Posts in Admistrator
How to Look Smart During a Meeting

I gave a workshop recently to a group of parent volunteers on the topic of meeting management. We discussed the many ways to engage all participants, shorten meeting times (as I've written about here) and generally make meetings less painful for participants.  

Here's the thing- most folks are clueless about how their own behavior is perceived by others in meetings.  This is a problem when you consider how much time we spend in meetings.  I suggest we use meetings to not only get work done but also to build professional rapport with our colleagues.

What are some behaviors that are off-limits during meetings?  How about the following:

  • Yawning
  • Sighing
  • Slumping in your chair
  • Arriving late
  • Checking your phone
  • Doing email
  • Staring off into the distance 
  • Being rude or disinterested to others in the meeting
  • Asking off-putting questions (E.g. "When do I get a raise?")

Each of these behaviors can lead those around us to perceive us as lazy, bored, unprofessional or worst of all- incompetent.  

To contrast these off-limits behaviors, let's put on the table some things that you can do that will truly make you look smarter and build rapport with those around you.  These include but aren't limited to the following:

  • Arriving early
  • Taking notes
  • Silencing your phone
  • Looking interested
  • Sitting upright
  • Making visual contact with others in the meeting
  • Asking smart questions at the right time

Meetings are here to stay.  Let's choose to make the most out of them and look smart in the process.  

Photo courtesy of FDP

Avoiding Celebrity Status

Be honest- do you like it when someone recognizes you when you are "off duty"?  

Some school leaders crave this reality while others are very happy being anonymous.  The surest test is what I call the Grocery Store Metric.  Next time you are at the grocery store, do you like being recognized as the leader of your school or would you prefer to go through the self check-out lane and buy your gallon of milk by yourself?

I know which one I prefer.

This weekend at church I saw Fr. James Martin.  If I hadn't seen his photo in the back of a book or on the Colbert Show late at night, I never would have recognized him.  Jeans, button down shirt, black windbreaker.  

He's a guy who doesn't read his press clippings.  He knows that while he might be recognized at a Catholic Church in New Jersey, a quick trip to the mall will turn up virtually no raving fans.

He knows he's not Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga.  Just a guy trying to live out his calling as a writer, speaker and priest.

Avoiding celebrity status is vital to staying fresh as a school leader. It accomplishes three simple things:

  • It keeps you grounded in the people you love.  If you're always living for the crowds, you'll have no one to constitute your "inner circle".
  • It allows you to keep working hard, very hard.  Fans make us lazy.  School reminds us to keep working hard on the mission of our kids and our faculty.
  • It enables you to be fully present to the little things.  Being interruptable is only possible when we accept the present (mostly ordinary) moment.

How can you remind yourself to keep working hard and avoid seeking out celebrity status?

Prepare to be Misunderstood

Great leaders are often misunderstood. This is certainly true in a school setting.  Lean in the direction of being too top-down and folks will feel that you're not being collaborative enough.  Lean in the direction of constructivist leadership and you'll be accused of being too soft.

Prepare to be misunderstood.  School leaders have to learn this essential truth.

Andy Stanley's book, Choosing to Cheat articulates the skill it takes to put first things first and manage your schedule with laser-like precision.  You'll have to ask:

  • what 2-3 things can I do best for the sake of my organization? 

This isn't an ego trip as you answer the question. Rather, it's about being very clear on what you bring best to your school.  

For me, the best things I can bring are: planning, writing, speaking, Board work and meeting with people.  

This means that the following have to take a back seat: unnecessary meetings, day to day management and external commitments that don't leverage my skills.

It also implies that you're going to have to get good at saying "no".  Take today for example, I was scheduled to attend a college planning event for 100 people.  I'm obviously not there since I'm writing this blog post!  I made a decision to commit to things where my voice would be heard more clearly rather than in a sea of 100 people.  They don't really need me if they have 100 others to participate and I can focus on school-related projects instead.

So... what 2-3 things are you best at?  How ready are you to be misunderstood as you execute those 2-3 skills?

What You Must Forget as a School Leader

When I worked in Baltimore, we wanted to be like the fancier school down the street.  When I was in New Hampshire, we wondered what the other school was doing related to marketing and advertising.  In Jersey, our small Catholic school tried to emulate a larger one the next town over.

School leaders go for this kind of thing- it makes us feel like we are Sam Walton who legendarily would spend time in rival department stores.  Today school administrators routinely browse the websites of their competitors.  After all, you might pick up a few things that you can steal, ahem, borrow.  

And now... we are trying to just be ourselves.  My school spent years trying to be someone else.  The bigger school.  The trendier school.  The more monied school.  Then, we began working on being "ok" with ourselves.  After all, if we were honest with ourselves, our school was pretty darn good.   Make that great.  And it still is.  

This is one of the biggest insights that school leaders need to have.  Forget what the next guy is doing and work harder than the next guy at being yourself.  It's not about being complacent or forgetting your competitive edge.  It's about being honest with what makes your school truly special.

Competition has a shelf life.  To always be longing for "what the next guy has" is exhausting.  Better to stick with what you know best, do it consistently and toot your own horn.  

Forget about the next guy- be yourself and be it with humility and confidence.  

From Flocknote to Remind 101

If your school is like mine, you know that kids text ... a lot.  By a recent study, they text an average of 60 times per day.  This is, not surprisingly, up quite a bit from just a few years ago.  I'm amazed at my daughter's finger-speed on the keypad of her slider phone- almost Olympic skills!

Our school has a policy that coaches and teachers do not text players or students.  Kids want to text adults but we don't want the opposite in play.  We tested out Celly a few years ago but it didn't stick.

I wanted to like Flocknote but found it cumbersome and eventually expensive.

I'm testing out Remind 101 and so far, I'm really impressed.  The iOS and Android apps are smooth.  The online app has a great UI and overall Remind 101 will be a helpful tool for reminding kids of practice changes, snow day class assignments, etc.  We still use our usual cadre of online resources (Google Docs, Moodle, etc.) but sometimes you just need a complement.  


Five Ways to Make Exams Less Painful for Kids

It's that time of year- mid term exams.  My kids are stressed about them.  My students at school are stressed too.  Many teachers think that exams help students learn.  We think that they motivate kids or that exams serve as some kind of academic vegetable dish- not very tasty but good for you.  

Exams are part of our education system and there actually are a few things we can do to make them tolerable for students.

So what can you do starting this year?  Here are some examples:

  1. Do away with exams all together.  While this is a stretch for most schools, it actually is possible to do away with mid-term and final exams.  Portfolios, oral presentations and capstone projects are all ways to circumvent the "exam" frenzy this time of year.
  2. Minimize announcements before and after exams.  As in the a.m. blurbs over the P.A. system- cut them down dramatically during exam week.
  3. Make it fun.  Why not host a pizza party to mark the end of exams and celebrate?
  4. Teach your teachers to chill out.  Many teachers, instead of easing kids into the routine of exams, heap more stress on them.  Help them be calm and nourish calm before, during and after the testing period.
  5. Challenge your leadership team to rethink exams.  Is there a smarter way to do them?  Is your schedule conducive to student success?  Ask the tough questions so that your school's approach to exams always stays fresh.

So here's the deal- you could do all of these things.  The real question is, will you?