10 Questions Principals Should Ask Their Staff

In my upcoming book, #UnleashTalent, a major element that I discuss is supporting your staff. Whether you are a principal, teacher, custodian, nurse, secretary, or superintendent, we must support each other as adults to support our kids. Everything trickles down. Happy and supported staff equal happy and supported students.

Happy and supported staff equal happy and supported students. Click To Tweet

If we want to model a culture of support- We first have to LIVE it as adults first with one another, especially if you are a school leader and administrator. What we model becomes our school culture, whether we like it or not. Thought: Is what you are modeling worth catching?

As a school administrator, it is too easy to think you understand the pulse of your building. But, one should never assume anything. In order to get in touch, we must do more than be present. We need to ask more thoughtful questions that can help us, as leaders, gain a variety of perspectives from staff members in various roles. Sometimes, it may feel that some questions you want to ask staff seem silly or redundant. You may even worry that you may be bothering them by asking.

But, the truth is that your colleagues WANT you to ask these questions. Then, most importantly, they want you to take action as a result of what you learned.

Therefore, here are 10 questions to ask staff and colleagues to grow more in your position and to gain more insight on how the pulse of your school is. The feedback you receive due to these questions can be the beginning points of transformation in your school. Be vulnerable, be brave, and start by asking staff members 1:1 a few of these questions and see what happens. Your staff members will appreciate your efforts more than I can even state.

  1. What do you love most about the work you do?
  2. What has been a highlight of something that has happened at work within the last week?
  3. What are your biggest hurdles at work?
  4. How can I support you during these hurdles?
  5. Is there any feedback you can give me on how I am doing in my role?
  6. What am I doing well in? What am I overlooking? How do I need to grow to best meet our staff and students?
  7. What do you feel is the biggest obstacle for our organization as a whole right now?
  8. Do we have an elephant in the room? If so, how might we address it?
  9. Do you believe you have an opportunity to use your talents at work?
  10. How can I help you unleash your talents with students, staff, and the community?

The Feeling of Empowerment

When is the last time you have felt EMPOWERED?

Empowered to be all you can be? Empowered to learn more? Empowered to be more? Empowered to make take risks with no comprehension of what will happen next?

Some of us may have a person in mind who gives back to others by empowering them to be all they can be. This person could even be yourself. But, what if empowerment in schools was an everyday occurrence? Not something that people talked about, but a feeling that truly resonated in the hearts of our staff members and students.

When people are empowered and trusted to do so, they have the opportunity to change the world for the better.

Our schools are representations of micro-communities within our world. Within these communities, we can choose to empower our students to be apart of the positive change or to be someone who resents it. Our attitudes, our dispositions, and our willpower to impact our school systems will trickle down to our adults and children one way or another. Let us hope our influence makes a positive impression on the youth and for the legacy that we will one day leave behind.

Each student, each teacher, each parent, each leader inside of our school system has an innate ability to make our schools and world better than they left it. But how are we empowering them to do this? We have to remember that although some individuals can be their own role models, many children and adults are rightfully looking to us to see what next steps they should make in life. It is an enormous responsibility that we have in the world of education.

As educators, we are a multitude…

Of roles wrapped into one. Students call us “mom” or “dad” accidentally while parents lovingly call us their saving grace. It is a lot of pressure to take on at times, and the weight can weigh heavily on your shoulders. But, the importance of our work is astounding- It IS making and WILL make an impact.

We dedicated ourselves to the education profession because we have seen the power education has had on us as children and adults. You may have had some of your fondest memories of your childhood at school, or you may not have. Either way, those memories become the catalysts in making the world better than we found it. To give future kids better school experiences than we had.

But, when is the last time you have empowered yourself to live and lead with this vision?

Remember: Education is learning and learning is life. No one ever stops learning or growing, whether they are 5 or 95 years of age. There is always so much to learn and so much yet to know. One who thinks they are an expert on a topic is really just a novice. The world is always changing and so are the people.Therefore, as much as we know in this present moment on any given topic, there will always be more left to inquire about with each passing day.

The most important wisdom we need to hold onto is our why and what has inspired us to be here in this moment.

Trust yourself and why you are here to do the great work that needs to be done. The natural wonder, awe, and beauty that the world lends us, give us the perfect platform as educators. Embrace your talents, the knowledge of others, and the trust in yourself to empower you and others to be all they can be.

Hold onto that feeling of empowerment; We ALL have so much to offer the world, but we have to have a little faith in order to unleash the greatness within us all.

My book, Unleash Talent, will be released in the Summer of 2018 by IMpress and DBC (Dave Burgess Publishing), Inc. Stay tuned to future blog posts here to get more sneak peeks of ideas within my book. #UnleashTalent

How to Let Go of What Others Think

Throughout our lives, we are trained to care more about others than ourselves. Being selfless and compassionate becomes a marker of who we are. It is a beautiful thing; It is what life is all about.

The dilemma within this arrives when we put ourselves last and/or on the back burner altogether. We become so focused not only on others, but what they think and how they will perceive us. When this occurs, we can lose sight of our positive values, our good intentions, and who we are. These results can isolate us within our minds while disengaging us from making the impact we know we can make in our lives.

Therefore, this is not to say “stop caring about what others think,” because that is equally unhealthy as it is unproductive. What the bigger idea is to not let others change who you are as a person, deep within. We can and should grow as individuals, but we should definitely not lose sight from who we are.

In the social media age, this is increasingly more and more difficult for kids and adults to do. We all are constantly worrying about the number of likes we have on posts, who is commenting on what we post, what our influence is, and who likes the person we are.

The better question we should be asking ourselves is: Do I like who I am as a person? What do I like about myself? What positive attributes do I bring and share?

Building and improving upon our self-concept must be a priority we all gain and teach others in order thrive in and out of the digital world we live in.

Here are some ways to do this:

 

  • Accept who you are

What makes you, “you?” Embrace that and love yourself because of that. When you are having days of doubt, write self-affirmations down either on paper, on your phone, or on a dry erase/chalkboard hanging within your office or home. At my house, I write down self-affirmations on a dry erase board (almost) every day. At first it feels strange acknowledging the greatness you have, but over time you will see that what you write and say about yourself is what you will begin to believe.

Alex Elle, author of Words of a Wanderer, inspired me to begin this journey almost a year ago. She posts her daily affirmations on Twitter and Instagram, like the picture below where she says, “Today I affirm my worth is not contingent on how others choose to love me, but how I choose to love myself.”

Image Credit: @_alexelle on Twitter
  • Focus on your strengths and talents

What are talents that you have in life? We all have strengths and talents. Whether it is personal or professional talents, we each have areas in which we shine. Focus on those first, rather than your weaknesses. If we focus on our strengths, we will grow at much more rapid rates than diminishing our self-worth based on weaknesses.

  • Remain authentic

How often are you living your most authentic life? How much do you represent who you are as a person? 

The answer is, probably not enough. We all owe it to ourselves to step up our game and to show ourselves and the world what makes us “US” and what we have to offer. Grow to who you are, do not shrink into someone you are scared of becoming.

I love this quote that depicts this idea perfectly: “I’m not on this earth by chance. I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand.” -O.M.

  • Set boundaries on what matters and what does not

This one is especially tough. We see a million things that need our love, care, and assistance, and can default to “GO” mode where we want to positively impact anything and everything. But, this is impossible. Instead, focus on what matters. Do not get bogged down or stressed with items that will not make an impact in 1 year, 5 years, or 10+ years. When every situation arises, ensure that you are setting boundaries to focus time in areas with the most significance and influence.

  • Worry about what YOU think, not others/Let the negativity GO

We spend hours and hours worrying about what others think, but how often do we think about what we are thinking? Be in tune with your thoughts, your opinions, and your dreams. Go after those, not what you think others want you do. Stay away from negativity within your mind at all costs; Negativity can be such a brain drain. As I mentioned in an earlier post, 10 Habits of Positive EducatorsBe a fountain, not a drain. Spread positivity, after all, it is FREE.

Takeaway: If we want to unleash talent in ourselves, we have to begin to accept and love who we are as individuals first. Do not focus on what others may think of you. Talent cannot thrive in environments filled of negativity and self-doubt. We all have something special that can make ourselves and the world better because of it. #UnleashTalent

My book, Unleash Talent, will be released in the Summer of 2018 by IMpress and DBC (Dave Burgess Publishing), Inc. Stay tuned to future blog posts here to get more sneak peeks of ideas within my book.

Jump into the Unknown

In college, during our training and courses, many of us were programmed to be regimented to create our lesson plans, to book our calendars, and to fulfill what we have written down in that tiny lesson plan box, no matter what.

Today is different. Lesson plans are not just a box; they are life-sized. We aim to reach the whole child, not just the content. We see outside the curriculum and look into how we can help all students, all teachers, and all people.

Additionally, we continue to ask kids to be risk takers. Teachers across the nation are asking students “to be brave” and to “try new things” regularly, which is remarkable. But, I often wonder how often we trust ourselves as adults to adhere to the same advice?

As adults:

How often are we jumping into the unknown, by choice?

How are we sharing our experiences of risk-taking with students?

How regularly do we authentically model being brave with our students?

I ask those three questions above to myself on a very regular basis, especially during moments when I hesitate to take risks.

For our students to be willing to be brave, I think all of us, each of us, need to find those moments to live it as adults FIRST. We cannot have the cart before the horse.

Yet, if we were honest with ourselves, the thought of “jumping into the unknown” sometimes feels uncomfortable and unsettling to us. When we have these moments of discomfort, we have to remember that our students can feel the same exact way in similar circumstances.

The regimented part of us wants our day to fall into place as we see in our head. It gives us a sense of ownership, control, and success. But, if we always want to control the day, without embracing the unexpected, we will miss out on what life is all about.

The most rewarding outcomes will never meet us where we are if we do not set foot in the unexplored territories. As Steve Harvey eloquently says (when discussing success), “If you want to be successful, you have to jump, there is no way around it. When you jump, I can assure you that your parachute will not open right away. But, if you not jump, your parachute will never open. If you are safe, you will never soar.”

Truth: We may not always jump into the unknown; Sometimes, it may just be a slow step forward. Our direction is more important than pace and what is even more important than pace is patience. Whether we choose to walk, run, or jump into the unknown, we may not feel the most confident. But, if our hearts are centered in a good place, we can rest assured that our parachutes will soar.

One Good Change Leads to Another

Image Credit: QuotesNew.com

Many of us share similar struggles, no matter what our path is, even if it is outside of education. We want to change EVERYTHING at once and can feel so small if the changes we wish to make are outside of our reach today.

In the world, we see people who desperately need our help… Hey, sometimes we are the people who need help from others! Having said that, it can sometimes feel insurmountable to give and be everything you need to be to everyone, all the time. We often think:

Where do we begin?

How do we help everyone who needs us? 

Instead of trying to change everything by yourself, all at once, first, focus on one person. Start by making a difference in one person’s life. Being there for one can have a positive domino effect on the lives of everyone that person interacts with. One change can lead to a multitude of changes; One person feeling loved can lead to that person spreading more love to others.

Ironically enough, by spreading love, you will also feel more loved, too.

By starting with one, you can gain the momentum you need to keep going. One good change leads to another, and another, and another; But, you have to start somewhere.

One good change leads to another, and another, and another; But, you have to start somewhere. Click To Tweet

To echo this, Jon Gordon recently quoted Andy Stanley in an Instagram post with these words, “Do for one which you wish could do for everyone.” 

I could not have said it better myself.

Try This: Take time each day to recenter your focus; Start your day off, by affirming that you will make a positive impact in the life of one person, one colleague, or one stranger. Say it out loud, believe it. Then, throughout your day, find opportunities to be that one person for someone else. After you find your one person, reflect on the positive interaction afterward.

But, tough days will happen. When you do have these tough days and wonder the breadth of the difference you are making- Find solace in yourself. Appreciate who you are, what you bring to the table, and reflect on those people and those moments in which you simply started by helping one person. Then, in fact, you will see the influence you are making.

Keep Spreading Hope-

Book Announcement!!! #UnleashTalent

 

I am beyond ECSTATIC to announce the release of my forthcoming book, titled Unleash Talent, set to release in Summer 2018!

This week, I signed with IMpress Publishing; An incredible publishing company where I have honor to work beside George Couros and Paige Couros of IMPress and Dave Burgess and Shelley Burgess of DBC, Inc.

Being an author has always been one of my lifelong dreams and it is absolutely surreal to see it coming to fruition.

#UnleashTalent is my vision for education and my passion project all wrapped into one. Within every page is a message that I believe this world needs… I cannot wait to share more with you soon!

Before the book release, I aim to create more blog posts centered around this idea of #UnleashTalent. So, I would LOVE for you to stay tuned for more blog posts here at karaknollmeyer.com and to join the conversation on Twitter at #UnleashTalent.

 

Thank You

Thank you to my phenomenal publishing team: George and Paige. Thank you for believing in my work and pushing me to write this book; I look up to you and feel sincerely blessed to be apart of the team.

I want to close this post by expressing my gratitude to all of the readers of this blog- Whether you have been reading my blog from the beginning, or you are a new reader to this blog, I love and appreciate you more than I can ever express. My readers are my inspiration and without you, I would be lost. Your support and feedback have brought me life, encouragement, and wisdom.

Here is to unleashing talent within, saying YES to dreams, and being all you can be-

Begin the School Year with a Fresh Slate Mindset

Each school year seems to go faster than the year before. Over the summer, our brains tend to race as we ponder about the, “I wish I would haves” from the year before.

Maybe you are thinking to yourself:

  • I wish I would have tried ____________ (add in the curriculum idea here).
  • I wish I would have been a better ______________ (add in job title here).
  • I wish I would have taken more risks in the classroom for my students.
  • I wish I would have built more positive relationships with my colleagues.
  • I wish I would have been more generous with my love and time to others.

Soon after, we start to dream big with the marvelous, grandiose, and detailed plans of everything we aspire to do for this upcoming school year. We commit ourselves to it all and believe that this time, nothing will stand in our way to reach our plans.

It can be a vicious cycle of dreams, hope, then guilt if we feel that we fall short at the end of the year.

But, I believe that over the summer during our brainstorming sessions, we can get so blinded with everything we want to do that what we all often miss are discussions of starting the year with a “Fresh Slate” Mindset.

As educators, we have a unique opportunity to start each year with a fresh slate. In most other professions, people do not have this chance. We can and should take our failures and missteps from the year before and turn them into learning opportunities for the future; Rather than dwelling on the past, we have a responsibility each school year to make it better than the year before.

So, as you approach this upcoming year, I challenge you to embody a “Fresh Slate” Mindset, for yourself, students and your colleagues. What I mean by this is for you to give yourself grace for failures made, and most of all give that same grace to others, too.

Remember this: We can be whoever we want to be today. Who we were yesterday does not have to dictate who we will be today or tomorrow.

We are all human, we have all made mistakes, and every person in this world could all use a little more love and acceptance. After all, we are all learning and figuring life out as we go, right?

In the excitement of the new school year and ideas, do not forget to take the time to press the restart button for yourself and others. Start small and always start with love.

We often practice this with students, but forget to apply it to ourselves and other adults.

Sometimes, what we ALL need the most, even more than new programs and innovations, is a chance to start over and do better than what we have ever done before.

Here is to making this school year the best yet,

The Heart of School Culture

Book: How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey
Image Credit: ASCD

“Create your school culture” is common advice that administrators receive on social media, in blog posts, in academic journals and beyond.

But, the quandary with the phrase, “create your school culture” is that it creates assumptions. Assumptions, like:

  1. A school culture does not exist until you say it does.
  2. You can create school culture yourself.
  3. The end result is a finished product.

The fact is that none of the assumptions above will bring sustainability or excellence to an organization’s culture.

Instead…

We have to shift our thinking to understand:

  1. A school’s culture is always existent. But, that does not necessarily mean that the culture is positive or in sync.
  2. It takes the efforts of every single person in the school to build a school culture that prospers.
  3. School culture is not an end result, it is something we have to work at every second of every day

School culture is the daily interactionsseen or unseen, the values among peopleshared or unshared, and patterns of behavior. Moreover, the school culture is its people.

As leaders and educators, we each have to take personal accountability for the energy we bring to the spaces we occupy: Hallways, classrooms, and every inch of our building. Our values and actions have to match up in order for our culture to flourish. Whether we realize it or not, we each are currently setting either a positive or negative tone in our building- And our people are taking notice. 

In the book, “How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom” by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian ask this question:

“Can our school be so welcoming, so inviting, and so comfortable that every person who walks through our doors believe that they are about to have an amazing experience?”

What if we all asked this question constantly? 

What if we all LIVED by this question?

In order to build a welcoming space, it will begin with each of us having conversations with one another to change the paradigm behind the language and meaning of school culture: How do we view it? What does it mean to us? How do we value it? What do we do about it?

Shaping a positive school culture takes time, consistency, and unity. At the heart of any positive culture is a desire to move collectively towards the future and giving one another grace for mistakes made.

In closing, as Henry Ford says, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” 

Image Credit: Slo Dive

Be the Man in the Arena

 

Image Credit- Kara Knollmeyer
Previously published post- 2016

On April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt delivered the “Citizenship In A Republic” speech in Paris, France. The small excerpt from his 35-page speech, which you see above, is widely known as the Man in the Arena. This notable passage was most arguably the finest speech of Roosevelt’s entire Presidency.

It is remarkable that a message stated over 100 years ago can be just as powerful, magical, and moving; When a message can touch generations, there must be a common thread that people can relate to time and time again.

After much introspection, here are my six takeaways from the Man in the Arena:

1. Feel your fears

In many cases, the critic is someone who is just fearful as the man in the arena; Fearful of their inadequacies, fearful that they could be more successful than measure, and fearful that others may know more and be more than them. Feel your fears. OWN your fears. Do not let your fears embody a critic mindset that flattens the spirit and gusto from those around you. Feel your fears and deal with your own insecurities first and foremost.

2. Be Brave

Everyone feels inadequate at some point in time. It takes pure guts and bravery to overcome inadequacy and trying times. We are each capable of becoming the metaphorical “Man in the Arena.” Moreover, any critic can turn into a champion if they have the steady heart to persevere.

3. Discomfort Equals Growth

Putting yourself out there is not easy, and no one said it was. Furthermore, I do not think it is supposed to be easy; It is supposed to be meaningful. Times of discomfort prove that you are growing and learning. Accept it and appreciate the uncomfortable process.

4. Focus on the Man in the Arena

It is not about the critic. the naysayers are usually not the individuals evoking change…The man in the arena is.

Sometimes it can appear that critics are as prevalent as your need to blink. When you are the “Man in the Arena,” you may feel like a spectacle under the watch of analysis. Stay steadfast with your doggedness and zeal. In time, you will see the successes of your efforts.

5. Do Not Judge

If you see an individual struggling- that is not their story. If you see a highly successful person- that is not their only story. Perception is not reality. The beauty of life is that each individual is a unique collection of stories; One snapshot of someone’s life does not tell all. Do not judge a person for their highs or their lows in life, because there is always more unseen and left to understand.

6. Be an Advocate

Nothing is done well without passion. Find something worth fighting for and go after it. By doing so, your zest for life will rise exponentially. When you love what you are doing, you start giving less emphasis to the critics; The doers are too busy to be worried about the critics anyhow. Focus more on the vision, more on the future product, and refrain from sweating the small stuff.

Remember:

If you do not advocate for what you want or what you believe in, people assume and interpret that it is not of value.

Here’s to all the men and women in the arena…

Engaging vs. Empowering Students

Inspiration

If you have read “The Innovator’s Mindset,” you will remember George’s idea on the difference between “engaging” students and “empowering” students. Through the differentiation that George made between the two concepts, I started reflecting on intangible and tangible results that I have experienced as an educator in the classroom which inspired me to create the infographic above.

Student-Led Learning

As an educator, I’ve always been intrigued on teaching students through student-led learning. “Student-led” or “student-centered” learning can take on different meanings depending on the circumstance or the interpreter. I knew that I wanted to empower my students through this process. I did not want to be THE keeper of the knowledge, instead, I wanted to be the caretaker of student talent.

Needless to say, it can be overwhelming to begin such a mindset shift. “Big ideas” are wonderful, but to be implemented properly, it is beneficial to think of your “big idea” in mini-steps, while reflecting and changing footing as you go.

Therefore, to start my student-led process, I first started by recruiting my students and gaining their help. Together, we took student goals and learning standards and reworded them to student-friendly language. In time, students then started leading small reading goal setting groups and conferring groups.

Learning Curve

I must say that success in these groups did not happen overnight. There was a HUGE learning curve, for myself and for students, but that is okay. My students were not used to leading and being “in charge” and I was not used to it either; These symptoms were a direct side effect of inexperience. But, instead of chalking up the attempts as failures, I started asking my students what they felt they needed to successfully lead groups and to work as a team.

Fact: If you ask 6th graders for “honest feedback” you will get just that. They usually do not hold back; Which is terrifying and humbling all at the same time. Nonetheless, their answers surprised me: They said they needed to learn “how to work together” and how to “help other kids to talk when they wouldn’t say anything.”

I pride myself in using collaborative skills and cooperating learning strategies, so their honest feedback was an eye-opener for me. However, I took a step back and realized that in my cooperative learning techniques, I was showing them how to be collaborative in well-structured settings where I was overseeing every interaction. As a result, when the tables turned and students led the groups, they were not able to apply these collaborative skills to new settings that were completely unfamiliar.

In other words, “I,” the teacher, was leading the movement and swooping in as needed rather than allowing them to learn organically. In my infographic above, I give general statements that fit under “engagement” and “empowerment,” although many could fit in both columns. Likewise, this does not mean that student engagement does not matter. It does matter. But, if we think of how we learn as adults, most of us would rather be in the driver seat to a certain degree, rather than sitting in passenger seats waiting for delivered information at a uniform pace. It is a balance. I wish I could create a formula of instruction that works in all cases, but I cannot. As we all know, it depends on the individual learner and what that learner needs at any given moment.

As George Couros says, “Should we be a sage on the stage, the guide on the side, or the architect of learning? – The answer is that teacher should be all of those. The art of teaching is figuring out when you should be which one.”

“We’re All in This Together”

Consequently, through listening to straightforward feedback from my students, I was able to help model interactions that were more conversational based from student-to-student. I quickly saw students taking their own spin on how they spoke and interacted with others. Looking back, I believe that with time and practice, students became more comfortable with more freedom and lack of limits.

But, when I say” lack of limits,” it is important to note that I am not implying that high standards and expectations were not set. Alternatively, through consistent student input, I did not need to constantly iterate MY expectations and mine alone. Instead, the process was natural; It allowed for all of us to come together to build reasonable expectations as a team. The instruction moved from teacher-led to student-led, to “we are all in this together.”

Through watching my students excel through the steep learning curve, I learned how to reangle my approach. It was never about students leading in the first place, it was about students needing to feel heard and valued. Once individuals feel that their opinions evoke real change, leadership and empowerment naturally happen.

1 2 3 6