Month: August 2014

What Conversation Are You Putting Off?

 Be that #Oneperson


As many of you have noticed, I enjoy blogging about the importance of school culture. Most posts are focusing on the fun side of building culture, which is very important in developing trust. I find that many school administers are fairly proficient at this because it brings joy and smiles to the faces of their team.

There is another side of school leadership, which many administrators tend to avoid, the Fierce Conversation.   Early in my career, I found myself in this position because, quite frankly, I was scared to have these kinds of discussions. I feared these tough conversations because I wanted to “be liked” Little did I know I was damaging my school culture by not confronting toxic situations or toxic people.

Gradually, I gained more confidence and courage to have these discussions when needed. However, during these discussions I often felt the “flow” of the conversations were disjointed and were sometimes ineffective. Upon further reflection, I realized a need to improve in two specific areas during these difficult conversations.

Problem Area 1 – Inconsistent Preparation

I did not prepare for my conversations at the level I needed to. The lack of preparation typical showed up when I missed significant details, which should have been included in the discussion. Luckily, I found a tool that has made all the difference for me. It is called the,“60 second opener,” created by Susan Scott. I have used this protocol a number of times and the process is magical. If you try the protocol, make sure to follow the steps exactly as they are written. The opener is magical and is the cure for inconsistent preparation. I also role-play my conversations with my colleagues. This allows me to practice and provides me with an opportunity to make adjustments if needed.

Get the 60-second opener here:

Problem Area 2 – Too Many Pillows

This is an area, which can cause a leader issues. Strong leaders begin a meeting with good intentions. They desire to confront a problem area or correct a behavior; however, the conversation becomes problematic when the administrator tries to soften the conversation. This softening of the intended conversation is called “pillowing.” This happens when the administrator becomes distracted, tries to cushion the inappropriate behavior, and allows the participant to deflect the conversation or make excuses. Please control the conversation and end with phrases like:

  1. “Do you have any questions about my expectations?”
  2. “Your behavior was unacceptable and I expect it to change.”

Culture is a constant balance between accountability and culture. Administrators cannot shy away from challenging situations. Your solid employees are counting on you to tackle toxicity within your school culture.

Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can. – Susan Scott


As always, I leave you with an exercise you can do with your school staff to help remind educators why we are in the business of making the world a better place.

#Oneperson Action Item:

Theme Emails

  1. Turns mundane and routine emails into appointment viewing
  2. Pick any theme you want…. It may depend on the age of your staff !

Few Sample Emails…

Hey You Guys,

A reminder that Sloth loves Chunk, and Sloth also loves when you submit your semester grades in on time! Remember grades are due Friday, January 11th by 3:45.




Please remember to take attendance each period within 5 minutes of class starting, so our attendance office can save Ferris if he is absent.




What Angry Birds Can Teach Educators



“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

I have recently been reading more about what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, describes as fixed and growth mindsets. Dweck emphasizes successful people tend to focus on growth, solving problems and self-improvement, while unsuccessful people think of their abilities as fixed assets and avoid challenges. The Angry Birds illustration above is a great example of a growth mindset.

I have asked my friend, Matt Townsley, to add to this discussion as an expert on growth mindset. Many of you know Matt from his leadership at Solon (IA) Community School District in the area of standards based grading. I appreciate Matt sharing his expertise with us!

Failure is not an option? – guest blogger, Matt Townsley

I will never forget the summer after I graduated high school. For some reason, I decided to give tennis a try.  I was the high school PE table tennis champion several times, so tennis couldn’t be that hard, right?  I was a lackluster basketball player, average cross country runner and mediocre golfer.  I’m not sure why tennis would come naturally.  After several weeks of practicing my serve, my stroke looked nothing like Roger Federer, so I gave up.  Here was my problem: I had purchased all of these tennis balls, but wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. Then, one day, it hit me. I didn’t want to be known as a tennis failure, so I took up juggling…with tennis balls!  I picked up a copy of Juggling for the Complete Klutz and first learned how to juggle two balls.  Next: three balls.  I would never have learned to juggle if I had not first failed miserably at tennis.  Let’s be honest, in between successful juggles, I made a lot of mistakes too.  I still make mistakes when juggling three tennis balls and I never could figure out how to juggle four!

I took a risk in buying the juggling book.  We need our students to be willing to do the same.  Sure, we have high stakes state tests, which we can’t control, but we do have the rest of the school year to shape the culture of our classrooms and schools.  Every educator I’ve met believes students learn at different rates and different paces.  This means students are going to make mistakes on their way to learning.  When we make mistakes, we are presented with the opportunity to learn from them.  Classroom teachers understand this aspect of their professional practice!  When Monday or second period doesn’t go well, there’s nearly always a second chance to reflect, revise and re-teach.  It is in our DNA as educators to look beyond unsuccessful first attempts!

Experts who proclaim failure is not an option are right.  Failure is the only option that creates meaningful reflection for adults and students.  When (not if) failure happens, look in the mirror or ask a friend, who can help you get up, and face round two of the game of life.


The simple question is: Do we encourage our students to take risks and make mistakes? If not, are we preparing our students for “life after school.” If you want to learn more about growth mindset, please, look at this article:


“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

 As always, I leave you with an exercise that you can do with your school staff to help remind educators why we are in the business of making the world a better place.

#Oneperson Action Item:

The Secret Voicemail

  1. This is a simple culture activity that can make a big impact on your staff.
  2. If your building has phones in the classroom, this activity is a possibility.
  3. Arrive at school early before any teachers have arrived. Call a teacher’s phone extension and leave a positive message. Make sure you have great energy in your voice and provide specific examples that you appreciate about this teacher.
  4. The teacher will arrive and think “Great, an upset parent if I have a voicemail this early.” The teacher will be pleasantly surprised when they hear a positive message coming from you. The positive energy will grow within the entire building because of one phone call from #oneperson.

School Improvement Starts with Culture

Be that #oneperson

Great companies that build an enduring brand have an emotional relationship with customers that have no barrier. And that emotional relationship is built on the most important characteristic, which is trust. Howard Schultz – Starbucks CEO

Leaders, One simple question: “How much time do you spend on shaping the culture of your organization?” You see- your culture is being formed with or without you. Visitors to your school can feel your culture within seconds of entering your building. Simple cultural distinctions like:

  1. What do the walls in your school communicate?
  2. How does the building secretary greet visitors?
  3. How do students greet fellow students in the hallways?

There are thousands of different definitions of organizational culture. Most of them I am not smart enough to understand and explain to my staff. I simply say to my staff our culture is defined by “How we do things around here.” This simple definition allows our school district to keep a “laser like focus” on maintaining and creating a positive school culture. I will share 2 strategies that I use to shape school culture. Please feel to “pushback” on any of these ideas. I will be sharing more ideas at the School Administrators of Iowa Conference on Wednesday, August 6th. I would love to see you at my session.

Strategy 1

No Complaining Rule

We have an expectation that everyone looks for solutions. In many situations, teachers have the best solutions to issues at school. This agreement has empowered teachers to share those solutions to building principals. This rule has also lowered the amount of mindless complaining, which adds to the toxicity of school culture.

The No Complaining Rule

“Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their co-workers. If they have a complaint they can take it to the principal/superintendent or someone who can do something about the problem, BUT they must also offer one or two possible solutions.”

The intention is to eliminate mindless complaining which leads to a toxic work environment and encourage justified complaints that lead to new ideas, innovation and success.

Strategy 2

The second strategy comes from the work of Jamie Vollmer, and his book, Schools Can’t Do It Alone. The words below appear in page 185. We remind our entire staff about the importance of the thoughts below. Five years ago, bad mouthing was a prevalent problem. However, over time as we focused heavily on this strategy, the pride, morale and commitment in our district has grown.

Stop bad-mouthing
one another in public

(See page 185.)

Teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, administrators, and board members must stop bad-mouthing one another and their schools in public. This destructive behavior is pervasive, and it is the epitome of lose-lose behavior: it undermines the reputation of the speaker while simultaneously grinding down the public’s opinion of their local schools.

There is no doubt that many educators have reasons to complain. They struggle with an ever-increasing list of academic, social, and medical responsibilities. They resent being forced to raise America’s kids without adequate support, and they are bitter about the growing disrespect displayed by students, parents, and the public. There are times when the fury and frustration become too much to bear. But venting in public is a nasty habit that solves nothing. If silence and restraint become impossible to maintain, there is an acceptable release: Gripe to your spouse. That’s why we have them.

As always, I leave you with an exercise that you can do with your school staff to help remind educators why we are in the business of making the world a better place.

#Oneperson Action Item:

  1. Copy and paste this definition to a document and hand out to all staff

  1. Please give you staff five minutes to read and discuss the definition. Maintain a straight face, and tell your staff that “This is a very important document and everyone needs to try to memorize this!”
  1. Have this clip ready to go… Ask your staff to pay close attention to this clip as it will help them understand the definition above.
  1. After the clip, smile and tell your staff to make a paper ball with the definition and throw it across the room. We don’t need fancy definitions- culture is simply, “The way we do things around here”  This is fun to watch
  1. This activity should conclude with a quick discussion about school culture and why it is important.

Hope to see you!

School Administrators of Iowa Annual Conference

 Presenter- Joel Pedersen

 Topic – School Improvement Starts with School Culture

Meeting Rooms – 302-304

Date and Time – Wednesday, Aug. 6 from 2:05-2:45