Where has mutual respect and understanding gone in the Pennsylvania General Assembly?

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Today’s political landscape in Pennsylvania is bipolar, with a vast emptiness of space between the two ideologies. In other words, finding the middle ground between the current Democratic administration and the Republican majority doesn’t seem plausible, in fact there appears to be no longer be a middle ground. How can this be? Why do Pennsylvania politics suddenly resemble North and South Korea, separated by an uninhabited, demilitarized zone?

Winning the latest News Cycle

Leaders of both political parties seem fixated in winning the latest news cycle, demeaning their colleagues across the aisle, and disregarding the possibility that the best answers, the best strategies, just may lie somewhere between the biases of their parties. In fact, the rehetoric often directed from one party toward the leaders of the other, take on a personal bent, rather than a true perspective of the issues at hand.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Some, including me, consider this a pattern of party leaders falling victim to Fundamental Attribution Error. Fundamental Attribution Error occurs when we try to understand and explain what happens in social settings. We tend to view other’s behavior as a particularly significant factor and explain their behavior in terms of perceived motives character issues, etc. as opposed to external situational factors, often outside of their control. (http://tinyurl.com/k6mohbs)

In this instance of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, parties tend to focus on the slant of the opposite party, rather than the ideas under consideration and their impact on our commonwealth. Yet  their own party positions, often extremes themselves, and not in the best interests of our society, are reasoned away with situational attributes.

Call to Action

Instead of trying to win the newsday or skewer the other party, we need to eliminate the Attribution Error rhetoric, and focus on the issues, through a lens of mutual respect and the future we are creating for our most important citizens, our children.

  • Do you agree that both parties in the PA General Assembly suffer from the Fundamental Attribution Error as they consider proposals from the ‘other side’?
  • Would Pennsylvania be better served if our elected officials spent less time attacking one another, and more time collaborating on solutions?
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Who is on your list? Thankful for all those who’ve shaped my leadership

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I recently came across a powerful poem that I’d like to share with you. I don’t know who wrote it, but it certainly had an impact on me. It is short, but heart-warming. As you take a few minutes to read it, think about who is on your list. Who has made an impact on your life, be it for a small moment in time or a lifelong friendship? Please take time this holiday season to enjoy your family and friends, and refresh before the New Year.

The Spirit of Christmas, (anonymous)

I have a list of people I know all written in a book,

And every year at Christmastime I go and take a look,

And that is when I realize that those names are a part

Not of the book they’re written in but of my very heart,

For each name stands for someone who has crossed my path some time

And in that meeting they’ve become a treasured friend of mine,

And once you’ve met some people the years cannot erase,

The memory of a pleasant word or a friendly face,

So when I send a Christmas card that is addressed to you,

It’s because you’re on that list of folk I’m indebted to,

And you are one of many folk who in times past I’ve met

And happen to be one of those I don’t want to forget,

And whether I have known you for many years or few,

In some way you have a part in shaping things I do,

Thus, the spirit of Christmas, that forever and ever endures,

May it leave its richest blessing in the hearts of you and yours.

Leadership Non-Negotiables…Yes, you have them.

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"Know the rules" handwritten with white chalk on a blackboard

Every leader has them…or at least should. Maybe they aren’t obvious, but they’re there, trust me.

Sooner or later the passions emerge and those you lead will understand your non-negotiables.

I think it’s best to be thoughtful and intentional, and communicate them up front so everyone knows, and no one is surprised.

Here are a few of my non-negotiables as I lead;

1. I won’t tolerate teachers committing malpractice with their students. I believe nearly all teachers really care about the students they serve and exercise prudent judgement as they teach. I have zero tolerance though, for those who establish a pattern of malpractice in their classrooms.

2. Check your emotions at the door, at least the outward manifestation of them. While I admire a people who demonstrate passion for their position, don’t raise your voice in anger, curse, or scream at me…and I will avoid the same. The moment I raise my voice, you lose all respect for what I have to say.

3. Be on time.

4. Be prepared to review rules, procedures, and systems that haven’t changed over time, despite the changing contexts of our work and the people involved.

5. People in the organization are more important than rigid rules, procedures, and systems. Sometimes, exceptions can and must be made.

6. While it’s a nice concept, the world isn’t fair, and all things aren’t equitable.

7. Communicate frequently…so we avoid surprises.

8. Questions always proceed emotions, reponses, and actions.

9. Decisions need to be based on the best available data at the time.

10. We will not participate in anything that can be perceived as unethical, immoral, or criminal.

Do you have non-negotiables in your leadership approach?

Have you rehearsed or reviewed them lately?

What are the consequences for violating your non-negotiables?

The Power of Listening

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Do people describe your leadership style as an active listener, or are you perceived as disinterested and aloof?

The most successful leaders are listeners. Listening empowers others in the organization to grow, take risks, and provide the leader with the widest angle of insight for important organizational decisions.

Leaders who actively listen, and who plan intentional strategies to listen, can do so more easily today than ever. Here are 4 easy ways to increase you listening and gain a truer perspective of what’s actually going on, or not going on, in your organization.

1. Establish an online survey which asks the right ‘listening’ questions. I use survey monkey. You can find mine here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/iu13customer

Would you recommend our service to your friends and  family?

In the world of public ed, leaders often don’t see themselves and their organizations through a marketplace lens. This paradigm is changing, as charter, cyber-charter, and for-profit school management groups grow in Pennsylvania.

2. Create a regular convening of your senior leadership. I hold a monthly, Forum of Senior Leaders, and let them set the agenda. I listen to their questions, concerns, and celebrations.

3. Be present in the workplace. It’s easy, especially for superintendents who are sometimes officed in a building separate from schools, to be perceived as aloof. Get out of the office and spend time among your staff…in their offices. Eat an impromptu lunch with different employee groups and ask lots of questions. Interrupt office discussions and join in conversations. Make yourself available to answer in the moment.

4. Create a culture where question asking is not just acceptable, but expected, of all employees regardless of rank. Organizations today must be innovative in order to have staying power. Innovation starts with the right questions. Leaders who don’t listen, don’t get asked many important questions.

What important questions have you been asked lately?

What important questions are you asking?

To whom are you listening?

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6 reasons why all educators MUST engage in social media

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Despite the growing presence of educators participating online, our profession continues to be slow to the table. These are among lots of excuses why:

1.  Not all students have access to the internet.

2. Some schools don’t permit teacher/student interaction through social media.

3. Educators are fearful of disciplinary action should they establish an online account and say the wrong things.

Here are 6 reasons why all educators MUST engage in social media:

1. Social media permits education leaders to increase their sphere of influence beyond a single building or district. Others in your role, principal, superintendent, teacher…you name it, are already online and communicating ubiquitously through blogs, tweet chats, and more.

2. In the absence of strong education leader voices, goals and vision for education are often directed by elected officials with (seemingly) little true knowledge of best practices for schools and students.

3. In the absence of strong education leader voices, education becomes highly (completely?) politicized. I don’t see enough educators advocating for much. In PA, the only voices we hear regarding Common Core is opposition. Where are the educators?

4. Our sphere of influence as education leaders, is less than it should be, by ignoring the generations whose preferred learning and communication is online.

5. Public access to information is at an all-time high. Social media permits the preferred message of educational leaders to be hear first…in the absence of true information, someone will create and publish their own version.

6. We must overcome the fear of readers disagreeing with our opinions. Educators can’t bow to the pressures of a PC world that lacks values and opinions regarding instructional strategies, curricular decisions and materials, and assessment strategies. Professional discourse and reflection must return as integral practice of our work.

So….About what are you passionate?

What voices in education are you hearing to which you are opposed?

How often are you blogging and/or tweeting so that your voice is included?

Going Social – and stirring disagreement

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Leaders today cannot ignore the requirement to cast their companies and personnel into the social media experiences. This is especially true for the oft anxious and seeming fearful, educational leaders.

The use of social media among school districts is growing, but there’s still too much fear and nervousness around individual leaders and users involvement. This is my effort to increase the voice of educational leaders.

If we are afraid to share our voice in a manner that results in some disagreement, we shouldn’t be leading.

There’s obviously a need to stay away from religion and politics, but school leaders need to write and communicate their passions and struggles around what matters most to them. This blog is dedicated to sharing some of my passions around leadership and education, especially in Pennsylvania.

Here’s a current passion of mine. 

Fair, predictable, equitable funding for all students must occur now. The time for which funding for students that is dependent upon which political party is in office, and which senators or representatives are in leadership positions has to go… this is a new era. 

State and federal education funding must be focused on closing the per-student funding gap between the richest and poorest districts by rewriting a formula that provides extra supports to students with disabilities, students in poverty, and students whose first language is other than english. Holding harmless this support of students must replace the outdated, and inequitable  district-based hold-harmless provisions currently in place in Pennsylvania. Anything less from the General Assembly this June is unacceptable.

All children of Pennsylvania deserve better… not just some of the children.