Why a random motivational speaker won’t help your staff remember their ‘why’

Why a random motivational speaker won’t help your staff remember their ‘why’

This post from a school administrator came across my feeds this weekend:

Looking for suggestions of a great speaker for the first week of PD– motivational– reconnecting with your “Why” for staff. Thank you in advance for your suggestions!

I posted it to Facebook with the comment, “Does anyone think this is going to have any long-term impact whatsoever?”

Some folks thought that I was criticizing the speaker side of this dynamic. Just to clarify, I don’t actually have an issue with that side of things. If you’re offering something as a speaker or facilitator that others find value in and are willing to pay for, more power to you. That doesn’t mean that everyone will, but that’s okay. Find your niche. Try to do good work. Ignore the critics (or use their feedback to improve what you do).

Instead, I am greatly challenged by the request. There’s nothing in this generic call for a random ‘great … motivational’ speaker that says:

  • We are working on school culture and I need a carefully-targeted outside person who can build our capacity to do the following things, or
  • My teachers are really struggling. Who might be able to help me and my leadership team build better systems of support?, or
  • Based on robust feedback from my staff, we really need assistance with these key structures.

Instead, the request just feels like “Hey, I’d like to find some random person who hopefully can help us feel good and ignore our disengaging workspace for an hour and I’m willing to pay big money for it.” Um, maybe a standup comedian can do that for you? The long-term impact for your staff and school feels like it will be about the same…

There are at least three large concerns here:

  1. The belief that teachers who are disconnected from their ‘why’ will somehow derive significant benefit from a one-off ‘motivational’ speaker,
  2. The utter lack of follow-up or overall strategy that is built into this request, and
  3. The apparent lack of awareness that what is in need of fixing is local systems (which are primarily the leaders’ responsibility), not teachers.

Brad Weinstein aptly saidAsking teachers to remember their ‘why’ can be viewed as blaming teachers for losing their passion for teaching instead of working on improving the conditions that actually burn them out. Similarly, Mandy Froehlich said in a comment to my Facebook post, Most teachers know their why. They don’t know how to do their why in their current situation or the state of education.

School culture is critically important for organizational success, and the best facilitators that I know on this topic work with schools long-term from a coaching stance to help build both better systems and individual capacity. That is a whole different ballgame than “The culture and systems that I am responsible for are broken and I am hoping that a high energy, one-hour talk will paper over it.” Teaching is really hard, and it’s particularly difficult right now. As school leaders who are supposed to serve those in our care and also have limited professional learning funds, we owe our educators better than this.

See also

ISTE Community Leaders: Apply for the 2024-2025 cohort

ISTE Community Leaders: Apply for the 2024-2025 cohort

[I am highlighting various initiatives of the ISTE Community Leaders…]

For the past week or so, I’ve been sharing some of the many things that ISTE Community Leaders do. From our new podcast to expert webinars, from helping others within ISTE Connect to meetups and conference events, we are busy but also are having a blast. If all of this sounds fun to you too, applications for the 2024-2025 ISTE Community Leaders cohort are now open. Hope some of you are interested and apply!

See also

ISTE Community Leaders: ISTE Connect

ISTE Community Leaders: ISTE Connect

[I am highlighting various initiatives of the ISTE Community Leaders…]

Perhaps the main responsibility of the ISTE Community Leaders is to engage with the larger ISTE community within ISTE Connect. ISTE Connect has numerous job role groups, including ed tech and instructional coaches, educational leaders, librarians, higher education, and P-12 educators. ISTE Connect also has topic groups that range widely, from AI to curriculum to digital citizenship to STEAM to equity, inclusion, and accessibility. There are LOTS of resources and numerous daily conversations shared across the ISTE Connect platform. ISTE Community Leaders answer questions, provide resources, connect folks, and try to spark interesting discussions as they support the needs that emerge in the online community. It’s super fun and I’ve interacted with a whole bunch of interesting people. If you’re not already engaged in ISTE Connect, come join us!

See also

ISTE Community Leaders: Expert webinars

ISTE Community Leaders: Expert webinars

[I am highlighting various initiatives of the ISTE Community Leaders…]

In addition to The Edge podcast, ongoing meetups, and various conference-related events, the ISTE Community Leaders also regularly host webinars on a variety of topics. Here is a list of upcoming and/or recent webinar topics:

Keep an eye out in ISTE (or ASCD) newsletters or other communications for information about upcoming webinars. There’s also usually a call for webinar proposals a couple of times per year. Happy listening!

See also

ISTE Community Leaders: Meetups and conferences

ISTE Community Leaders: Meetups and conferences

[I am highlighting various initiatives of the ISTE Community Leaders…]

In my last post I mentioned that the ISTE Community Leaders are doing amazing things. I have been particularly impressed with the frequency and variety of the meetups and conference events led by the Community Leaders. As an example, in recent months the Community Leaders have hosted meetups related to “meeting students where they are,” strategies for educational technology coaching, and a makerspace-themed digital escape room.

Other big events include conferences and in-person events. Some of the Community Leaders hosted the Global Impact Virtual Conference. You will see several Community Leader-hosted playgrounds at ISTELive24. I am keynoting – and several of us are helping with – the 2024 Summer ASCD + ISTE Summer Leaders Meetup in Colorado Springs. And so on…

As I mentioned, we’ve got a lot going on!

See also

ISTE Community Leaders: The Edge

ISTE Community Leaders: The Edge

I have been involved with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) for over two decades. ISTE was a major supporter of our School Technology Leadership Initiative (STLI) at the University of Minnesota, a $2.5 million federally-funded project which, among other things, created the first graduate program designed to prepare a technology-savvy school leader. STLI later morphed into the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), which was the first university center in the USA focused on technology, leadership, innovation, and deeper learning. As the Founding Director (and current Co-Director) of CASTLE, I served on the original advisory board for ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators (the NETS-A), and since have served ISTE as a professional learning partner, reviewer, workshop facilitator, and Ambassador. I was the recipent of ISTE’s global Award for Outstanding Leadership in 2016, and this year I am helping plan and host ISTELive here in Denver. To say that I am grateful for my relationship with ISTE would be an understatement!

For the past few years, I have been fortunate to serve as an ISTE Community Leader. There are a few dozen of us, located all around the world, and we have monthly virtual meetups in which we share what each other is doing, hear what ISTE is planning, and connect and design with each other. The Community Leaders are all doing amazing things, and our joy-filled, high energy meetings are a bucket filler for me each month.

The Community Leaders program has been around for only a few years, and I’m a huge fan. This week I will be highlighting some of what we do, starting with ISTE’s newest podcast, The Edge. The Edge evolved organically during the Community Leaders’ first couple of years together. The Edge is a podcast run by ISTE members, not ISTE staff, and the episodes are meant to highlight a variety of interesting activities happening in the ISTE community. Previous podcast topics (and guests) have included Building an E-Sports Program (with Julie Mavrogeorge), Outdoor Learning and Place-Based Education (with Paul Bocko), Neurodiverse Students and Inclusive Learning Environments (with Matthew Harrison), and Engaging Student Creativity (with Michael Hernandez).

If The Edge is not currently in your podcast listening cycle, I encourage you to check it out!

Quick thoughts on vertical discussions

A school leader in one of my Facebook groups asked if anyone had a discussion guide for the next time their teachers held vertical discussions across grade levels. Here was my response:

I’ve done this with schools before. Not exactly sure what the desired outcome of your conversations is, but I’ve seen really powerful discussion arise from the simple questions of “What do you expect students to know and be able to do by the end of their school year with you?” (to the lower grade team) and “What do you expect students to know and be able to do when they enter your classroom at the beginning of the school year?” (to the higher grade team)…

Small group conversation around those two questions can easily fill most of an hour (be sure to have them take notes!). Also helpful to have some debrief time at the end where you just ask folks “What did you hear today? What does that mean for our practice? How can I be of support?

Good luck and have fun!

What do you like your educators to talk about in their vertical discussions?

3 big questions to ask after a visit from an outside helper

Outside Consultant 03I’ve been blogging about bringing in outside helpers…

Here are three big questions to ask AFTER a visit from an outside helper:

  1. Are we tangibly better as a result of their visit? [or did we just waste everyone’s time?]
  2. Can we actually do something differently as a result of their visit? [or did they just take the money and run?]
  3. How do we know? [what evidence do we have?]

Great times to ask these questions include about a week after the visit (when the gloss has worn off) and also about 3 to 6 months after the visit (when the work should be well underway)…

How much of your work with outside helpers has resulted in tangible, concrete, actionable, beneficial changes in your school(s)? If not much, why is that?

Some good questions to ask before hiring an outside helper

Monkey puppetSchool resources are always limited, whether they be time, money, attention, energy, or personnel. Before you hire an outside helper for your school(s), here are some questions you might ask…

  • Are we bringing in this person to actually help us do something?
    • Or do we just want to dabble and/or pretend that we care about the topic? 
    • Or are we just doing it because others are / it’s a hot topic right now?
  • How does this work fit in with our other current initiatives?
    • How will we help our employees, students, and families understand the connections with our other work?
    • How much of a priority is this work compared to our other initiatives?
  • What will we do beforehand to optimize our employees’ chances of being successful with this?
  • What’s our follow-up plan afterward?
    • What additional support structures, leadership behaviors, professional learning, expectations, timelines, deadlines, financial and time resources, personnel, monitoring mechanisms, etc. will be put into place to support this work?
    • Will this work be supported at the very highest levels of the school organization? How?
    • Are these new supports adequate for the work to be successful?
  • Do we have a fighting chance to actually do this right now?
    • Or are we just fooling ourselves?
    • Do we have both the will and capacity to actually make this happen?
    • What are we currently doing that conflicts with or will obstruct our success with this new work?
  • What concerns will our employees, students, and families raise about this work?
    • What is our plan for addressing those?

Some questions to ask the outside helper (before you hire them) include…

  • Can you actually help us do something? (i.e., can you help us with the WHAT and the HOW, not just the WHY?)
    • Or are you just going to tell us we should do something and then leave?
  • What should we do beforehand to optimize our employees’ chances of being successful with this?
  • How much time do we need with you to get started successfully on this?
    • What will that work look like (and why)?
  • How much time do we need after you work with us to get started successfully on this?
    • What does that work look like (and why)?
  • What barriers, challenges, and other concerns should we expect as we head into this work?
    • How can you help us with those?
  • What kinds of follow-up resources and supports can you provide us?
    • What do those look like (and why)?

These are just a few to get started… What else would you add here?

Put your outside helpers to work

Outside consultantThis fall I started working with the Mattoon (Illinois) Community Schools. They are doing some really important transformational work for such a small district, including significant investments in

  1. students’ leadership capacity through The Leader in Me framework;
  2. competency-based education and student progressions;
  3. deeper learning modalities in their schools, classrooms, and external partnerships; and
  4. career and technical education through their upcoming, multi-school district, regional innovation hub, LIFT.

The gods in charge of airport travel smiled upon me this pandemic week, which meant that I had the pleasure of spending Monday in person with teachers, coaches, administrators, school board members, and families in Mattoon. Here’s what my schedule looked like:

  • Workshop 1 (all teachers and administrators) = reconciling competency-based education and deeper learning
  • Workshop 2 (leadership teams) = leadership challenges related to deeper learning
  • Workshop 3 (elementary teachers / instructional coaches) = redesigning elementary lessons for deeper learning
  • Workshop 4 (secondary teachers / instructional coaches) = redesigning secondary lessons for deeper learning
  • Workshop 5 (families and community members) = evening conversation on why school might look a little different these days

It was a long but important, productive, and incredibly fulfilling day. We made some great progress on Monday and I am looking forward to our continued work together this spring. These long-term partnerships are where the magic happens!

Which brings me to the title of this blog post…

Schools, are you putting your outside helpers to work? I see so many one-and-done keynotes or workshops. We know that they don’t really make a difference, right? Sure, it’s nice to get uplifted for 90 minutes about the importance and value of our teaching and leadership work. And, yes, we can get a taste of something helpful in an hour or so. But long-term transformations don’t stem from short-term engagements. If you don’t have the time, inclination, or budget for a longer-term engagement with someone whom you think can help you, at least insist on more of their time during the day that they’re with you. Why would you ask them to only spend an hour or two with your educators and community? Ask your outside helpers to focus deeply on the WHAT and the HOW, not just the WHY, and have a follow-up plan for implementation and support of your educators that goes beyond wishful thinking: “We heard about this for an hour at our district kick-off meeting so go off and do this now at a high level.” Anything less seems like you’re just wasting time, energy, attention, and money? Maybe you have an overabundance of those in your school organization but I’m guessing not…

Want to learn more about the work I’m doing with Mattoon and others? Please don’t hesitate to reach out!