It’s All About the Soil

Dear Readers, I don’t think have shared that I am an avid gardener. My skills came from years of trial and error. I have come to the conclusion it is not about the plants that determine if I am successful, but where I plant them.

Living in Houston right behind a bayou, I had a horrible mix of clay and sand in most of my back yard. The first year, I just planted the plants in the ground and expected the raspberries to thrive. Of course, they did not. The following year, I got out the compost and some good soil from the local Big Box. The raspberries that I planted grew and survived the year. Over the course the few years, I continued to add organic material to the bed, and the raspberries produced a decent amount. By the time, I moved that area of soil looked so completely different that the soil around it. It was a beautiful black and had a sweet smell as opposed to the dirt around was pale, clumpy and stinky.

I tell you this because how often do we look around and put a great initiative into a school, and it fails. It probably happens more than we want to admit. This quote often appears in the Twitterverse, “Culture eats initiatives for lunch.”

In Rick Dufour’s  In Praise of  American Educators,  he discusses how the first real step of creating a Professional Learning Community is not the technical setup but instead creating the mission, vision, values, and goals. He also discusses that when these drive how decisions, policies, and procedures are made, it will fundamentally change how the school works. If we only focus on the technical aspects, we will fail because we are not changing our thinking.

So my Dear Readers, please check the soil around your plant before you plant. Really, it is all about the soil that determines success.

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Be the band you want to hear

Be the band you want to hear.

This is a line that I heard yesterday at the Wonder Workshop. This line has really resonated with me. Before I attempt to dig into that line, I want to talk about a string I feel has pulled me along this year.

  • First-I chose my #oneword-Matter
  • Second-My small faith read Mama Bear Manifesto and had the author(my dear neighbor) come talk to us. The chapter about doing the work that you can and don’t be someone else spoke to me. On the way home, I asked Leslie if see wanted to come with me to Wonder Workshop.
  • Third-I had the pleasure of Glennon Doyle Melton speak. She spoke about the power of being present and sitting with the pain. We need to not to press the Easy button to try to avoid it.
  • Finally-Leslie and I arrived at the Wonder Workshop where I met face to face two of my favorite educators, Karen and Allyson. If the day was only talking to these three wonderful women, I would have been thrilled. It was so much more.

As I read this line, I think about it in terms of my creation in the world. I need to write the blog I would want to read. I need to create a PD that excites me. I should create things that have value and meaning to me. It goes back to something that I heard Glennon say at her event.It is easy to be liked, but it is hard to be loved. When I create likable things, I am not necessarily pouring my heart into it and yet creations that are loved have my heart in it and they matter.

I just looked at my notes near that quote is are these 3 lines:

  • Work is love made visible.
  • We want to be wowed.
  • We want to care.

As I read these three statements, I think of a Facebook comment about one of my creations. She said, “Thanks for pouring your heart into this labor of love.”  It wasn’t as powerful as it is now. It also means that someone out there is waiting to be read, see or hear my creation and be wowed or prompted to care. This puts an enormous responsibility on me to show up and create.

The other line that I think all of us needs to hear is:

Be who you needed when you were younger.

Throughout the whole day, I could not stop and think my own children. Every time he described wonder, I remember another moment with my children or times in the classroom. As an educator, I am committing to seeing the wonder of learning. As a parent, I commit to enjoying the moments of wonder with them.

Thank you, Brad Montague, for creating a space for inspiration to take flight. Thank you, Allyson, for the invitation. Thank you, Karen, for hopping on the plane and showing up. Thank you, Leslie, for saying yes to something you usually say no to.


Positive Feedback

In my previous post, I discussed the first few pages of Quiet Leadership.  Again this book has continued to amaze me.  The section that really spoke to me is that leaders focus on accentuating the positive.  He discussed how much time the majority of us spend being rough on ourselves and beating ourselves up. Even more telling is the fact that the majority of people the majority of the time do not react positively to negative feedback. David Rock even suggests that we only probably get five minutes of positive feedback a year.

What really struck me was the science behind how our inner voice can prevent us from doing our best.  Every person needs positive feedback to help allow our mind to quiet the fear and self-doubt so we can have our best performance.  I fell in love with these questions and am pondering how to adapt them in my work.

  • What did you do well and what did you discover about yourself as a result?
  • What were the highlights of this project and what did you learn?
  • What went well and would you like to talk about how to do more of this?
  • What did you do well and what impact do you this had on everyone else?

The reason I love this is because as my own worst critic and really don’t need help to reflecting on the mistakes.   I need someone to help me focus on positives and help drive me to repeat the things that work.

My reading habits are unique and I tend to read about 3-5 different books at a time.  During this time, one of my other books is Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett.  Her part two really spoke to me.  She discussed how so many women have a constant deluge of negative self-talk and how we may sabotage ourselves in the work place.  We down play our successes by humble bragging,shifting credit to others or feeling like an impostor.

I bring this up because as educators we are helping to create the inner voice of our students. We need to help create the habits of positive self-talk and celebrating  successes.  We also need to model habits that we would want our students to have  It is time for us to own our success and focus on creating more successes.  As leaders in school, it is important make sure that we are giving our teachers continuous positive feedback to help teachers become even greater.

I am challenging myself to start giving more specific positive feedback to others and to myself.  It’s time to create a revolution of positive feedback.

It's time to start a revolution of positive feedback.

Advice: Is it useful?

My current read is giving me so much to think about.  The book is Quiet Leadership by David Rock.  He is also the author who inspired by previous post.  I am only 18 pages in and I have some action steps because it.  Join me in this journey as learn with this book.

The image below really spoke to me because my district is in the process of implementing the PLC process and have spent time talking about mission, visions and values.  I know some people are like “move on already,” but this image really gets to why we need to think about what lies underneath the surface.  Also if you focus on the results, you ignore all the other things, you won’t get anywhere because it is only the tip.


Another big take away is that no two brains are exactly alike.  It explains my frustration when I share space (physical or virtual) that needs to be organized.  So often, it takes me longer to find something because I have to figure out how the person was thinking when the put something somewhere.

Our environment literally shapes the physical nature of the our brains; therefore our brains are already quite different to each other’s at birth.

He therefore suggest that advice is useless because we are telling people what we do and it does not what they would do.  Below are two of my favorite quotes about this:

Highly successful, intelligent people are blind to the fact that they are trying to do make connections for people, assuming their brains are similar enough for this to work.

Doing the thinking for other people is not just a waste of our own energy; it also gets in the way of other people working out the right answers.

What does this mean for me in my role? What are my next steps?

I am going to work on not giving advice as if they are me. I want to ask questions to prompt thinking and let others make their own connections.  I am going to be observant as I work in reflective conversation with others.  Are they making connections?  Are they doing the thinking?

The other section I read was about how our brain uses experiences to hard wire our brain and these hard wires drive our perception.   I think this is important.  As leaders, we can change a person perception because it is his/her reality.  This hard wiring is double edged sword.  It allows us understand the information rich world with without being overwhelmed, but also allows us to defend our mental model against overwhelming evidence of the contrary.

Here’s a gem from that section:

Perhaps you have noticed that when we are for an idea we are more likely to allow tenuous links to become fact, and when we are against an idea we see even strong evidence as irrelevant.

So I could draw some connections for you, but remember I am letting others think and  draw their own connections.