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Friday Reflection: Celebrations

celebrating kids


It was the end of a particularly difficult week.  Mr. Thomas and his staff were gathered in the library for their regular weekly celebration.  He looked out on the faces of all his staff—teachers, para-professionals, counselors, office and maintenance people.  They were tired.  He asked the weekly invitation that had become a tradition in his school. “Let’s celebrate!”

People started to share good news ranging from the improvement of an individual student to less office referrals to students showing more respect for the building.  They shared about positive contact with a parent and trying a new instructional strategy that worked. Each time someone share the group applauded.

In short, they took inventory of the good that had happened during the week, even a difficult week. By the end of the 10 minutes celebration tired faces were smiling facing and there was a little extra spring in their step as they left the building.

The power of a positive culture

Three years ago, it had been a different story.  The school had been listed as an underperforming school and it had been placed on a list of potential state takeovers.  Student performance had been spiraling downward. 

Mr. Thomas knew if he was going to turn the school around he would need help. He put together a team of his school leaders and they tackled the issue by first identifying problems and challenges.  They identified several issues, but chief among them was a negative culture.  People felt like they worked hard, but were getting nowhere.  They felt no sense of accomplishment.  They felt under attack and underappreciated. Teachers left the school (and sometimes the teaching field) and those that stayed were not especially motivated. They did feel any pride. They were hurting.

The group did some investigating and discovered the following information*:

  • Students achieve higher scores on standardized tests in schools with healthy learning environments. 
  • A positive school climate is recognized as an important target for school reform and improving behavioral, academic, and mental health outcomes for students (Thapa et al., 2012).
  • Schools with positive climates tend to have less student discipline problems (Thapa et al., 2013) and aggressive and violent behavior (Gregory et al., 2010), and fewer high school suspensions (Lee et al., 2011).
  • Research has also shown associations between school climate and lower levels of alcohol and drug use (LaRusso et al., 2008), bullying (Meyer-Adams & Conner, 2008; Bradshaw et al., 2009), and harassment (Attar-Schwartz, 2009).
  • School climate can promote positive youth development. Favorable school climate has been linked with higher student academic motivation and engagement (Eccles et al., 1993), as well as elevated psychological well-being (Ruus et al., 2007; Shochet et al., 2006).
  • Schools promoting engaging learning environments tend to have fewer student absences (Gottfredson et al., 2005) and increased improvements in academic achievement across grade levels (Brand et al., 2003; Stewart, 2008).
  • Schools where educators openly communicate with one another, feel supported by their peers and administration, and establish strong student-educator relationships tend to have better student academic and behavioral outcomes (Brown & Medway, 2007).
  • School climate efforts also have the potential of increasing job satisfaction and teacher retention, which is a major concern given the high rate of turnover in the field of education (Boe et al., 2008; Kaiser, 2011).

Mr. Thomas working alongside his team explored different ideas to improve school culture.  Their answer: Celebrating

The power of celebration!

Working together the idea of a weekly celebration took form.  Here were some of the factors they uncovered.  Celebrations:

  • Unite people
  • Keep a focus on the positive and nurture a sense of pride
  • Recognize the achievement and growth of individuals and the group
  • Creates a sense of belonging
  • Allows time to review progress toward goals and objectives
  • Celebrate workand develop an “culture of gratitude”
  • Build enthusiasm—it helps people stay determined and optimistic
  • Keep people energized
  • Develop staff resilience
  • Provide an opportunity to relax and unwind
  • Improve productivity
  • Promote loyalty and job satisfaction
  • Break down barriers among staff and builds an appreciation of diversity


Mr. Thomas and his team introduced the idea of celebrations to the school and implemented the weekly celebration. Results were not immediate, but over time the culture changed.  People began to keep “celebration journals” and track of all their good work. People were motivated. Pride grew and spread.

Mr. Thomas understood that the challenges facing his school were complex and that no one strategy would be a panacea. He knew that as they worked on creating a positive culture, other new ideas needed to be explored, researched and introduced. Strategies to improve instruction, use data more effectively, manage behavior, and engage families all had to be implemented correctly.

School culture and celebrations were a good place to start!

*  National Education Association IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL CLIMATE RESEARCH BRIEF (Lindsey O’Brennan & Catherine Bradshaw, Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence)

Inspiration: A Key to Change

If your actions inspire others


Leaders must inspire! When we are inspired we dream. When we are inspired we create. When we are inspired we achieve.

Inspiration is even more essential when we are asking people to change. Here is a truth that bears repeating again and again. People want to be part of something that is bigger than them, part of a mission that bonds them with others who feel the same way and part of something that will make a difference.  They want to be inspired.

16 points on how to inspire

  • Provide the why behind what you are asking
  • Lead by example and share in the hard work
  • Have high expectations for people - challenge them to excel
  • Be honest and sincere: deliver on promises
  • Invite people to the table and allow them real input and power
  • Be there for them-provide  the needed resources and guidance
  • Show gratitude: Celebrate daily achievement
  • Share the credit
  • Provide hope especially during trying times—encourage them
  • Protect and advocate for your team
  • Listen
  • Inspire others by taking a stand for what you believe in. 
  • Care about others
  • Be open to be inspired yourself
  • Share your experiences
  • Model Learning

This list isn't definitive. Reflect. Identify strategies that work for you. Share what you have learned. Inspire others to think and grow. 


In a prior post, we said that trust is the glue that holds people together.  I read somewhere that “inspiration is the oil that greases the work; without it, the engine burns out and the whole enterprise comes to a sudden stop.”

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. John Adams

Baby Steps

baby steps


Change isn’t easy. This seems to be the battle cry for so many leaders and new initiatives! How many times have we announced this to people with whom we work and how many times have we heard it from others? Change isn’t easy, but that awareness alone doesn’t help.  Here are three truths about change:

  • Provide the why and the how
  • Change is best managed on a daily basis with small, incremental steps
  • It is about people, not things

Why and How:

People are happier and more engaged when they know the “why” behind the assignments they are given.  Fullan talks about moral purpose and moral purpose give people the “why.”  People feel part of something bigger than themselves. They want to contribute.

Effective leaders explain to people that what they are being asked to do contributes to the bigger picture. That each task, each role, each person is important, essential.  And explain WHY that is so. 

In addition to knowing the “why” people want to know the “how.”  They want to know how this change is going to affect them. What will be expected of them? How does their day change? How does your expectation of them change?

Effective change leaders provide a coherent picture—that means they connect the dots so everyone sees the bigger picture.

Baby Steps:

Change generates big questions and concerns. How should leaders proceed? Baby steps. Change can’t be scheduled as a certain part of the day or as an activity.  It needs to be embedded in the daily work of people—it needs to become the daily routine.  People should be provided with explanations, but more importantly, the change and accompanying behavior need to be modeled for them. They need to hear constructive feedback that is supportive and immediate. Just like a baby’s first step, in the beginning they need support, someone holding their hand, but pretty soon they are walking and then running on their own.

Hate to mix metaphors, but think of the butterfly effect. It is the concept that small causes can have large effects. Attention to detail during the baby steps has a large impact on how the change efforts progress.

People not Things

It is easy to forget when we are leading a change effort that we are talking about changing people, not things—not just a process, people. People should not be treated like pieces on a chess board that we can move and use as we like. 

If you are trying to change your culture, you need to change how people interact. If you are trying to change outcomes, you need to change what people have been doing and how they are doing it so they achieve the new outcomes.  Change is about people not things.  You don’t have to reason with a thing. You don’t have to provide an explanation to a thing. You don’t have to engage with a thing or make them feel important and valued. You do with people. Two rules:

  • How would you want to be treated? What would motivate you?
  • Empower people. Let them know they are important.

Some big ideas:

  • Make sure the changes are necessary and will result in better outcomes for both the people you are asking to do the work and for the organization as a whole.
  • Collect data and identify the problem and clearly define it. Too often leaders find themselves in the middle of a maelstrom of confusion and address a problem, but not the right problems or they rush forward with a solution that makes sense and sounds good, but it doesn’t address the real problem. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.
  • You don’t have to do everything alone and by yourself. Invite people in to help. Model how people work with each.
  • Create a plan with final outcomes, milestones and a timeline. It should be flexible, while at the same time providing structure and direction.  
  • Realize people will have different needs and be at different skills levels. Differentiate your support to meet the different needs.
  • Share and explain the plan and your expectations. Give the why and the how.
  • Embed desired behaviors into the regular day using baby steps first.
  • Make sure people have the resources needed to implement the plan.
  • Create an effective plan of professional development that includes monitoring and feedback, and supports the change.

Trust--the glue that holds us together

Trust Colin Powell

Leaders, like everyone else, are a sum of their experiences and knowledge.  They are who they are and they lead like they lead, as a result of their beliefs, of course. In addition, leaders are also influenced by what work they have been involved in, who they have worked with, how they were led and how they process and internalize all of these factors. Lessons are learned by both positive and negative experiences.  It is these lessons that affect how we trust others and how we get others to trust us.

When we ask ourselves why we follow a person there are a good number of answers.  The most common reply I hear is “trust.” Trust reassures. It makes us feel safe. Think back.  When we first learned to swim, ride a bike or try anything new, it was made easier when we trusted the person helping us. 

Why is trust important?

How people work and interact with each other is directly affected by trust.  Most of us won’t work with people we feel we can’t trust, or if have to work with them we give the bare minimum.  It is a two-way street. Others won’t want to work with you, unless they feel they can trust you.  They don’t give their all. No trust creates a pathway to mediocrity at best. 

Trust is essential to relationships and relationship building.  Relationship building is an essential skill of the effective leader, and especially the leader trying to affect change.  We know that our productivity is affected by trust.  Trust brings good communication.  Good communication means knowledge sharing. Effective knowledge sharing leads to more effective application of information.  All of these lead to a more successful organization.

“Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”  Stephen Covey

What is trust?

Trust is both emotional and rational.  How often have you heard someone say, “I am going to trust my gut?” We process the actions of others through emotional filters.  It is also emotional because when we trust others, we open ourselves up for disappointment at best, and at worst, career or financial damage. 

It is rational because there are characteristics we can look for in others that increase the probability of a trusting relationship.  When we observe these traits plus monitor the outcomes of our working with this person, we make a prediction that it is worth the risk to trust them.

What should we look for?

If you are looking to identify a leader or a co-worker you can trust, look for these characteristics. Just as importantly, if you want to establish yourself as someone who can be trusted, then practice and develop these characteristics:

Honesty: Honesty, like trust, needs to be nurtured. When it is betrayed, building it back up can be difficult if not impossible.  When people start a conversation with, “I am not supposed to share this, but…,” it is an indication they can’t keep a confidence.  They were not honest with the person that shared with them. They probably won’t be honest with you.  Look for people who are honest, even when honesty isn’t the convenient or popular decision.

Humility: A spiritual advisor once told me that humility is knowing your strengths and accepting them and knowing your short-comings and accepting them.  Showing no arrogance in your talents and not beating yourself up over your shortcomings.  Use your talents to help others and work on your shortcomings to better yourself. Look for people who ask for help and provide help, who admit mistakes and forgive mistakes,  and who take responsibility for their actions and empower others to take responsibility. 

Gratitude: There is nothing like being thanked for your work, for being recognized for your achievements. When we let people know we are grateful for all they are doing, it contributes to them trusting us. Look for people that demonstrate gratitude not just with words, but in their actions as well.

Generous: An administrator told me about somebody they were trying to help at work.  At one point that person asked the administrator, “Why are you helping me? What are you going to get out of this?” The administrator’s answered, “I see potential in you and someone once helped me, so I am paying it forward.”  Look for people that give freely with no expectation of getting something back. Look for people that share power, share information and invite people into the process.

Consistent: One of the more unsettling characteristics of weak leaders is inconsistency. One day they are accessible and open to sharing ideas; the next day walls are up and they have no patience.  Their inconsistent reaction to situations and people creates an unsettling and unsafe environment. People don’t know what to expect day to day and therefore trust can’t be built.  Even if someone’s responses are always angry or uncooperative, that is better than responses that change day to day.  Look for people that provide clear and consistent expectations to others. Look for people who are consistent in their dealings with others. 

Protective: Leaders should be their team’s strongest advocate.  There may be times that leaders may not agree entirely on how something was done, but they are willing to praise the work, effort and outcomes. They support and protect their team as it searches for answers and solutions. When their people make mistakes, they are standing side by side with them to take responsibility. Look for people who aren’t just there to take credit, but are also there to extend their protection when things don’t go right.  Look for people who work to help others get back on track.


Trust is a valuable commodity that must be constantly nurtured.  Trust can be the glue that holds people together. Likewise, distrust is a cancer that spreads and destroys.

When people trust their leaders and each other they cooperate with each other. They go the extra mile to make sure goals are reached, if not exceeded.  For most people working in a trusting environment, it is worth as much or more than money.  It brings peace of mind. The energy that would go into dealing with lies and manipulations can now be directed to reaching goals and finding success.  

When we trust someone, we are telling them they are important to us. Ultimately, trusting someone is a compliment. It says, “I respect you. I am willing to follow you.  I will put myself on the line for you.”

Friday Reflection: Staying on Target

Stay on Target


Most of us are great at creating plans and producing ideas.  We see a problem and want to solve it.  Working in a group brainstorming can be exciting.  It can bind a group together. And it is an important aspect to change.

And while creating solutions is essential, the truth is, it is harder to implement those ideas or more accurately, to implement them effectively.  There are several factors that affect the successful implementation of new ideas.  Today we are going to take a quick look at the use of data.

Focused and on target

Try this. Go outside. Look off in the distance—about a hundred feet or so—and pick a landmark. It can be a tree or a pole or store.  Now, look down at your feet, and start walking toward that landmark.  Don’t look up (please make sure that the landmark is in an area free of traffic). After about 30 steps look up—are you still moving toward the landmark? Or have you veered a bit?

The landmark is the final outcome we want.  Looking up is our data check to see if we are still on target.  If when we look up and we are not, then we use that data to correct ourselves.

Staying on target is hard work

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are staying on target:

  • Is there a clear understanding of what you want to do, why you are doing it and how you are going to do it? Does your team share that understanding?
  • Have you indentified the data that will let you know you are achieving your goals? Have you shared that with your team?
  • Have you set benchmarks or milestones that are observable and measurable? Is your team aware of these benchmarks or milestones?
  • Are you reaching out to the people doing the work for their input? What is the system in place to do that?
  • Are you collecting and analyzing all of this information? Who is doing it and when?
  • Do you use that information to tweak what you are doing?
  • Are you sharing what you are learning so everyone can make use of it? How is that sharing taking place?


Staying on target is as important, if not more important to reaching our objectives.  We know that keeping our eye on the prize is essential, but stopping along the way to make sure you and your team have not drifted off is also essential. Effective leaders prevent drift by using data.

Just as the brainstorming phase can be binding and exciting, implemented correctly data collection and analysis can be empowering. 

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