Tag Archives: Leadership

It’s Okay to Share Your Work

It’s tempting to sit in the corner and then, voila, to amaze us all with your perfect answer.

But of course, that’s not what ever works. Seth Godin

The other day I gave a presentation in an undergraduate class about using social media in teaching. During the discussion, I was asked if students should continue to blog when they are done classes.

Yes. Continue to blog and share your learning. Make it a part of your professional practice. Don’t see it as an add-on but as part of your daily learning practice. Everyday is a Professional Development day. See your blog as part of your PD practice.

Blogging helps me to put my ideas down and work through them. Part of my online Portfolio shows the work that I am doing. It is also a place where I can share what I am thinking about, pondering, exploring,….. Blogging is a part of my Professional Development. Sometimes I blog openly about it but other days I write just to work through ideas and thoughts. Not everything needs to be published.

Ship before you’re ready, because you will never be ready. Ready implies you know it’s going to work, and you can’t know that.

The purpose isn’t to please the critics. The purpose is to make your work better.

Polish with your peers, your true fans, the market. Because when we polish together, we make better work. Seth Godin

This is the part with which many, including myself, struggle. When is it “ready”? That’s not easy to decide. Harold Jarche recent post a half-baked idea discusses why blogging is important for everyone:

“I’m thinking of doing some coaching in a few years and helping people make decisions around food and nutrition”, I was told the other day by a young man working in a shop. My advice was to start a blog: now. While he had no intention of freelancing for the near term, he needed to get his thoughts in order. A blog is a good place to do this over time. You can start slow. The process builds over time. My early blog posts were pretty bad but they helped me see what ideas I could revisit and build upon. And it took time.

“And it took time.”

In my post Blogging as a Professional I discuss some of the reasons teachers should blog and some of the things to consider when you start out one of which is “why” you want to blog. This is important for keeping your focus. It’s easy to begin blogging but it takes time to develop your voice and produce your best work. Todd Henry discusses this in his latest book Louder Than Words. He calls this the Aspiration Gap

“When this gap exists, it’s often due to high personal expectations founded in your observation of the work of other people you admire. When you are incapable of producing work that meets those high standards, it’s tempting to give up far too soon. For this reason, many people either quit or move on to something more “reasonable” simply because they were frustrated by their temporary inablility to achieve their vision”

One reason I blog is because it’s part of my professional mission

“To relentlessly pursue supporting educators to develop creativity and innovation in the classroom through connections, relationships and effective professional development.”

There are many people whose work I admire and follow. I don’t see my own work meeting those standards. Many days I hesitate to push “publish”. I know that being consistent is important just as it in any other aspect of life because it helps to improve your skills. To make progress we have to consistently practice. As Seth Godin says,

What works is evolving in public, with the team. Showing your work. Thinking out loud. Failing on the way to succeeding, imperfecting on your way to better than good enough.

George Couros, in his latest post The (Nearly) Invisible Portfolio, discusses his development of a portfolio (portfolios & sharing are today’s hot topics!)

The interesting thing about this idea is that my portfolio may have found you, or you may have found it, but in both cases, anyone can see it. There are different ways I can share my learning through different mediums. I love to write, but I also am able to share through visuals, podcasts, video, or things that I couldn’t even imagine.

But, as George points out, not all the learning he does makes it to the portfolio to be published

I also have the option of allowing you to see it or not. I do have spaces where my learning is for my eyes only, or in what I choose to share.

This is a crucial point. Not all we do is ready for shipping. The learning process isn’t about publishing everything. Some works are in the incubation stage, some are in the development stage and some are at the sharing stage.

You should ship when you’re prepared, when it’s time to show your work, but not a minute later. Seth Godin

Sharing our work isn’t easy but it is necessary for growth and development. Feedback from others helps us to reflect on the work being done.

How are you continuing to develop and learn as a professional? Are you sharing that with others and getting feedback? Do you have an online portfolio? Are you shipping?

Your mindset and attitude influence your success. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback so leave comment. Thanks for taking the time to read

It’s in the Details

We do get bogged down by obstacles. They grab our attention. We spend time pondering how they got there. We even spend energy being angry about them. None of this is helpful. We have to look for the openings, choose well, and find our way around them.  Rob Hatch

How often do you hear someone wishing they had more freedom? Or opportunity?

I know I often said such things as I looked out onto a world and thought I was being held back.

Turns out I was but the reason wasn’t linked to someone else.

I was that someone.

Often, instead of seeing the opportunities, I was focused on barriers. Instead of choosing freedom, I chose to acquire more responsibilities.

When in doubt, when you’re stuck, when you’re seeking more freedom, the surest long-term route is to take more responsibility.  Seth Godin

In a world where possibility surrounds us, it can be difficult to admit that we are responsible for our own freedom in different ways. I would often look around and see what others were doing, seeing what I believed to be the freedom and opportunity they had compared to my own, mostly self-imposed, limitations.

As an school administrator, the frustration and stress grew with mounting expectations. Instead of seeking the knowledge and expertise of the people who surrounded me, I forged on, almost wearing the frustration and responsibility like a badge.

Responsibility without freedom is stressful. There are plenty of jobs in this line of work, just as there are countless jobs where you have neither freedom nor responsibility.  Seth Godin

Part of the issue was my attitude was keeping me in a place where there was little opportunity for freedom despite a great deal of responsibility. I was afraid of “freedom” so it was easier to take on more responsibility hoping it would somehow lead to more freedom.

A Feeling of Dissonance

The lack of freedom created a dissonance in the work environment. The increasing amount of details that educators are required to deal with and work through each day, to the “follow the plan, do the initiative, fill in the form. Don’t make mistakes.” creates a dissonance when they are also urged to “take risks and be innovative”. This type of dissonance, like the dissonance of a sound that is off, creates stress that drains creativity and energy.

Expectations and responsibilities are part of any work. It’s how these impact the environment, work culture, and individual performance that is important. When we experience a dissonance, it bothers us and makes us uneasy. We want to correct the dissonance. Much like attention residue that results from multi-tasking which prevents you from moving smoothly from one task to another.

it is difficult for people to transition their attention away from an unfinished task and their subsequent task performance suffers. Sophie Leroy

This dissonance continues to impact all aspects of the learning environment. Students and teachers are affected between the dissonance created when what is said doesn’t align with what is expected. “We want our students to be risk-takers and collaborators – but our reporting system rewards individuality and conformity” 

 It’s In the Details

Now,  Details matter. As Dean Brenner discusses, details are important

But the amount of detail we discuss in meetings and presentations, and the way in which we communicate it, is a daily source of frustration in many work cultures.

Often, there is an overwhelming amount of detail, in the form of data, provided to educators. This increased amount of detail becomes an overwhelming point of stress, not because of the detail but the lack of opportunity to reflect and integrate into the current situation and to make adjustments and changes indicated by the data.

No one wants their time wasted. You must walk into the room ready to get to the point. You should include enough detail to satisfy the expectations and facilitate discussion, but not so much that everyone is looking at their watches. (Or, in the case of a classroom, the floor, the ceiling, out the window or in the desk!)

This applies to all parts of education – we want people to be empowered to learn and develop. In an educational setting, we should

Be ready to go deep, but allow the audience to take you there.

In classrooms, staff meetings, professional development, and presentations is the audience allowed to direct what takes place?  What if those sitting in the audience were provided the opportunity to go deep?   How often do you attend a workshop or PD event where a presenter makes some great points but there isn’t time to reflect? Why doesn’t this happen more often?

Your mindset and attitude influence your success. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear you comments, ideas, and thoughts. Thanks for reading and sharing with me.

Finding Your Pace

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Running and Pacing

I’ve been training for an upcoming 1/2 marathon for awhile. Now, in order to do this, I’ve had to make a few changes to my lifestyle.  I have adopted an early morning routine. That change, in itself, has been the subject of a number of books and podcasts. However, all the changes don’t mean anything if I don’t actually put on my running shoes and run.

As I prepare for this upcoming meet, I’ve adopted a running routine. Part of the routine is help me with my pacing and the other part is to help me improve my running. I use to have the idea that “Well, I just need to run.” But, as Susan Paul explains

The marathon is a very unique blend of different running components; it requires speed, strength, and endurance. The different training paces you see recommended for runs reflect each of these components. You will need some speed, some strength, and a lot of endurance to successfully complete your race.

So I did some searching and found a routine for a 1/2 marathon that I am following. Now, I could have just gone it on my own but there are many people who have already done this and have advice and ideas that can help me as I train especially since I haven’t been doing much long distant running in a while. I casually run (is that even possible?) but not in the same way one does in a marathon-type event.

The Act of Running

Running is a solitary act but it can be done as part of a group and there are all sorts of online groups and sites that allow you to connect and track your running. I happen to run by myself in the morning mostly because, well, I’m the only one up in my house at that time, no one else wants to get up and run with me at that time and I don’t know anyone around who is running. I could find someone but I like running on my own. It gives me time to think and wrestle with different ideas and concepts.

But it’s not for everyone and that’s okay. In fact, finding our own pace and place is part of the fun and enjoyment of living. The act of running, however, isn’t the only thing I do. It is only a part and to define me through that misses so many other things.

Technology Integration

“Exactly how is this going to connect to technology?”

I’ve been reading a number of posts that discuss technology and it’s use in schools. Everything from looking at how to get teachers to embrace technology to reflections on the use of technology in schools and some of the issues with what is currently happening. I see many of these as being how I use to view running – Just run. You know what to do, running is something that we have done since just after we learned to walk. But, as Susan Paul points out

Yes, you can “just go out and run” but you would be wise to incorporate runs that address these aspects of running to adequately prepare yourself for the demands of the marathon.  Marathon training requires logging quite a few miles each week too, so by varying your training paces and mileage, you’ll not only improve the quality of your training, but you will also reduce the risk of injury or mental burnout.

What if we looked at learning, with or without technology, in this way? Varying the pacing and mileage of learning. Doing different courses and incorporating various aspects into the training?

At 50, I can no longer train like I did but it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to run. In the same way, meeting the needs of the learner means beginning where they are and listening before we start advocating particular ways of doing things. We need to start with their passions and ideas but there is a place for learning from others and their wisdom and knowledge. Age nor experience, in this case, is not “the” determining factor of what can be accomplished. Too often, as Stephen Covey said,

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

How often have we begun a discussion with a fixed position or way of doing something or point of view already firmly established and ready for the discussion?

To Whom Do We Listen

To be honest, listening to someone who has run many marathons and is a veteran might not be the best solution for me. I need to consider a few different things that a veteran marathoner might not be able to tell me as someone starting out. Sometimes, as someone who has been using technology for years, I have had to remind myself of this point. I have a perspective that might not be as open as I’d like to think. In this way, looking outside of education can give us some great insights.

John Spencer explores this very idea in a recent post about a conversation he had with an engineer,

 I would let that kid know that it’s not too late. Doors might be closed, but that doesn’t mean that they’re locked.”

That conversation has stuck with me since then. What if he’s right? What if we told kids that they don’t have to have it all figured out ahead of time? What if they knew that doors might be shut but they aren’t locked for good?

What if we approach all our relationships and conversation from this perspective? Do we close doors because of our own mindset and what people have told us?

How do you approached learning? Why do you think this way?

Your attitude shapes your mindset. What’s yours?

I’d love to hear your ideas and comments and what you are thinking about.

That’s Why We Hired You

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A few years back, my daughters were given the responsibility of running the local swimming pool for the summer. They were hired by the local pool board and given the responsibility of getting the pool ready for the upcoming year. There was a manual and a someone who worked on maintaining the mechanical aspects of the pool but they were responsible for the rest. The one hired as the general manager asked the chairperson how she was suppose to learn all that she needed to do. I absolutely loved the response, which I was fortunate to hear because, in a small town, they were discussing this in our kitchen:

We hired you because you are smart and capable. We know that you have the skills necessary to do what is needed. We will support you and I can tell you who you can contact for help but you are the manager. You and your staff will need to keep the pool up and running and I can’t be leaving work to help you out. I’ll do what I can but we have full faith that you will be able to do what is necessary. That’s why we hired you.

And the girls did just that. It was one of the best learning experience my daughters had before they went to university. To this day, they talk about how much they learned. They still get the odd phone call from new managers about how to do things.

Trusted Them

Did they make mistakes? You bet they did. Were there stressful moments? Yep. I was privy to some “deep discussions” (arguments) between the two sisters about everything from schedules to expectations of staff to expectation of patrons to what pool toys to purchase (who knew a blow-up whale could cause so many problems!) The board trusted these young people to do what was right and make good decisions and were rewarded for that trust with hard work and young people who gave it their all (and a lot more) and provided a great service to a small community.

 Grew Their Strengths 

There were courses to take and tests to pass, inspections to meet and technical aspects to master. Each one required different strengths to be developed. Each girl had different strengths which they were allowed to use – to grow. Because they were allowed to use their strengths they were willing to take risks.  And when something wasn’t a strength? Fortunately each of the girls that worked (and they were all girls) had different strengths which they used. Sometimes, it took the intervention of someone to point out that maybe someone else might be better suited to organizing the swimming lessons or managing the chemicals and ensuring that all safety standards were met.

Did they always use their strengths? Nope. In fact, stubborn determination sometimes meant they had to learn through mistakes. But, mistakes they did make and learn they did. For three years, this group managed an outdoor pool in a small town, taking it from losing money to breaking even. All have gone on to other things but each of them grew in so many ways during that time.

I was fortunate to be able to learn with/from them.

Educational Leadership

The role of school leadership and it’s impact on change and innovation has been well documented and discussed. There are different opinions as to the exact extent of the impact that school leadership has on student achievement or the changing role of school leaders in schools today. As a former school administrator, there always seemed to be a wide array of opinions about what I should be doing as a leader and what my role was as a leader within the school and the community. Having been an administrator in 8 different schools in 5 communities, my experiences were different and unique in each setting. Although there were some things that were similar, each school and community was unique with its own set of characteristics, strengths, and challenges.

Seeing Strengths in Others

In education, we traditionally focus a great deal of attention on weaknesses or areas of improvement. A great deal of Data Driven Decision-Making is focused on identifying areas for growth – areas of weakness – that need improvement. One of the primary responsibilities of an educational leader is to use that data to identify areas and implement initiatives to make improvement. A lot of time and effort is spent on looking for deficits.

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It’s somewhat similar at all levels. Identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. Focus on these.

But what about Strengths

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Which Strength?

As an administrator I spent so much time focused on identifying weaknesses in everyone, including myself, but not nearly enough time identifying strengths and helping people use and improve them.

What I learned from watching my daughters was how important it was to focus on strengths – grow them, improve them, nourish them. Through a collaborative team effort where people’s strengths are combined, the synergy of the team leads to even greater growth and development, especially in areas of strengths.

Liz Wiseman in Multipliers identifies 5 traits that leaders have who grow people – develop them and allow them to improve.

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And areas of weakness? They improve but, more importantly, they aren’t used to hold someone back from progress and growing.

Differentiate to grow Strengths

Too often an inordinate amount of time is devoted to weaknesses instead of building teams that are strong because of the variety of strengths the people on the team possess. Teachers, for the most part, spend their days working in classrooms with students. Many teachers are themselves Multipliers, helping students to grow and develop strengths. However these strengths aren’t the one’s found on tests or reflected in test scores which shifts the focus away from helping both teachers and students grow and develop their strengths.

Too often, time is spent trying to improve areas of weakness that result in minimal improvement while areas of strength are left without development. This stifles growth and drains students and teachers of energy. To have innovation, supporting people to use their strengths gives them the freedom to develop these and improve.

We tend to think of innovation as arising from a single brilliant flash of insight, but the truth is that it is a drawn out process involving the discovery of an insight, the engineering a solution and then the transformation of an industry or field. That’s almost never achieved by one person or even within one organization.

If we truly are looking for innovation in education, focusing on improving deficits will not bring that innovation. Instead, allowing people, teachers and students, to use, develop and grow their strengths through collaborative efforts and connecting provides opportunity for creativity and innovation and the possibility of transformational growth.

How are you growing others strengths? How are you growing your own strengths? I’d love to hear your experiences either of helping others to grow or someone who helped you and the impact it had on you.

And How Are You Today?

How often have you asked the question? What about “How are you doing?” or one similar? How often have you listened to the response?

Really listened.

In the hustle and bustle of the day, we’re all very busy and such conversations are sometimes fillers as we politely listen to a reply. And there are those people that we don’t ask, right? They tell us stories and problems that, really, we didn’t really intend to listen to when we asked the question.

As a parent and educator, I was often guilty of asking but not listening. Well, I “heard” what they said but I didn’t always listen to what they were saying. I would do it with my own children, asking them how their day was but only partly listening to what they were saying. We’re all busy, right?

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Intent to listen. Do you even consider this?

As a school leader, I sometimes would get into “fix it” mode where I would listen with the intent to offer advice or a way to solve whatever problem being brought to me. In the busyness of the day, I would have my own thoughts/agenda running as background noise while I listened. It happens now, even though I am much more conscious of my need to listen with intent.

Learning to Quiet the Voices to Listen

One particular student helped me to understand how important it was to listen with the intent to understand. He wasn’t in trouble and he wasn’t bringing me a problem. He was just telling me about the song he was writing. And I might have missed it had he not said “Do you really want to hear this? I can tell you another time.”

I stopped. Did I? What were my choices? See, I hadn’t stopped what I was doing when he asked me. I had kept on doing what I was doing. So I stopped, put down my pen and listened. But instead of just listening, I gave him my attention and he gave me a wonderful gift – he shared his story of writing a song about our class – each person had a verse – all 31 and me. Then he sang it to me. As he proceeded to sing, I began to understand why he was always humming as he worked. Over time, I learned he would write songs to remember what we were doing and used these songs, humming them, as he wrote or did an exam. I had learned so much about him.

Although I learned something,  I really didn’t learn to listen until my 4th daughter taught me. She had a speech impediment and, until she was about 6, hard a difficult time communicating. As a parent, I was often left frustrated by not being able to understand what she was saying. It took me a long time to learn to stop, quiet the rolling voices that were in the background and listen, not just with my ears but with my other senses as well.

That was the beginning but I’ve learned it’s a daily journey, one I must tend each day.

A daily journey.

It sometimes involves tears.

Some are mine.

Let People Know You Are In Relationship With Them

Schools are busy places. There is always something happening and a commotion somewhere. In all this busyness and happenings, how can one possibly listen to all that comes along? I  struggled with this as an administrator – remember Fix-It mode? I also suffered from Pressing Issues syndrome,  Tattling overload, Initiative fatigue, Reporting cramp, Teacher Frustration aches and No Dinner pangs at times. Listening wasn’t always easy – but it was absolutely necessary.

Letting people know you are listening means you need to commit to that relationship in the moment. Listening to a student tell me something isn’t really an efficient use of time. But it can’t be about efficiency – it has to be about effective as it relates to relationships. As leaders, it’s about sharing one of the greatest gifts you have – time.

As a parent, I learned that I needed to listen with all my senses in relationship with my daughter when she was telling me something. And it wasn’t just my one daughter. As a father of 8, it’s sometimes very busy when people get talking. My wife and I have often eaten cold suppers after all the stories have been told.

In silence. Listening to the smiles.

At times, when I was busy, I had to be honest with my children and ask them if they could tell me in a few moments. I’ve done this with students and teachers. It is important to enter into relationship with others as you listen and sometimes being honest with them and arranging another time is the right thing to do.

And if they say no?

that’s was always a cue that I needed to stop and listen because it was important.

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Being In Relationship

In all the discussion about devices, communication, screen time, and distraction, it’s often portrayed that we only have “real” relationships when we are in a fact-to-face interaction. Yet, my experience is that it’s about the relationship of the people that is the important. A while back, I wrote

The point is that today, now, there are many different ways for us to connect as a family. I’ve learned not to compare the past with the present so much any more. Things are different and will be different. There are new things that challenge my worldview and previous assumptions and have made me change how I view and think about many things.

The point is not about the devices or technology but the relationships we have with people. Too often what becomes lost in these discussions is the space where each particular person is at

listening to reply  – not understand

So, how are you today?

Let’s Try Re-Framing

The First Follower

This is one of my favourite videos about leadership and being willing to take risks. Early in my career as a teacher, and then as an administrator, I often was so focused on my own agenda that I often missed out on helping others who were more talented that I was as particular things. As I learned through experience (which is only a good teacher if you take the time to be reflective and developmental about your experiences) being a good leader was about helping other people achieve goals, finding ways people can use their talents to grow and improve, searching for ways to allow creativity and innovation to be part of the school environment, allowing others the opportunity and space to be risk-takers and innovators, and building community where adapting and changing are core elements of learning and growing.

Challenge Others to Change

As a leader,  creating an environment where ideas thrive is foundational to making changes that substantially change the learning environment of a school. High expectations are important – helping people reach them is the role of leader. Holding people accountable is important but providing them the opportunity to try new things,  make mistakes and deeply reflect on the what they learn is essential to improvement. People who are afraid to try will stop if they perceive that the consequences for trying are negative or are not connecting to a vision of improvement in learning. To give people room to meet the challenges ahead, leaders need to provide the support for taking risks while also having the expectation that if something isn’t successful there will be reflection making adjustments and moving forward. Leaders create an atmosphere for growth when they use questions to challenge others to see where things might lead, to introduce different perspectives, and provide opportunity for there to be multiple solutions.

Re-Frame the Challenge

The current frame for education is something along the lines of “You need to go to school and do what you are told to do in order to be successful in your future.” or something along those lines. The point is not what the exact frame is but that it really isn’ about challenging or creating wonder or enthusiasm or fun or development or innovation. It’s about showing up and doing school. As an administrator, I often had parents of students who were struggling comment that the student needed to pass and get a grade 12 because without it they wouldn’t be successful in life. There was this “grin & endure” frame. Even successful students would often comment about the lack of connection between what they were doing in school and what they saw as opportunity once they were finished school. There seems to be a “we all survived it so that’s what students need to do.”

But what if school leaders and teachers began to explore the question of “Would students still come if school wasn’t mandatory?” What if the mindset was to open up the discourse around education and what it means to be “educated” in today’s changing world? What challenges are we missing with the current framing of education as “have to” and “endurance”?

What would change if leaders and teachers did a cntrl-alt-delete of the current framing of school?

Why would school be important?

Why would students want to come to school?

Why would teachers want to teach?

Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action, discusses how leaders often start with the What or How of what they are leading instead of the Why. A great example he gives is how Apple, Inc., doesn’t start with the company selling computers or iphones or ipods but, instead, explains that Apple, Inc. begins with:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.

And we happen to make great computers.

Wanna buy one?

So, what would happen if instead of telling students “You have to go to school because you need to in order to be successful sometime in the future” school leaders and teachers reframed it to something like

“We believe that everyone can learn . We believe learning is a life-long skill. We challenge people to explore, question, collaborate and create and share with others as they are learning. And we happen to be a school. Wanna join us?

That’s just one idea for Re-framing that allows teachers and leaders to cntrl-alt-delete the current frame of school and  re-image learning and the school in a different way.

That Can’t Be Done! – Can It?

Often, as a school leader, I didn’t share the responsibility of change, keeping it for myself, often telling myself that I was helping the teachers by being a filter for what came down to us from above. And maybe in a hierarchical system, there is something to this but what I learned was that I wasn’t really protecting as much as I was limiting what we could do as a school. I wasn’t looking at the abilities and talents around me. I wasn’t embracing a community of learning. I wasn’t challenging everyone with getting better or seeking new alternatives. I was protecting what we were doing, incrementally allowing change to take place. That Can’t Be Done! was infact true but only because the way I was leading limited the capacity of others and the school to change and improve.

It took my own public humiliation to recognize that I was no better as a leader than the person who did that to me. I’d like to say that it was a lightning strike and I saw the light but it didn’t happen that way. It took me time and some deep reflection to realize that I was a main reason the school and teachers weren’t progressing and being all they could be.  Can It? I learned that, yes it can but it requires a leader confident in their abilities and, more importantly, confident in the abilities of those around them to meet BIG challenges, a leader willing to ask BIG questions and then give people time to go out and find ways to answer those questions.

I began to understand that a leaders role wasn’t always to be out front, that could in fact lead to  being a  Lone Nut. When a leader thinks small, limits input,  tells but doesn’t ask questions and swoops in to save the day, they demonstrate a lack of trust and community, not great leadership. Being a First Follower can be crucial to the kind of change necessary for schools to hit cntrl-alt-del and embrace change.

Re-Framing as Leader

Re-framing the whole premise of school begins with taking a chance to  reconceptualize what it means to be “educated”. It’s an opportunity to create something new. My experience is that it also means that leaders will come up against resistance, especially from those who are extremely comfortable with the status quo and the hierarchical structure of traditional schooling. However as David Penglase explains about Aspirational Leadership

You could, for example, choose to view and treat leadership as a position or role. Alternatively, you could step up and into your own value, accept and embrace the reality that your leadership role is a privilege and not just a position.

Aspirational leaders have three core principles: Relationships matter, Values and models integrity, and earns, builds and maintains trust.

The difference is how they see their role and the people around them. In re-framing schools, part of the process is re-framing the role that leaders have within schools as creative and innovate centres of discovery and learning.

Thing to Think About

  1. How do you see your role as a leader? If you were to ask others, how would they describe your role as a leader? Are you sure?
  2. Why do you lead? Why is it important to you?
  3. Would you be able to re-frame a new “Why” for your school? Could you work with staff and parents to develop a new re-frame?
  4. What would a new re-frame mean for you as a leader? The teachers? The students? The parents?

Do You Love Learning?

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Do you love to learn? 

Try new things?

Explore new ideas?

Read books/ebooks about a variety of topics? Search Youtube for different topics? Search the net to learn about something you are doing? Tried a MOOC (Massive Online Open Class)? Participated in a Google Hangout? Done a Mystery Skype? Blogged about your day? Joined a Twitter chat?

Are you trying new things and seeking to learn something new? How about a new summer bbq recipe or some new salad dressing?

That’s What We Do

These are just a few things that I and many of the educators that I know would consider to be just what we do. Learning new things, trying new experiences and seeking out ideas that push our own thinking about the world and our own place in it. Yet, is  that what the majority of the population is doing? Are people reaching out to new experiences, trying new things and learning? According to Philip Pape in This Habit Will Put You in the Top %1 of Experts and Money-Makers ,

  • 25% of people have not read a book in the last year
  • 46% of adults score in the lowest two levels of literacy
  • Reading frequency declines after age eight

Yet, when you’re surrounded by people who read, support reading, encourage reading and like reading, it can seem that most people read and are into learning new things. But is that what is happening? It’s hard to tell. In doing some digging, it appears that Canadians are reading.

A 2005 readership study by the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH), READING AND BUYING BOOKS FOR PLEASURE, found that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) Canadians said they read at least one book for pleasure in the 12 months preceding the study1 and that half (54%) read virtually every day. The average time spent reading is 4½ hours per week (unchanged since 1991); the average number of books read per year, 17 (down only slightly from 1991). Fully one-quarter (26%) reported that reading is the leisure activity they most commonly engage in, as many as cited TV-watching, putting reading and TV-watching in the #1 spot among leisure pursuits in Canada (and dwarfing “Internet activities,” which only 9% cited). These findings support thePCH report’s conclusion that “reading for pleasure remains a solidly established and widespread habit with little or no change over the last 15 years.”

Now, reading isn’t the only way people learn. In fact, through access to information on the internet, learning in some areas of the world is easier via video and audio. I used this video to repair a crack in the windshield.

Learning is available all around us. But as Steve Haragon discusses in his latest post there is a dissonance that he is seeing and sensing in the world around which is impacting people.

In the absence of coherent and engaging ways of viewing and improving our world, and of helping each other, the result may be that we shut down. We surrender our sense of agency. Cognitively and emotionally, our normal awareness and empathy bubbles shrink down to small, individual, spaces.

It may seem like this at times, especially when there is so many things that are happening and change is taking place at a rapid pace, so quickly that, for some, retreating is a way of coping. I know that there are times when the constant cacophony of educational voices imploring the need for change can feel overwhelming. In some cases, it would seem that throwing out the baby with the bath water is not only desirable but the only way for progress.

Teachers are Bombarded

This summer has seen an increase in the number of learning opportunities for teachers and it looks like this will continue well into the school year. For many teachers, summer is a time to recharge and refresh themselves. Learning is definitely a great way to replenish one’s batteries but in the past few years there has been a growing number of activities and conferences which now includes online conferences, edcamps and MOOCs plus weekly twitter chats and book clubs. These opportunities vary, each one vying to get the attention of teachers.

What does a teacher do?

Despite the rhetoric that fills some blogs, most teachers are life-long learners, trying to improve their classroom practice. With so many ideas and options available, trying to cope can seem daunting. The image of teacher-as-superhuman doesn’t seem to be far off!

Go to this conference!

Get this certification!

Get more certification!

Start a blog, write a book, present at a conference!

Embrace makerspace, genius hour, inquiry learning, flipped classroom, flipped staff meetings, flipped professional development, gamification of the classroom and school and professional development – make all things fun and engaging.

At a time when teachers and education seems to be lacking, improvement seems necessary.

Teachers who are learners and work to improve their teaching are being overwhelmed.

“Teachers retreat into themselves, not because they don’t care but because they care so much and so deeply they are being overwhelmed.”

I can’t remember the source for this quote. As an administrator, I would use this as a way to remind myself that part of the role of being an educational leader was to help teachers to manage the constant bombardment.  If teachers with whom I was working were becoming overwhelmed by all the demands, it would show in there day-to-day interactions. That meant being with them in their classrooms and working with them on projects. Hiding in the office under the desk only to appear when there were good things happening isn’t a successful leadership style.  Were the initiatives and requirements draining the care right out of the teachers? If it seemed that teachers were withdrawing, it was time to realign so that people didn’t disengage.

Are we killing the love of learning in teachers?

Are we becoming over zealous and driving people away? Are we using the excuses of like technology integration and student performance to push our own narrative of good teaching?

“I have seen the light and now you need to or your are a bad teacher!”

In fact, it’s creating a gap. People who just a few years ago weren’t engaged or were just beginning to engage with technology and using social media seem to have made themselves gatekeepers and gurus who proclaim what is and what is not good for teaching and what constitutes good teaching. Teachers are bombarded with someone’s version of what it means to be a good teacher and a lot of it has to do with using some kind of technology or program or …. or… or….!

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative and  Die Empty and creator of the podcast The Accidental Creative discusses in his interview with Ron Friedman, a tendency to only post the positive-self online, the trips, conferences, publishing, accolades and not the more human parts that get people to these destinations so that it seems everyone we view is living these immaculate lives and doing all the great stuff which can lead to some serious anxiety as people think they need to keep up. Todd Henry describes this very well in Comparison and Competition.

Have you ever looked around at the work of others and felt like yours isn’t measuring up? Has this ever caused your passion for your work to wane? Don’t allow the slow ratcheting-up of expectations to paralyze you.

Too often, teachers are being shown a constant stream of what “experts” are doing without being given the time to improve themselves in a meaningful way. Yes, it can fuel people to improve but, just as easily, it can deflate people to give up. Rockstars were once garage bands.

Start with Relationships

Over and over again I’m reminded that whatever needs to change, building great relationships with students, teachers, parents and other community members is the foundation. Whether it’s Seth Godin in Linchpin, Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Michael Fullan in  The Six Secrets of Change or Carol Dueck in  Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, relationships again and again are the foundational piece to what people do. In his recent piece in The GuardianPaul Mason explores the end of capitalism in a postcapitalist society. Mason pieces outlines how technology allows information to be freely accessed by anyone. This in turns allows people to work together in new ways that until now were unattainable due to costs and distance.

we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.

As highlighted by Godin in Linchpin, relationships and giving to others are changing how people and companies interact. We may only be at the beginning of this shift, but for schools and teachers, building relationships with students, other teachers and their community is so important. Teachers and schools no longer control the knowledge and content that students can access. Although many teachers and schools continue to try,  some educators are making the shift to helping students to become inquirers, supporting the student as they learn, focusing more on the learning and relationships and less on controlling content and assessment.

Highly Organized and Controlled 

As schools, school systems and, to some degree, teachers struggle with trying to control information and content, there is a rise in various methods being used to control what students do, when they do it and how they do it. Highly structured uses of technology and implementation of various systems used to monitor and provide feedback to students continue to dominate classrooms as teachers continue to be required to provide traditional grades and students are required to take traditional tests.  Despite these requirements, there are teachers who are pushing for greater openness – Genius Hour, Makerspaces, Gamification, Inquiry Learning, and versions of Blended Learning and Flipped Classrooms all are stretching the traditional classroom to become more learner focused with greater autonomy on the part of the learner.

Stephen Wilmarth, in his chapter Five Socio-Technology Trends That Change Everything in Learning and Teaching from the book Curriculum 21 Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, explores how technology can lead to greater social interaction and learning. As Wilmarth explains

Be assured, I am not advocating that children do not need to learn to read. They do. Or that writing will not be necessary. It is. Or that the process of arriving at sums no longer matters. It does. But all of these things are the outcomes of social adaptation to prior technological change and invention. It is the nature and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is the way in which we make meaning out of information to create new knowledge that is changing.

The relationships that are created within classrooms are beginning relationships of learning. Through social networks, we now have the ability to expand these learning networks beyond the classroom.

Joining communities of interest and shared values (personal, family, cultural, political, economic) has always been essential to a learner’s identity. In this case, identity equates to where an individual is on the learning curve. And where traditional community relationships once defined a learner’s identity, emerging social networking technologies allow wholly new community associations to spring up organically and globally. These community ties, both strong and weak, exert a powerful influence on learning.

First, keep in mind that social networking technologies are changing rapidly. Second, remember that the technologies are not the point. In social networking, it’s important to concentrate on relationships, not technologies.

Teachers are coping with changes on multiple levels both as learners and, in turn, as teachers. To think that teachers will all be able to move at the same pace is akin to saying all students in the classroom will learn along a linear timeline, at the same pace, with the same tools, doing the same things and arrive at the same time. I don’t know anyone who still believes this takes place in a modern classroom.

Do You Love Learning?

As classrooms and schools move through transformational phases, there will continue to be different degrees of adoption and change. Unlike many who seem to be frustrated by a seeming lack of change, I am optimistic because I have seen so much change in so many areas in the past 4 or 5 years. Twitter, which was once a fairly lonely place for me, is now a fully vibrant learning network with connections of all types of learners and leaders. Interestingly, some of the earlier adopters who were avid sharers are now less involved in the networks, working more in a different avenues such as presenting and blogging or become teacherpreneurs on their own.

What drives all these people? I believe it is a love of learning that is at the heart of what they do which leads them to share and connect with others to share that passion, building relationships with others through learning. I believe their passion for learning fuels their passion for teaching. For others, that spark needs to be kindled and fanned not crushed and blown out by a constant bombardment.

I Wonder…… 

…. what if teachers were supported as learners, trying to move through a myriad of changes along with everyone else? What if their learning was supported and valued, incorporated in the their work and part of a systemic view of learning as work?

….. how educational leaders can support teachers as they transition to a learning system where discovery and asking questions is of primary importance instead of content and knowledge distribution?

…. what if learning and relationships were the primary areas of focus? How might schools change to meet the needs of students and teachers through these two lenses?

…. where wondering and innovation will fit as educational institutions transition from being content and knowledge distribution centres?

And this is why…..

Screenshot 2015-03-21 22.14.27

I’ve seen this a few time over the past week or so. I realize that we’re two decades or more into the technology integration phase in education. I know that we need to integrate technology and that, by now, this shouldn’t even be a discussion. But it is. And it will continue to be for some time to come.

Please Pick up Your …..

For the past two plus decades I’ve been saying those words to one or more of my children. My oldest, is now into her 20’s while my youngest is five which means that for the next number of years I will continue to repeat the same phrase…… because it is all part of the process of learning.

In a recent post at TeachThought entitled Putting Technology At the Centre of Learning , the article highlights that technology needs to be a focus in schools. Indeed “ For all the promotion and obvious benefits that edtech encourages, edtech remains a tokenistic endeavor” is a fair statement when one looks at the case of where many schools technology adoption currently sits. Technology doesn’t always get the focus that is needed to change the policies in the districts/divisions/schools and much of the infrastructure is not able to handle what is needed. And, yes, technology can improve the educational opportunities  – in some cases. 

The Focus Needs to Be Relationships First

This is my starting place as an educator. Why? Because if we don’t focus on relationships and build culture and capacity within classrooms, schools and communities, no amount of technology will bring changes that will solve the issues our students face – today. Without developing relationships that build the foundation to tackle questions related to the environment, race, gender, ability, class and other divisive issues, schools will continue on the merry-go-round of the next “educational fad” whatever that might be. Yes, schools need to focus on curriculum. Yes, there needs to be technology integration. But, as we explored during our last #saskedchat, a shift in focus brings to light that we can do all of this but still not provide students the skills to delve into issues of equity and privilege or how they relate to current issues at a local or global level.

Reminders Are Okay 

I could look at continuing to remind my sons they need to pick up their ….. as a, well, I’ve done it enough already. But, they still need the direction – just like new teachers and people who are shifting how they teach  – it’s a reminder that we have new people who are trying and learning and need some guidance. Which is exciting, isn’t it?

So, when will we learn? When can this stop? Actually, I hope that it continues for a bit longer – it means we are continuing to evolve and grow, with teachers, new and old, trying new things and exploring. Someday, maybe, we won’t have to have this discussion –

But wait…..

I still need reminders…… which aren’t a bad thing. In fact, I sometimes need reminders from my five year old that I need to spend time with him…. which I’m off to do. It helps to build relationships, these reminders – to make human what can sometimes become narrowly focused and somewhat out of focus.

Remember – What’s best for students? isn’t always a straight forward question – it depends on many different factors and sometimes we need to remind ourselves – what do we really mean when we ask this question? What is our motivation? Why are we asking the question?

Collaboration – EdcampPBS Style

Prelude to a postScreenshot 2015-03-09 14.53.36

This past weekend I spent Saturday morning at #edcampPBS organized by teachers from a few different schools and school divisions around the city of Regina. Over the past few weeks we have been collaborating to organize the event which was held at Pilot Butte School. I’ve been to a few other edcamps which I really enjoyed and found to be great learning experiences and this was no different. As the morning progressed, people became more comfortable with the format and began to ask questions and offer ideas and input which is what this is all about. But, the biggest take away from today was:

As teachers, we have to tell and retell our stories, share what we are doing and be willing to be vulnerable as learners

As I was sitting with a group during the last session of the day, we heard about some great ideas for learning and sharing. All the members of the group were from different schools and school divisions. There was no “One Way” or “Right Way”. We discussed what some of the participants were doing and the learning that was going on. I was familiar with some of the people but only knew other via twitter or just met them. Each person had an vision for how they saw things based on their experiences and learning. As each member talked, the stories they told were of learning journeys – of wanting to improve and seeking ways to improve as teachers and administrators. For me, it was these stories where the deep and rich learning was taking place.

From where I sat

Working on a PhD and doing a great deal of reading about PLN’s, Professional Development and teacher career paths, I have come across a great deal of deep thought about what is needed to improve teaching from some of the world’s foremost leaders on these topics. If this was an academic work, I’d begin to delve into each area but that’s not the purpose. Instead, it’s to highlight that in almost all the reading I am doing, the perspective and learning of the teachers is not used to highlight teachers’ learning. But as I listened to these stories, which were filled with reflective anecdotes, insights about school change, the importance of relationship as primary to everything we do, and the passion these people brought to the table, I was struck by two things:

1. The desire of these teachers to improve and get better, to be the best teachers/administrators/consultants they could be in order to help the students/teachers/community where they taught.

2. The importance of relationships and culture for learning. We work in relationship each day and each of these people mentioned over and over the importance of this to learning. Part of the conversation revolved around helping those teachers who continue to work in isolation – teaching in the silo to venture forth at required times – and the desire to help them see the power of connecting and learning with others. For me, this is the crack, the place where teachers fall through. There were “this is the way” answers which I’ve heard many times. But what was different was that everyone at the table recognized/felt/sensed the changes taking place in their buildings. Hope!

Passion for learning

As someone who has not stopped trying to improve as a teacher/administrator/person, I sometimes don’t understand when people shy away from learning, especially when it relates to the work they do each day. I understand that people are in different places in their careers/lives and this has an impact that too often is not discussed. And too often we highlight the “super stars” who are atypical. I call this SuperStar syndrome but you could now call it (fill in the blank with your pick of superstar) who we hold up to demonstrate that anyone can do it, just look at them. Now ponder that for a moment. How to deflate anyone trying to improve by comparing them to the “super star”. They already know they aren’t that person – resentment, depression, anxiety, angst – all roll into play. Would you ever say that to a student to motivate them? Hey, look at _____________, if you work harder you can be just like her/him. Instead, listen to their story and find the thread where there just might be something of a passion.

In MultipliersLiz Wiseman demonstrates that there are people who bring out the best in others, they multiply their abilities. Not all leaders are multipliers – I wasn’t when I started. I wasn’t open to listening or trying to improve the whole – I was what Wiseman calls a Diminisher.

I was a Diminisher. However, somewhere along the way, I realized I wasn’t the smartest person in the room and this changed how I began to see things in school – there were so many smart people around, my role as an administrator was to help them and support them, give them ideas or nudges or, sometimes, a push forward. It was about changing the relationships in the building – building the capacity of the people who were there. It wasn’t about me – it was about others. When I let go of “me”, things began to change which eventually allowed me to revision my own career path.

Technology had always been an interest for me and it was helping other harness this in their own teaching that eventually moved me to change paths. Through building relationships and changing the way educators can assist students, technology offers educators a way to fundamentally change what happens in the classroom and to think differently about their roles. That’s scary. That’s why we need Multipliers – to help others during their career path change. But, from what I’ve experienced, heard, witnessed and felt, that change and shift is  career changing.

The Stories

Stories are so important to us as people. For far too long, the stories of teachers have not been where we have focused. Instead, the focus has been on someone else’s idea of where teachers need to be. Even when people discuss Professional Growth Plans, they are typically tied to a teacher learning within the parameter of the School Improvement Plan or the Vision or ….. instead of listening, intently, to the teacher. I have a passion for using technology to build relationships and improve learning but everything starts with the person/people that I am with – where are they at. As I sat with the group Saturday morning, their passion to improve, to offer more to their teachers and students filled their stories. Too often, these stories get lost in the march of school improvement in yet another initiative. What, if instead of using data to sort and sift, the stories behind the data were investigated and those stories drove the learning? What if instead of starting with data, we started with story?

“This is the best PD I’ve had in my 29 years of teaching.”

I’ve heard that and read that a number of times as I listen to people’s stories. Part of me is happy that this is happening. Part of me, however, is saddened by this fact. As I see young teachers enter the profession and hear their stories too, I wonder if we can change this story, make it a different path. Do we have the will to help change this story? Or, as I’ve also heard, are we going to hope that these new teachers change their story and become more “committed” to their work, willing to “do things as they have been done” because that’s what “gets results”? Do we want them repeat, somewhere in a distant future, if they stay, that finally, “this was the best PD I’ve had…..”?

Step Out of the Comfort Zone

I came across George Couros’ new project, #EDUin30 today. I think it’s a great way to get teachers to tell their stories and build relationships with other teachers. In a nutshell, George is hoping educators will use the new video recording feature of twitter to share a 30 second piece about their teaching.

My hope is that educators partake in this for their own learning, and then think of ways that they can do this type of reflection with their kids.

George is asking that each week you look for the #EDUin30 hashtag to see what the new topic is and then, if you are so inclined, to record a short post and tag it with the appropriate week hashtag – #EDUin30w1 for week 1, #EDUin30w2 and so on. Really, check out his post and, if you’re so inclined, tell your story.

Tell your story, please. Share your Edu-Awesomeness with others. Each teacher has so much to share. If you want to get started with blogging, join our #saskedchat blog challenge where each week we offer up another topic to write about. Last week, well, we focused on collaboration which is where I started. But, like a good story, it took me to places I wasn’t sure about when I started. So now I return to the start and hope each of you will reach out, in some way, to share and collaborate with others.

It’ in the Attitude

For years I was a painter — I put myself through university and spent a few years afterward running my own company painting houses and commercial properties. At one point, the company had 20 summer students and 3 full time people besides myself. Like many ventures, what started off as a way to make some extra money turned into to a full blown job which led to an entrepreneurial endeavour. I learned a great deal about what life was like outside of education.

At some point, the work I was doing went from being something I enjoyed and took great pride in doing to being “a job”. I don’t know when it changed. It wasn’t necessarily what I was doing that changed but my own attitude about what I was doing. In my early twenties, I was sure there was “more”.

They made it Better

I worked one commercial job that still stands out for me. Not because of the work I did but because of two other people who were on the job. One was Tony, a tile setter and the other was Mike, a drywaller. I don’t remember much about them but I remember how they made me feel. Some people do something and the way they do it and the attitude they have forever changes the way you see things. It may be a commonplace thing but afer you see them do it, it becomes different. It leaves an impression on you that lasts a lifetime — you are made better by that exeperience. It’s not necessarily their passion for the work/thing they are doing that sticks with you but the passion for life that they have that permeates the work they do.

For me, as I worked along side these two who were doing hard , backbreaking work, I was impacted at their amazingly positive attitude. They had a presence that was ‘incredible’! They were happy and took pride and pleasure in what they were doing but it was more — it is still hard to describe. The world was made better by being with them. For that time, I once again enjoyed what I was doing.

These two would be, I think, what Liz Wiseman would call “multipliers” — they made other people better — not because of what they did but because of who they were. They had a positive effect on others. There were some people, however, that weren’t as impressed — they seemed threatened and were down and hard on them. It would make me mad sometimes but Tony would tell me to “Tend my own garden, plant my seeds and not let the weeds take over”. It took me a long time to figure out what he meant!

Attitude is Important

                                                          Mindset is important

George Couros asked this question the other day —

I think I understand what he was getting at — that what students do needs to have relevance, be connected to their lives, connected to their passions, meaningful to them as individuals — it needs to matter. I agree. I also know that there are many things that need to get done that can be drudgery and can seem like a waste of time. There were many things that I did while painting that were drudgery — but they were drudgery mostly because of my attitude. Over time, I’ve come to see that how I approach things, my mindset, makes a huge difference — in fact, it might make all the difference.

Writing for….value if…

As a student myself, very little of what I ‘produce’ sees the light of eyes. Even work that I have created and put online for an ‘authentic audience’ has seen little exposure — with a limited amount of feedback. In fact, as I type this, I look over to see a shelf full of papers I’ve written and, if I were to open a few files, there would be posts that have been published with zero views. In reality, much of the work I’ve done hits the “waste bucket” if I look at the ‘authentic interaction’ it has received. Does that means it’s a waste? Or is there value in the learning that I did? Can we always separate things into ‘value/no value’ piles? Do all the things we do need to have some immediate value to them to be worth doing? I write here to work things through myself and maybe get some feedback, maybe. But if there is no feedback, is there no value? Does the value have to be immediately visible? What if I were to return to this idea at a later date having grown and rethought things? What if others disagree with me? Does it now have less value? Or if they agree — more value? Does their status matter?

It’s part of LearningPart of my learning and growth has been to realize that being different and seeing things differently isn’t a problem or an issue or a “career crippler” as I have been told for most of my life. As I stumble, make errors and mistakes, take missteps, and agree and disagree with others, I learn so much about the world, about myself and the people in my life. Much of what I have done has been discarded, like assignments in a waste basket, recycled for other purposes. But the learning — that’s stayed with me. Sometimes, it’s what I’ve learned by having to push myself through, to not just quit and walk away that has allowed me to see things differently on the other end, to see the greatness in others who do ‘ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude’.

The Story is in the Stones

Often, when I visit the mall in Saskatoon, I can still see the stones that were laid by Tony — worn from years of use. The shops where Mike did his drywalling are still there as are the headers and other work. Covered over — no one the wiser. And I smile — it makes me feel different/better — and I’m thankful because I was changed by my relationships with a stone setter and a drywaller — and I can see that now.

I wish I could thank them.

The relationships with students and the impression we leave with them aren’t because of the ‘great assignments or the amazing lesson plan’. It’s not the ‘great BYOD policy and walkthrough report’ you wrote. It’s those mistakes I made early in my career. Yes, having students do work that is meaningful is important; having them interact with authentic audiences is important; having them create and produce instead of consume and respond should be an essential part of what students do in schools. But do you do ordinary things with extra-ordinary attitude? I know I didn’t.

Some people are able to work with their life passion while others are able to bring their passion for life to their work.