learning, become a “Look what we are doing!”.
Don’t get me wrong, teachers need to connect and share, working together to be better but they also need to leave the ego at the door, be willing to try things, admit mistakes, participate in reflective discussions about the work that is being done and explore innovative and new ideas about learning. It won’t be easy or without issues, there may even be disagreement. But, if the goal really is to do what is best for students, can anything less be acceptable?

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

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A Show Case of Learning

As a teacher, I began having students create portfolios as a way to show what they were doing in class. The first portfolios were Show Case portfolios in which students would included their best work. Each student would select a number of assignments which they thought demonstrated their best work and during Student Led Conferences,  would show these to their parents and talk about the work they were doing. Over time, and with the introduction and access to technology, I began to experiment with different types of portfolios using a wiki with different pages for subjects, a set of linked documents and finally a webpage that students created. Students would embed images of their work. However, this was still a variation of the Show Case Portfolios just in digital format.

I was also experimenting with my own variations of portfolios, trying different formats to see how I could begin to develop my own work for others to see. I realized that I was limiting myself by only focusing on education related items. There was more that I was doing but wasn’t including. Thus began a long journey that continues today of trying to find my own voice as a person.

The Next Stage

As technology changed and it became easier to collect and manage the different items in a portfolio, I began to have students not just show their best work but also started to expand the use of the portfolio to include  drafts of work so they could show the progress of their learning and began to include a reflection portion to the portfolio to have students discuss what they learned and what they might want to add.

Today portfolios can include any number of different types of items from images and documents to sound recordings and videos. All these items can be incorporated to show the growth of student learning. But what if these portfolios were to include not just what the student was doing in school? What if portfolios were include items from outside of school? How might this change how students define their learning?

As you begin to look at portfolio use with students, here are some questions that I believe are important to answer before you embark:

Why use portfolios?

What is the purpose of creating the portfolio?

Who will “own” it? Will it be assessed? How?

What will be included?

Who will decide what is to be included?

Who can access the portfolio?

Can it “move” with the student and beyond?

I know that I didn’t think of many of these things and had to do a lot of backtracking and adjusting in the process.

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

  1. Helping students Digital Fluency skills  – the ability to communicate, collaborate, connect, create. critique and collate – using digital tools is important for students. Students can use portfolios to practice and develop these skills not only for school work but for the different passions they have in their lives and bring them together in one place. Have students include drafts and changes as they work through the process of refining the work they are doing.
  2. Encourage curiosity and ask questions – asking questions that drive learning takes practice. A portfolio can become more than just a place where Show Case items are stored. By helping students develop their ability to ask questions, teachers can support a process of learning, differentiating the support students need as they learn and grow.  Have students include questions they have about a topic or inquiries they have about ideas and concepts. Include mindmaps and brainstorming sessions as processes of developing ideas. Get students to include I Wonder statements and What If ideas.
  3. Engage an authentic audience – through connecting with others, students can receive feedback and assistance as they explore different ideas and create work that has meaning for them. By creating for an audience other than themselves and their teacher, connect what they are doing with what is happening outside of school through interactions with others. Have students connect with other students for feedback and input. Get students to comment on the work of others and offer guidance to providing constructive feedback. Look for ways to connect students work with others through social media and provide opportunities for students work to get beyond the school by sharing with parents.
  4. Develop their own unique voice – In his book Louder Than Words, Todd Henry  discusses how “brilliant contributors commit to the process of developing their authentic voices through trial and error, by paying attention to how they respond to the work of peers, heroes, and even their antagonists, by playing with ideas, by cultivating a sharp vision for their work , and ultimately by honing their skills so they have the ability to bring that vision to the world”. Portfolios provide a place for students to begin this process of developing their own unique voice through practice, failure, reflection and retrying. Have students share stories, videos, podcasts and other work as they practice finding their own authentic voice.
  5. Explore different passions – instead of just including school-related items, students can include the different passions they have and explore different ideas over time. What might be of interest today may not be tomorrow but in a week or month become interesting again. Students have the ability to reflect on what they have done in the past and make connections to where they are now as learners. Have students include what they are doing outside of school. Have them include pictures and videos of things they are doing and talk about them.
  6. Explore multiple ways of expressing their learning and understanding – a portfolio allows students to include all sorts of items which they can use to demonstrate their learning. Videos, podcasts, music, writings, drawing, pictures – all these can be used as part of demonstrating their learning. Have students create different items and explore different ways of expressing their ideas and include reflections of what they did well and areas they see where they need to improve or find more information.
  7. Get feedback from multiple people – students can reach out to different audiences to get feedback and input about the work they are doing. Have them connect with other classes or individuals for feedback and input on what they are doing. Have them explain what they did or what they were hoping to accomplish and receive feedback from different people.
  8. Engage experts in a field through connecting – having the ability to connect with experts in a field provides students with access to knowledge they might not have access to otherwise. Feedback and insight from people who are experts provides students with an opportunity to push beyond the confines of the school. By developing a Personal Learning Network, students have access to support and assistance whenever they need it, taking learning beyond the confines of the school walls.
  9. Develop a cycle of learning – by building a body of work that continues to grow and change, students can develop reflective and generative habits of learning which apply to all areas of their lives. Instead of learning being what is done at school, students can incorporate their learning and the different things they are creating and receive feedback and input from various sources both in school and out of school. Have students identify things they want to learn about – both in the context of school and in other areas of their lives and build reflective practices as they progress.

These are just some of the ways that portfolios can be used with students. I created a personal Portfolio as an example of different types of portfolios and some of the tools that are available to create portfolios. If you click on the highlight with the SMYA presentation it will take you to my examples. Instead of learning being something that happens at school, it becomes connected to all areas of life, where what they do outside of school becomes part of their learning experience in school.

Don’t Imitate – Innovate

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It might be flattering to have someone imitate you. You might feel it’s necessary to imitate a mentor. But creativity and innovation rarely happen through imitation. It might start with what someone else is doing but creativity and innovation use that as leaping off points. Apple, Inc. didn’t create the technology for the mp3 player but they used the technology as a leaping off point to create and innovate. We know what Apple, Inc. did. And the other player?

What Inspires You?

Last week I had the great fortune to attend the SMYA Conference in Saskatoon as a speaker and participant. It was an awesome experience. One of the highlights was meeting Dave Burgess author of Teach Like a Pirate and moderator of #tlap twitter chat. Dave was generous with his time and a group of us were able to enjoy supper with him on the first night. Throughout our conversation and during his keynote and presentation, Dave spoke of his inspiration for his ideas and the work he does. Dave’s energy and passion are infectious. At one point, Dave spoke of where he gets his inspiration and the creative ideas for the different things he does in the classroom. This had me wondering about the attendees, myself included, and the inspiration they have for the work they do in the classroom each day.

Dave repeated often that inspiration can come in many different ways. The key is to be aware of these ideas and record them. Recently I read Claudia Azula Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century. In this book, Claudia explains that to become better at creative ideas, you have to practice generating ideas.

Writing daily ideas is effective because when we practice making our brain sweat, consistently, we become idea machines. When we are idea machines problems get solutions and questions get answers.

It sounds easy but, many people think being creative and innovating is what “creatives” do, not what the rest of us do because we aren’t really creative. As Dave pointed out, that just isn’t true!

Innovate don’t just Imitate

As a teacher I was always looking for ideas to try in the classroom whether it was a lesson or a way of presenting materials, I was searching. My reason was that I didn’t think I had any good ideas myself. I thought that I needed to use others ideas that were “good” because I wasn’t very creative and I wasn’t able to be creative myself.

Over time, I’ve shifted how I think of my own ideas and what I can do. When I would find a good idea, I often didn’t mess much with it. I wasn’t comfortable with my own creativity or allowing myself to be innovative. Mostly, this was a product of the failures I had experienced which I owned and carried with me as reminders of why I wasn’t creative or innovative. Instead of seeing each of these experiences as learning opportunities or ways of improving, I owned them as proof that I just wasn’t creative or innovative. In some ways, this was a product of my own self-induced limitations that were created from images and reminders of what “good teaching” was suppose to be and look like. I continued to imitate and reproduce what I thought it meant to be a “good teacher”.

However, there was this nagging part of me that kept surfacing every once in a while that would remind me that there was more to teaching and learning than what I was doing. Eventually this nagging grew in intensity and in a bold move I decided I needed to try out a few of my own ideas and, instead of planning like they would fail, to plan for success. This was a turning point for my teaching and the beginning of a journey of realization about creativity and innovation. I didn’t have to do what others did, I had good ideas and, with a little effort and some planning, a few of them would be great.

Being Innovative

In his new book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead a Culture of Creativity, George Couros discusses how innovation is essential in school. There are many opportunities for change but, often, there is a lack of innovation taking place. Instead, just as I did as a teacher, educators and schools continue to see innovation as something that others can do.

Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later, so we can “get through” the curriculum. We forget that our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.

In my discussion with teachers, they often express how they wish they could be more creative or innovative but there is too many other things happening – new curricula, differentiation, planning, assessment – which drain their energy and limit what they can do. Often they feel powerless even within their own classroom as they are told to do this, use this program, integrate this technology, adopt this assessment format, etc. They often see creativity and innovation as what ‘other’ people do which in turn then becomes another ‘thing’ they end up having to find time to implement/do. On the surface, this can be seen as just a way to avoid having to change. However, many teachers I talk with want to change. They are apprehensive but aren’t against making change. The feeling of powerlessness inhibits what they believe they can do themselves. Their experiences, like mine, limit what they feel they can do. It’s safe to imitate, it’s a risk to be creative and innovative. Many schools do not seem open to risk-taking and innovation despite the rhetoric of  21st Century Learning.

We are All Creative/Innovative in Some Way

In the article 7 Habits of Innovative Thinkers , Harvey Deutshendorf outlines how innovative thinking is within the reach of anyone who is willing to work at it.

Many people believe that creativity and innovative thinking are traits that we are born with—we either have them or not. However, we have found that people who are highly innovative are a work in progress, forever questioning and examining themselves and the world around them.

These people are curious and inquisitive – sounds like most young students. As George Couros points out

To succeed, they [students] will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations.

Teachers need to do the same – to be willing to try something with the understanding that it might be successful but it also might not. However,  instead of seeing it as further proof of a lack of creativity and innovation, these situations need to become points of curiosity. Instead of just imitating what someone else is doing, teachers need to exercise their creativity muscle and innovate to fit their personality and the students with whom they interact. Build in feedback loops that allow for adjustment and changes to be made. Look at what was successful and what wasn’t. Know that one success will not mean it will always be successful as there will need to be changes and adaptations to fit the next context and situation. Developing relationships with students is so important to innovation. It’s not what you are doing but how you are doing it and the relationship with students which allows for innovation to grow and develop. Creativity and innovation in a vacuum or without relationship lacks connectivity. It becomes a performance not an experience.

Why Imitate When You Can Innovate?

Yes, one can imitate what someone else is doing and be successful. There are countless examples of people who are successful imitating. Just think of all the entertainers who make a living imitating the likes of Elvis and the Beatles. But they aren’t Elvis or the Beatles. Although they might be great imitators, they lack the ability to innovate and break new ground as Elvis and Beatles did. As Dave Burgess suggested, teachers need to be open to taking an idea and then innovating and becoming creative with it. There is no guarantee that it will be successful, the first time. Sometimes it takes reworking an idea numerous times before things fit into place.

Who was the innovator that created the mp3 technology? Creative Technology Ltd a Singapore-based technology company. Part of creativity and innovation is coming up with something new. But being creative and innovative also means taking something that already is there and using it in new and creative ways that make a difference in people’s lives – it creates an experience that resonates.

Something to Think About

What is keeping you from taking creative licence with what you do in the classroom?

Do you have to implement all you do exactly like the manual says?

Why do you consider yourself lacking creativity? Are you strengthening your creativity muscles or just accepting the status quo?

What are three things you can do with your current units that would be creative and innovative? Why not try one?

I Failed But It Was Worth It

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Failure is Important

My run this morning wasn’t great. I laboured through it. My time was below my usual pace and I was struggling. I didn’t run as far as I usually run and my side hurt.

It was a great run.

Huh? How can that be?

It was great because I ran. It all depends on how I frame the run. If I frame it by the time, it wasn’t very good. If I frame by comparing it to past runs, it wasn’t a success. But if I frame differently, as something I do as part of trying to live a healthy lifestyle, it was a great run. I didn’t let the fact that it wasn’t a nice morning keep me from lacing on my runners and heading outside.  It wasn’t just my effort either. Today my best wasn’t as good as a couple past runs but it is better than when I would find an excuse not to run. Instead of giving up or finding an excuse, I went out and ran.

It’s Not Just Effort

Part of my daily routine includes exercise.  I usually listen to a podcast when exercising. Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative is one of my favourites. Today I was listening to an interview with Mitch Joel who hosts Six Pixels of Separation . During the discussion the topic of failure came up. Lately when someone begins discussing failure there is a familiar frame “Fail fast, fail forward, fail often, fail…. ” where failure is described as almost the reason people do things – so they can fail. However, as Todd Henry points out, failure isn’t wonderful or great, it’s not the reason people do things but it can be one of the outcomes when people do something. Failure is not the desired outcome, success is what people strive towards. For failure to be beneficial, there needs to be a way for a person or organization to examine what happened and make adjustments so improvements can be made. Blindly rushing forward without any way of reflecting on what takes place may lead to success. Or it may lead to failure. But without a plan or way to examine the process, duplicating the success or avoiding further failure becomes very difficult if not impossible. By framing my run as part of living a healthy lifestyle, I can see that it is only one part of a bigger plan for success.

Learning from Our Mistakes

When I was younger I used to show up at the gym, maybe do a little bit of cardio, some light workout and then jump into the work and work hard. However, no matter how hard I worked in the gym, I made little gains and I often would end up slowly missing a workout here and a run there until, you guessed it, there was 2 months between gym visits! I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Why did I start out strong only to slowly quit?

Like most people, I was only looking at the exercise part of my life . It wasn’t until I began to look at all areas of my life, including diet, sleep, and exercise, that I began to see any sustained improvement. But, despite taking a closer look, I would still fall into the same rut where I would be start great but eventually fall off. What was I doing wrong? Why was I failing? Why was I exercising anyway?

By focusing on what and how, I had missed examining why. This little shift in focus, from what and how to why, has helped me to reconsider how I examine and reflect upon what I am doing and the failures that I experience.

We Over-estimate Our Ability

It wasn’t until I began to seriously look at my goals for exercising, why I was doing what I was doing,  that I saw how I needed to be able to recognize ways I was sabotaging my efforts by not being realistic about my own abilities, adjust my plan and record daily what I was doing. Technology helped me, I bought a fitness band, to track what I was doing beyond the exercising. This alone did not make me a better athlete which was a bit of a disappointment! Just adding technology didn’t make me suddenly find success.

Instead, it gave me the incentive and some easy ways to remind myself to do things like get up and have a drink of water or walk around for 15 minutes. It wasn’t that I didn’t know to do these things but I didn’t do them regularly. I over-estimated my own ability to follow routines long enough for them to become a habit that would become part of the day.

I also over-estimated my own ability when it came to exercise but I didn’t know this until I began to keep track of my exercise patterns and what I was doing. Like many people, I over-estimated my ability to recover from intense workouts before my body had time to adjust to a new workload. And, funny thing, as I get older it takes a bit longer to recover from my own over-estimation of ability which means I was continuing a cycle of failure but looking in the wrong places to correct what was happening. Like many people, I wanted to improve but I continued to experience failure. Why?

Eventually I realized that I wasn’t looking at the whole picture. I didn’t have a success plan. Instead, I was working with a FAIL plan. I wasn’t looking at the points of success but instead would try to figure out what went wrong, looking at the failures without also examining the successes I had. Although it was important to understand what I was doing wrong, I wasn’t looking at what I was doing right! When things didn’t work, I focused solely on my exercise habits and not my lifestyle.

Have a Success Plan?

As an educator, I admit that I didn’t have a success plan. It wasn’t that I didn’t plan or use reflection for my own growth or look at ways to improve. For most of my career, I have been extremely interested in professional development. Like my exercise program, I often didn’t look at the successes but focused on the failures to see what I could learn. It wasn’t until recently that I began to look at the successes along with the failures. Even in failure there are successes that take place. I’ve rarely experienced an utter failure unless you count that cake when I used way too much baking soda – that was a complete failure! However, most of the time, the failure wasn’t so complete that there wasn’t some successes. I also began to focus on success, building forwards instead of expecting failure.

The goal is not to fail but to learn from mistakes in order to improve toward success. I don’t write blog posts so no one will read them. Hopefully, over time from the feedback I receive, I will learn to write better which will make people share my writing with others.

Failure Can Promotes Growth 

Continuously failing is demoralizing unless there is a way to bring that failure forward to improve and continue on. Even when I exercise, continually working to failure taxes my body too much if that is all that I do. It’s alright to work to failure at times but not all the time. It’s too hard. Failure can help us to grow but if all we do is work to failure, it eventually takes it toll.

As educators, helping students learn from failure is crucial to their learning and growth. As Carol Dweck outlines in the article Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’

Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.

We also need to remember that effort is a means to an end to the goal of learning and improving. Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: “Great effort! You tried your best!” It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning. The growth-mindset approach helps children feel good in the short and long terms, by helping them thrive on challenges and setbacks on their way to learning. When they’re stuck, teachers can appreciate their work so far, but add: “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.”

I was putting forth effort but I wasn’t examining what I had tried nor was I looking at what to try next. Yes I tried. Yes I put forth effort. But, despite all this effort, I continued the cycle.

Breaking the Cycle

Carol Dweck discusses how praising effort doesn’t break the failure cycle:

Recently, someone asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.

I also fear that the mindset work is sometimes used to justify why some students aren’t learning: “Oh, he has a fixed mindset.” We used to blame the child’s environment or ability.

Must it always come back to finding a reason why some children just can’t learn, as opposed to finding a way to help them learn? Teachers who understand the growth mindset do everything in their power to unlock that learning.

To break the cycle praising effort isn’t enough. Instead, help the student to examine what went wrong and plan to try again looking for success.

Failure needs to be a step in moving toward success. Whenever we try something, there is a chance of failure, especially when pushing oneself to try something new. As part of moving toward success, failure helps us learn what doesn’t work in this particular situation for this person. One might not get it right the first time. Or, in the case of my run, it depends on how I frame things. If I was training for competition, my run wasn’t a good run. However, if I frame it as part of developing and living a healthy lifestyle, the run was great.

Today I failed but it was worth it!

Things to Think About

How do you plan for success? Do you plan for success?

Are you looking at the bigger picture and the particular? How do they support your plan for success?

As an educator, are you praising effort or helping students to move toward success?

But I Can’t “Just Do It!”

How many times have you heard this?
It’s sounds so simple –

Just Do It!

Change is happening all over the place. In fact, so many of us jump into change that is rather life altering — marriage, children, new jobs…. pretty life altering! I mean, these changes are BIG!

Really, it’s not that people are totally afraid of changing.

New hair styles, wardrobe redos, new menu choices…. they’re all changes.

I know I’ve read more than a few blog articles about no longer accepting the “excuses” for not changing — there needs to be a change and we need to move on — NOW!

Sometimes We See that Change is Necessary

I’m transitioning myself through a major life change — one that is extremely exciting — and scary and terrifying and exhausting and ……. but necessary.

I could no longer ignore that change needed to happen. I wasn’t happy, my family wasn’t happy. We made the decision — discussing it with my wife — to move on and try a new path.

To what, I not really sure but the rut was starting to get too deep. I wasn’t seeing things with new lenses anymore. I was starting to look for “easy” solutions at times — not the right solutions. In short, I was not being the educational leader I expected myself to be.

Sometimes we wander across just the right thing at the right time.

A while back on twitter I happened upon this tweet

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 11.37.53 PM

As I read through the article there were so many things that struck me as being important in the educational context.

1. Healing takes time – change requires healing time

Often I’ve heard “Well, they need to get over it. That’s the way it is and it’s time to get with the times. There’s a new train leaving and either they’re on it or …” In fact, the number of articles that are almost hostile to people who aren’t willing to change as quickly as they it is deemed they should is somewhat surprising given we are suppose to be an empathetic and concerned group of individuals.

As an administrator who has been involved in working with a number of staffs in different schools on improvement and change – I didn’t always understand this and often thought “Let’s move on. We’ve been going over this and rehashing this.” I didn’t understand that, as the educational leader, I needed to listen to where they were in the change process – not where I was or where I wanted to be. But that’s only the start – the next step is empathizing and then help them move forward with the understanding that staying put isn’t an option and support will be in place to transition.

2. Telling someone that change is going to happen doesn’t eliminate the need for time for healing.

As a parent, this has been so real for me and my wife. We have lived in many different communities. As parents, we learned that we needed to discuss the move with our children well before it happened BUT that didn’t mean the children wouldn’t need time.

I recall my oldest boy, days before we were moving. He had never really experienced leaving friends. There he was, with his best friend, walking behind our house in the late evening along the back road. The two of them, arms over each others’ shoulders walking – occasionally talking – stopping to look, point, talk.

It nearly broke my heart as I watched these two friends help one another – tears rolling down my cheeks as I witnessed friendship as it best.

Later that night, before bed, we talked about how he was feeling. LIke it was yesterday, his reply was “I’ll be okay. I know it will be okay. I just need time to get use to this.” He was 8. He taught me that change was okay – but it wasn’t easy no matter how much advanced warning.

As an administrator, I constantly remember this as I have worked with teachers, parents and students moving through the change process. As a prime example, after moving to a new school, our staff was in the middle of a planning meeting as the old school was being demolished. Many of the teachers couldn’t concentrate on the meeting we were having – the old school being torn down! We stopped. Watched. Some tears were shed. Memories were shared. They knew for 2 years that this was going to happen. It didn’t make it easier.

We took a break. People wandered outside. Some had spent nearly 30 years teaching in the school. They knew rationally that it needed to be done – but 30 years of drama, sports, graduations, first days….. you don’t just walk away.

Too often, in the name of progress, the rush to change becomes a litany of initiative after initiative in the name of “Doing what’s best for students” with new ideas coming from all over the place. Telling people that change is coming doesn’t mean you don’t have to help them when it actually happens. Again, empathy is a big part of this and giving teachers a list of 10 things isn’t empathetic. Neither is listing all the benefits or, like I’ve seen, ridiculing those who aren’t changing in forums of those who’ve changed. The last one, sorry to say, is somewhat of a staple in some twitter circles and is so embarrassing that people with fairly large followings talk about other people like that yet do it in the name of “What’s best for students”.

Exactly what would children learn from that?

Another group I’ve especially seen this with is new teachers. “10 things to you need to know as you begin teaching” is a great title but if you’re really concerned about new teachers, you’ll talk to them – constantly – not just at the beginning of the year or during the new teacher follow-up meetings or class observations. Even if it means making a note to yourself to stop by after school or in the morning to “talk” (I mean listen) to them, it’s needed. They need to “hear” from you in more than emails, memos and observations. And, no, you don’t have the answers – they aren’t asking questions but working through change. Give them a wonderful gift, your attention!

3. Change goals are too vague and too longterm.

“It’s what’s best for students” isn’t good enough anymore. For everyone who pulls this phrase out when referring to school reform and the advancement of technology, quit saying it because I can give you a whole grocery list of items that would fall in this category and fulfill the criteria.

And the rationale that “It’s what is happening everywhere outside of school” is another one that needs to hit the dumpster for the same reason as above. Again, there’s a grocery list of things that fit here. Yes “everyone is on ______________” but, that’s doesn’t mean it’s for everyone or that we will find the same fulfillment/satisfaction/learning/growth. This is as ridiculous as saying we’ll teach all the students in our room the same way with the same material and expect them all to learn and be excited about it. How about let’s stop this “one size fits all” for everyone in education and, instead, help teachers with some long-term goals for change and then short-term feedback goals for success. “Everyone’s doing it” is something a teenager says to their parents not something that I would expect in a conversation concerning educational change that is impacting the lives of teachers.

Goals need to be specific – we’re moving to use ePortfolios because….. – and have the people doing the change fill in some of the reasons because there are people who will be ready and accepting of the change and be prepared to move things forward. Constant initiatives from out there “in the best interest of students” hasn’t really worked so far – why do we expect them to suddenly work? Be specific about the change. Set a longterm goal – but then set short term goals and allow people to move forward, make mistakes and work through the changes. Give time for feedback and reflection that can then be integrated into the next step.

Give individuals the assistance they need to move forward, hold them accountable and be expected to be amazed.

As an administrator, one thing I’ve encountered numerous times is the “3 year plan – 1 year mindset”. The initiative is given 3 years to be fully implemented but that is 2 years longer than the timelines given for seeing results. There will always be those people who want to impress and will be willing to “succeed” at all costs – but in education, the human cost – especially when it relates to teachers, students and parents – is just too much. Either live by the 3 years or stop the smoke and mirrors and be honest about the change timeline. People may not be happy but they will know what is expected of them – especially the leaders in the school – and adjust accordingly. Support for a 3 year initiative is much different than that of a 1 year initiative.

4. Not everyone moves at the same rate or has the same needs

Individual needs are not usually part of the planning process when discussing change. People talk about them and acknowledge them but don’t plan for the differences. Instead, whether it’s teachers within a school or schools within a division/district, the expectation is that the change will look and proceed along a certain path and, if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with the person/school and nothing at all wrong with the plan.

Educational leaders talk about students with different learning needs yet I’m still somewhat astounded at how similar so many classrooms look. Talk isn’t action and for the latter to occur there needs to be specific planning and supports integrated to help with the transition. There is a large hue and cry for change – assessment, planning, cross-curricular integration, technology integration, flipped classrooms, blended learning, inquiry learning. Yet, it’s astounding how most of these come with a small range of implementation and time-lines.

5. Not all Teachers are the same!

Planning for different needs and different progress is messy and isn’t without problems – which you would think would be understood given the situation. Yet, it is not uncommon to have educational leaders compare teacher A to B&C&D because A is a “rock star”. The reasons for this are numerous but it’s usually doesn’t have the desired impact. Which, really shouldn’t be a surprise. Instead, leaders should be a) continuing to support teacher A with their work but also providing support for B, C & D. Not being a “rock star” shouldn’t be seen as a negative or be used as a comparison of ability. Instead, plan for individual differences, identify who might need assistance, be open to working with them and provide supports with short-term goals and help to move them along. Too often, the expectation is that with adults, the learning will be similar for everyone and, as organizations, the same inputs will provide consistent results across the domain.

Change isn’t an event – it’s a movement.

Individuals need time to move through significant change. Too often, because teachers are adults, the assumption is that they will not need that much time or they will be able to rationally see the need for change and will “Get on with it.” As Chip and Dan Heath explore in their book Switch.

Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives? The primary obstacle, say the Heaths, is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.

Too often, this mistake becomes costly in terms of the human factor which then affects the school culture and, well, my experience in changing these errors is that it leads to a negative and unproductive working and learning environment. Maybe it’s time that people focused more on the individuals in the change process and less time telling them to “just get on with it.” because “there’s no excuse not to move on.” In my experience, there may not be an excuse but there is a reason and, if you take the time, not only will you find out why but you’ll be amazed at the change that will take place.

What Can One Do?

The power of one.

How can one person have influence and bring about change?

I often referred to this  Margaret Meade quote when I was an administrator – as a small group of educators there was the opportunity to do great things if we just allowed ourselves the latitude to be more and do more.

Screenshot 2015-07-20 16.35.27

A small group, yes!

But one person? Can it really happen?

They Walk Among Us

This past Sunday, #txeduchat was discussing ways that teachers could connect students with the world. One thing that I have learned is there are many students who are already doing amazing things – changing the world some who popularized through video or on the internet. But there are many more who are doing amazing things because they are driven to do so. I have had the privilege of having a number of students show me how they, as youth, can change the world.

One such student, Taylor, did so through a campaign to raise money to build a school. Her campaign, 1kidmakingadifference, raises money to help children. She told her story at WeDay Saskatchewan.

It is one example of how we are surrounded by people who are taking risks and making changes because they see a need and try to address it. They don’t wait for someone to tell them to do something or to get permission to make a difference. They are risk-takers and innovators.

These people wander at the edge of possibility, creating wonder with others, not afraid to see what might be, undeterred by failure or mistakes; lifelong learners and co-creators, they are passionate and embrace the complexity of life not seeking reward but wishing only to make the world a better place than they found it.

We don’t all have to be raising money or campaigning although some people find that it fits. But, as I indicated in my last post, continuing to ignore the things taking place around us or hoping someone else will take the risk is not helping students address the issues they face today.

Jade Balleck, an educator who is now taking on the responsibility of being an administrator, takes the step of acknowledging that she needs to do more. Her post Principal’s Short Course Part II  is a great example of someone not waiting to take a step forward but bolding stepping forward as she  seeks to develop a deeper awareness of the need to be culturally aware as an administrator/educator.

Allowing Ourselves to Be Artists

In Linchpin, Seth Godin describes how it is possible to become a person that is necessary, a linchpin, not by doing what everyone else is doing but by being creative at what you are doing, to seeing a problem and beginning to solve that problem. Become the linchpin that holds things together. In doing this, Godin explains that there are choices we have to make about how we approach work and what we decide to do at work. At one point, in discussing the topic of labour, specifically emotional labour, Godin explains

The essence of any gift, including the gift of emotional labor, is that you don’t do it for a tangible, guaranteed reward. If you do, it’s no longer a gift; it’s a job.

Labour as a gift? Working to make a change in the world without worrying about whether you get rewarded? As children, helping others without expecting a reward is something that we often learn from parents or people around us. Somewhere along the way the intrinsic nature of doing something without expecting a reward is often replaced as we seek to get something for our efforts, recognized for what we are doing.

In Invisibles- The Power of Anonymous Work David Zweig looks at how those people who, although anonymous to most of the world, are indeed necessary and highly respected by the people who know them within their industry. These people are linchpins in their industry

…highly skilled, and people whose roles are critical to whatever enterprise they are a part of. … often highly successful and recognized by, indeed deeply respected among their co-workers for their expertise and performance… [they] have chosen, or fallen into and then decided to stay in, careers that accord them no outward recognition from the end user. This is defiantly in opposition to the accolades, or even just pats on the back, most of us desire. And yet – Invisible are an exceptionally satisfied lot.

What drives them?

A passion for the work they do, a desire to make things better, and a meticulousness that fuels their passion. In the interviews and discussions Zweig has with these people throughout the book, it becomes apparent that these people are drawn to make a difference without a need to be recognized. According to Zweig, these people exhibit three common traits:

1) Ambivalence toward recognition

2) Meticulousness

3) Savoring of responsibility

As an educator and administrator, these traits are similar to those I have seen in educators with whom I have worked. Unfortunately, they rarely are afforded the last – responsibility. In classrooms and schools, there are people who are doing meticulous work trying to do what’s best for the students in their rooms/schools but lack the opportunity to demonstrate their responsibility. They have an incredible passion for what they are doing – without it they wouldn’t be able to continue. Yet, too often, they are frustrated and constrained by those around them.

Many people choose to remain doing what they are doing, even if they are unhappy and don’t like it, because fear of the unknown and what might happen, the possibility of failure and the pain associated with that failure are much greater than their desire to change what is happening. Making a change is difficult, in some cases it requires us to learn new things or to maybe admit we weren’t as good as we thought we were at what we were doing.

I Wonder….. 

Just this week I had a great conversation about change, fear and innovation. During the conversation I mentioned that at one point I had switched to tables in the classroom and removed my teacher desk. A common response from teachers is that they rarely use their desk or sit at it, it’s just a place to keep their stuff. So I challenge them to remove it and see how it frees them to envision their classroom space differently, to envision their role in the classroom differently, to begin to revise the flow, the interactions and the space. It brings a change to the classroom that other educators can sense when they walk in. Something is just different.

….. what keeps each of us from being able to bring about change? What if each teacher wrote their fears down and began to address them? What if we shared and worked together, helping each other?

….. recognition isn’t necessarily a motivator but being given responsibility is. According to Liz Wiseman, author of The Multiplier Effect, leaders who expect people around them to do great things and then give them the responsibility to do so multiply the effects of the people with whom they lead. What would happen if teachers were given responsibility, not for grades and assessment, but learning and growth, for supporting their students to make the world a better place?

…. why many school leaders are so enthralled with data that dehumanizes the learning relationship?

…. what data can tell us that a great teacher with strong relationships can’t?

…. why schools are so afraid of risk-taking and innovations if learning takes place in the space of discomfort between what we know and what we want to know, which may, in fact, include failure?

No, We Don’t Want You

Rejection.

It’s a hard to accept.

According to Jia Jiang and his work on rejection,  it touches us deep inside and causes pain that is equivalent to being struck, like a slap in the face. 

Most of us get the advice to make a plan for our success. 1 year, 3 year, 5 year, 10 year. Each year we are suppose to revise, reflect, make adjustment and move on. But what if our plan runs into the Rejection Roadblock?

What does Rejection do?

I heard about Jia Jiang’s 100 Days of Rejection story through Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative Podcast episode Confronting Rejection In Life and Work. Later, I listened to Jiang’s interview with Jeff Brown on The ReadToLead podcast. In both interviews, Jiang describes how his fear of rejection almost paralyzed him from going out and chasing his dream of being an entrepreneur and how his wife really pushed him to not quit but keep going. In the 100 Days of Rejection, Jia purposefully seeks out rejection in order to become better at dealing with it.

Rejection as Learning and Change

“Sorry, but you’re just not what we’re looking for.”

In a four year span I heard that phrase, or something similar, over 30 times in my attempt to obtain a central office position. Yeah, that’s a lot of interviews and most people when they hear that comment

“Why keep trying?”

I also believe most people think “What’s wrong with this guy? There must be something wrong with him.”

That’s what I began to think too! There must be something wrong with me.

This is exactly what Jia says we do with rejection, we make it about us when it really isn’t, it’s about the other person. I recommend you listen to the interviews and check out the website.

The first couple of times I heard that I had been rejected it was really, really hard. At one point I decided that I wasn’t going to try any more, rationalizing that I didn’t have the skills or ability for such work. Compounding this was my battle with depression into which I would plunge after each attempt. I knew I wanted to do something different but was getting nowhere. Climbing out of depression became harder and harder.

Like Jiang, my wife supported me and encouraged me to continue. Without her love and insistence, I wouldn’t have faced my fear of depression and sought help. Eventually I tried again, only to meet more rejection. I began to wonder what was happening during the interviews. Was it something I was doing? Was it my answers? My experience? My suit? What?  I began to ask for feedback. What where two or three things that I could do that would help. I received some great feedback at times. Others times, not so much.

As Jia Jiang points out, we take these rejections as affronts to us as individuals and, usually, we try to avoid such pain, avoiding any chance that we’ll be rejected. As I did more interviews and went through the process it helped me to become much more reflective and honest about my own strengths and weaknesses but, more importantly, what I really wanted to do. I came to realize that, in fact, it was time to do something different.

Maybe’s It’s Time to Quit

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt book, Freakonomics, is an interesting mix of economics and seemingly miscellaneous and unconnected phenomenon. Their podcast – Freakonomics Radio – hosted by Stephen Dubner, is a continuation of this exploration. The Upside of Quitting explores why people will stay in a job even though they don’t like it and why people who seemingly have a great job quit. They examine whether “Quitters never win and winners never quit” is really a good thing to be telling people when it comes to a job, if quitting just might be a good strategic choice and a good plan, and most importantly, how our past investments keep us where we are.

To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.

For me, having put a great deal of time and effort into the sunk costs for education, I didn’t think there were any other options for me. However, over time I realized that all I was doing was limiting myself if I continue to knock at only one door. Through a series of events, I found myself in a position where I decided I needed to give myself a push to make change. So, on May 4th, 2013 I sent in my resignation even though I had no other job nor was I certain what was to come. Instead, I was going with the “gut feeling” that such a move was going to be the beginning of a new and wonderful adventure.

Quitting isn’t for everyone but it is for some people. Too often, as both Jiang and Dubner point out, we limit ourselves because we are afraid of rejection, of failing, of looking to other options and not trying. We are afraid of people saying to us

“Why would you do such a thing? I could never do that, it’s too risky. What about you pension?

Like so many, I was working in order to put in time so that at some date in the future I could retire and start living and doing the things I wanted to do. By stepping out of the rut, I pushed myself to look at life and what I was doing from a new perspective.

It’s Not Easy to Fail

FAIL –

First

Attempt

In

Learning.

I imagine many people have seen different versions of this. Or heard that schools and teachers need to be risk takers and innovators in environments of trust and safety. It’s easy to say –

“Take risks. Fail fast. Be innovative”

It’s completely another to actually take risks, “fail forward” or innovate. That’s hard. Really hard. Harder than most people will let on.

Seth Godin in Icarus Deception discusses how our Lizard Brain, that portion of the brain that developed for survival, is still keeping us from taking risks because risks are scary, lead to failure and failure leads to pain which is to be avoided. It’s easy to say we need to take risks and be risk takers but, in reality, many people would rather stay in a situation that was not doing them any good rather than venture into the unknown and change. Recent studies show that approximately 60% of employees worldwide are disengaged from their work but many stay where they are rather than make a big change. Like Jia Jiang, fear keeps many people from striking out on their own or taking risks. In a society where playing it safe is the norm and taking chances is for a few select who are brave enough , suggesting that schools, places that have traditionally been slow to change and embrace innovation, do an sudden about face and becomes places of innovation, experimentation and embrace failure as learning is a tall order.

Yes, there are teachers who will embrace these concepts and a few schools will begin to blaze a trail of their own but without a titanic shift in the worldview of parents, many who are reluctant to allow their children to face too many negative experiences in their childhood, schools are in tough.

Tell A Different Story

If we want schools to be places of innovation, risk-taking, and experimentation where “fail forward” (whatever that actually means) is acceptable for students and teachers, then the stories of school must change. The current hierarchical system inhibits people who are innovators and risk-takers, both students and teachers, through policies of conforming and norming. If our stories are still similar to what they have always been about learning and school, how can things be much different?

I Wonder….

My experience is that most teachers were pretty good students. The story that comes from school is very similar to what it has always been, to what the story was for them as students. As someone who hasn’t had that story, even my story as a teacher wasn’t similar to other teachers. Is it possible to change this story?

…. how we can change the story that is told about learning that will embrace risk, failure and change?

….. if people who call for more risk and change fully understand what they are asking of people in schools?

….. if we don’t change the story we tell about learning whether innovation and risk-taking can ever be part of a majority of schools?

…. if people who ask others to be risk-takers and change agents have ever faced their fears of rejection or know what it takes to step boldly to the edge of possibility and look around?

Resolutions

My resolutions for this year are pretty straightforward because I’ve decided that I need to focus on a few things and do them well instead of the usual list of 10 that I don’t really do at all. My #1 resolution is to take care of my health. I’m reading RealAge by Michael F. Roizen and looking at how my “habits” are affecting my body and my life. I not promoting this. Instead, it is a read that is giving my ideas about my health and the choices I make. #2 resolution is to blog/write frequently even if it is a short post. Sometimes I have so many ideas I want to discuss that I am not sure which to follow and end up doing none. Since joining Passionate Teachers and Fireside Conversations – both educator Ning sites, I have decided to dedicate a portion of my morning to writing/commenting. #3 is spending more time with my family. To do this, I will have to prioritize what I am doing and learn to really stick to my schedule. #4 – the last one – quit talking about web2.0 and starting implementing it with my staff, students and other administrators. First step, setting up sessions with teachers to explore. Second, putting teachers in contact with other teachers. Finally, begin doing presentations to others about the everyday uses of the technologies.

That’s it. 4. Each one requires that I pay attention to details – something that isn’t a strong trait for me but will be essential if the use of technology is to become a norm for our students. It will require teachers overcoming their fears about technology and doing things a bit differently but, unless these steps are taken, things will continue at the glacial pace they are moving. I want my daughters to be exposed and use the skills they have developed outside of school in their daily school lives.

People often have goals/resolutions but they don’t take the time to get to the specifics which undermines their goals. So, for me, each of the goals above will be fleshed out and be broken down into smaller, achievable goals. As my friends, I hope that some of you will call me on these goals and help me to keep them. I’ll share my specific goals using google docs if that helps.

2008 is indeed my year!