The Practical Researcher – Part 1

Data.  Research.  Math.  Science.  Probability.  Statistics, trend lines, standard deviation, correlations – oh, be still my heart!! I look on those words with the same kind of intense interest that equals the drooling lust I bestow upon Corvettes.  Yeah, I know.  I’m not normal in that regard.  However, those same words don’t need to conjure up feelings of revulsion or fear, either.  For data and research to be so much a part of our lives and our work these days, it’s kind of odd how truly paralyzed professional, degree-holding people get about this topic.  I know I can’t convert everyone to my love affair with data and research, but I can try!  So let’s demystify this a bit and see if I can at least help you not want to run screaming in the opposite direction when the subject comes up.  This month I’m focusing on all things data so we can all feel empowered to use it to drive our professional decisions.  This week’s focus starts with demystifying some vocabulary.
Data – it sounds so ominous, clinical, and mathematical.  It can be all of those things, but at its core it’s just information.  It’s facts that are simply indicators of reality at certain points in time.  Data is clinical in that it’s objective and plays no favorites; it just IS.  You can use math to collect or analyze it, but you don’t have to.  Data is anything that can be collected in some way, like observations, tests, tally marks, rubrics, conversations, measurements, or frequency.  If you capture, collect, or compile it in some way, then it’s data.  As a teacher, leader, or coach you do this dozens of times a day, officially and unofficially.  You’re probably a real pro at this already (and you just don’t know it)!
Science – applying the scientific method (remember that from your youth?) is just being methodical and thoughtful about what you want to know, how you want to gather evidence, and determining how you will look at it so that some facts emerge.  When you apply a little science to your process, you’re probably trying to eliminate your own biases, preferences, or opinions on the subject so that you’re not just going with your gut or your knee-jerk reaction.  You want some objective information.  Don’t get me wrong here – both your gut and your reflexes are powerful guides and guardians.  Good researchers pay attention to both to guide their work.  Sometimes, they end up being right on the money and both your instincts and the evidence point to the same conclusion.  But sometimes, those outcomes are different – and that’s powerful knowledge, too.  Either way, you know more than you did when you began, so that’s a good thing.
Math – Math didn’t start out being my best friend.  Yes, there’s a separate story there and I’ll share it with you in a future post.  Suffice it to say that we made up over the years, and I learned that Math, like Professor Snape in Harry Potter, just looks menacing but is really a good guy.  Math can be practical and straight-forward or very deep and complex, but all of it is in support of illuminating the truth and helping, in some cases, point to possible outcomes.  Math just wants to be friends; he can’t help it that some people find him scary.  In the end, Math is just a humble servant trying to help us organize our information to come up with a solution that makes sense.
Research – that sounds scientific, hard, and destined to make your brain do the equivalent of advanced yoga poses.  In reality, research is nothing more than wondering something and posing a question you’d like to know the answer to.  It mimics the scientific process.  You conduct some sort of activity and collect the results (data) to shed light on what’s going on.  You gather all your data and look at it all together (analyze) to see what story it’s telling you.  You might do some math to clarify or help organize the data so that it’s easier to see connections.  You add all that to your own knowledge and expertise and you draw a conclusion.  From there, you take some kind of action based on what you learned.  Simple, right?  Again, I bet you do this often and you didn’t even realize you were doing research.
And finally, there’s Probability.  When you do the research, maybe apply the scientific method, collect some data, and perhaps even do a little math, the process begins to paint a picture.  Probability is then seeing where the weight of the evidence points.  Probability is the strong likelihood of something happening – or not.  Of course, you have to be careful of garbage in, garbage out, too.  The better, more reliable your data, the more confident you can be about the likelihood of the outcome the data is suggesting.  There are ways to quantify this likelihood by turning it into Math’s language, taking it to a whole other level of certainty and verification of facts.  However, most of the work we do doesn’t really require this level of scrutiny of the details.  We all are pretty capable of putting information together and seeing where it’s leading, and that’s all that’s needed most of the time.

Put these terms together and – Voila!  You have the foundation you need to get started doing some action research on your students’ progress to help them – and you – reach those goals you both want to reach.  So maybe give it a try?  Take it out for a coffee and see what develops?  You might just find that you both have a lot to say to each other.

Building Relationships: The Rules of the Game

I love games.  I especially like the beginning of games, when the whole adventure is about to begin.  You’re not sure how it will all turn out, but you’re looking forward to the brilliant moves, shocking turns, and brain aerobics needed to solve frustrating conundrums.  However, most folks don’t approach building new relationships with quite the same feeling of glee.  Frankly, many people feel the same way about building new relationships as they do . . . say . . . cleaning out the cat box or going to the dentist – not a barrel of laughs but necessary none the less.  But whether we’re talking games or cat boxes, there are always some guidelines to follow so the outcome is hopefully positive and beneficial for all involved.
There are so many helpful and insightful books, articles, and blog posts out there about what these guidelines, habits, and rules are to help us build meaningful relationships.  They all have something to teach us.  And yet, at the end of all this advice, I find that most of it boils down to a few key pieces.  I call it the Law of Relationships.  My law states:
For a healthy, positive relationship to exist between 2 or more people, respect, trust, and caring must be present first.
Just like scientific laws act as the rules of the game of our existence, the law of relationships acts as the underlying principle that underpins all of the other actions we take when we build and maintain our relationships.  When I look at all my varied relationships across the span of my life so far, I see they generally fall into two categories – good and not so much.  Within the “not so much” category, usually respect, trust, and caring are all on the slim side.  Bottom line – If the other person has proven themselves to be untrustworthy, not respectful of me or others (and therefore not earning my respect), and does not inspire me to care about them on a personal level, all the advice and techniques in the world will not turn that relationship into a solid foundation upon which we can build a future.  There’s the rub.
So how do these rules of the game help us, even in these situations?  Particularly when the way is challenging, I think of these relationship rules as the Minecraft approach to relationship building.  In Minecraft, you develop a vision of what you want to create and then you build and create it – resource, by block, by crafting formula – within a controlled environment.  Although you have endless options in what you create, the building blocks and rules of how to use them are finite and set.  When it comes to building relationships, especially new or challenging ones, most of the advice takes the Minecraft approach.  You mine for information, collect personal details, use your tools to intentionally craft a relationship for a specific purpose.  It’s very practical and helpful when you’re not sure how to start. However, like the Law of Relationships states, at some point you need to actually respect and care for someone if you want a real relationship to develop.  Those are the rules of the game.
So let’s be honest – respect usually comes as a result of watching someone’s actions to see if what they say and do are in sync.  Do they do what they say when they think no one is watching or when their effort won’t gain them anything?  You come to respect their judgment and coupled with their consistency of action, it begins to build trust.  Once you have those two things, caring usually comes along because you are now invested in each other and you want to help sustain them.  Before you know it, you’ve got a real relationship growing.  That formula needs to work both ways, however.  Are you a person whose actions and words are in sync?  Do you do the right thing even when it isn’t going to be noticed or the effort won’t gain you a thing personally?  Do your actions inspire trust and respect? And there’s the first step in building a quality relationship – be a person with whom you would want to build a relationship.  Start with yourself, be genuine in your care and assistance of others, and you’ll find yourself on your way to establishing new relationships with those around you and with those whom you support.
But for all of this to be true, and for our relationships to be real, it really can’t be a game.  It has to be sincere.  Ironic, isn’t it?

And there’s the adventure in our game called real life.   We might have rules and guidelines, and we might intentionally work on ourselves to be our best selves, but it’s all very real; it’s not a game.  The brilliant moves, shocking turns, and brain aerobics needed to solve frustrating conundrums takes on a new level of intensity when “the game” is actually real life – your life.  So use the advice and the techniques to craft your own vision of good relationships as you strive to keep it real in a world that wants you to believe it’s all just a game.   

First Encounters

 

 We’re heading back into the regular school year rhythm and there are quite a few folks facing some first day jitters – students, staff, and even school leaders.  Those first moments – and what happens in them – have ripples beyond the immediate moment.  Let me share a few of my own examples with you.
It was 1971, and I stood at the door to my new nursery school room wondering if anyone would want to talk to me, eat lunch with me, or even play with me.  The teachers took me to a group of girls who were laughing and playing together, obviously great friends.  Introductions were made and the teacher left, but I didn’t look quite as cute or act quite as perky as the other girls and they quickly excluded me from their game.  Confused and sad, I stood there wondering what to do.  A little boy at the next table looked over at me and smiled.  He was finger painting with the old stand by of liquid starch and tempura paint on butcher paper.
“Want to finger paint with me?” he asked, looking friendly.
“Sure!” I smiled back gratefully as I pulled up a chair next to him.  He nodded toward the paper and paint.
“Grab some paper and stick your fingers in the paint,” he explained.  “I’m trying to draw my dog, but I’m not very good.  Kinda looks like a pig,” he said as he frowned critically at his picture.
I was inclined to agree with his assessment, but I grabbed some butcher paper and said instead, “It looks just like a dog to me,” and sat down next to him at the table.
We remained friends through junior high until he moved away.
Fast-forward to second grade and it was my first day of ballet class.  The teacher looked like the epitome of the ethereal ballet dancer and the other girls looked like beautiful wisps of grace.  I didn’t know anyone and by contrast I looked more athletic than willowy (I think it’s those sturdy Irish genes).  As I looked around, wondering what I’d gotten myself into, I noticed a girl coming towards me with a smile that lit up her whole face and an energy that just radiated enthusiasm and pizzazz.
“Hi! Are you new too?” she gushed in her dramatic yet charming way.
I nodded shyly, smiling hopefully.
“Great! I’m new too!  Let’s stand at the barre together.  That way, if we mess up, at least we’ll be together!” she laughed with gusto as she grabbed my hand and pulled me along with her.
She is still my oldest friend.
Fast-forward to two years ago when I joined my new school district after spending eleven years in my previous one.  It was my first professional development with my new colleagues, and I paused as I walked into that big room alone.  Although I’m quite a ways from my childhood, those old familiar jitters floated to the surface like the ghosts of first encounters past.  Will anyone want to talk to me?  Will I make new friends?  Will I find my place in this new community?  I put on my cheerful, brave face and was prepared to go it alone, at first, when I saw a kind, smiling face wave me over to her table.
“Hi!  Come sit here with us.  I’m Becky.  Are you new?” she asked kindly.
“Yes – thank you.  I’m one of the new elementary instructional coaches.  I’m new to the district – this is my first day!” I shared in what I hoped was a confident and cheerful voice (because my insides felt a lot like they were in a blender).
“Great!  I’m an elementary coach too!  Don’t worry about a thing – we’ll get you all squared away.  Welcome to our district!”
And just like that, I felt like a weight had been lifted off and the day was just a little less scary.  With a few kind words, I felt like I was a welcomed member of a team and maybe I’d found a new home.  Thanks, Becky!
So what do all these stories have in common?  They’re all about how a smile, a kind word, a coming alongside, can make scary or anxious moments feel a little less so.  And the more experiences we have where we are on the receiving end of those actions, the more compelled we feel to pay it forward and provide those moments for someone else.  Never underestimate the power of those small acts of kindness or those few words of camaraderie – they are powerful beyond measure and can echo over decades.  Those moments – giving and receiving – change who we are, how we see the world, and how we see ourselves.  They help us define ourselves and our place in the world.

As we start this new season, I encourage you to keep an eye out for those opportunities to be that ray of sunlight, that voice of kindness, that breath of relief and hope to those you serve and with whom you work.  Though the seed is small, the tendrils that extend out from it can and will reach far beyond that single moment.  So when you see one of those moments this season, smile . . . be friendly . . . and see what blooms – for both of you.

My First Lessons in Leadership came from STAR TREK

My earliest and fondest memories include watching #STAR TREK with my mom.  I remember being riveted by how the crew would manage to solve an episode’s challenges, and as I grew, fascinated by the subtle interpersonal relationships that formed the foundation for just about every decision they made. Through the stories of the USS Enterprise, the crew presented solid lessons in teamwork and leadership.  That melding of personal connection, teamwork, and leadership is what makes STAR TREK’s crew such a unique study in how to be leaders. Let me share what the crew has taught me over the years.


  • When the way forward is uncertain, the Captain goes first.
The Captain never asks others to do the hard, dangerous, or potentially career-ending work for him. Instead, he goes first and takes on the uncertainty to secure a way forward for his team and the mission.


  • When safety is compromised, the Captain goes last.
The Captain makes sure everyone else is safe or getting out of harm’s way before he works to save himself.  The crew’s safety is his top priority.


  • Duty first.
Every member of the crew – from the Captain on down – always does their best to do their duty under all circumstances, whether they personally feel it’s a great idea or not.  Their commitment to follow-through on the principles, beliefs, and missions of the Federation allow the Captain to trust in their mutual loyalty and determination to see it through when it comes time to give an order and set a course of action for them all.


  • Never give up – fight to the end.
Although there are times when the crew has to take a passive mien in order to gain a tactical advantage, the intention is always to go down fighting in order to triumph in the end.  When one of the members of the leadership team knows something is not right, they battle on to set it right, no matter what the obstacle or personal cost.  Never give up, never surrender to make it easier on yourself.


  • Your team is the most important thing.
When the crew has to do battle, they make sure they fight for their team, with their team, as a team.  The team knows they are stronger together and the odds of success are much higher when they each use their unique abilities to work together to win the day for others, as well as themselves.


  • Keep your composure – always.
When all hell is breaking loose around them and the situation is grim at best, the crew keeps their composure and remains steady in the face of chaos.  They keep thinking and moving their way through it – to the last person, the last resource, the last second if need be – until they bring the situation under control.  There is no room for panic, indecision, or weakness; they just stay calm and lead on.


  • Keep it personal.
Although the work they do might be “just business”, the reason they do it is very personal.  If they have any success at all, it is because of the personal connections they have with each other that sustain and back them along the way.  When the crisis is over, the crew always reconnects on a personal level.  It’s in those moments of recovery that they not only make sense of what happened, but they strengthen their bonds and commitments to each other.  Celebrating success and acknowledging everyone’s contributions to that success is what recements everyone’s commitment to make it happen again when faced with the next challenge.  And there will always be another challenge.


Although I have learned many things about leadership over the years and even earned a doctorate in educational leadership, there’s always more to learn and experience.  And yet – if STAR TREK’s crew had been my only reference point for how to be a leader, it wouldn’t have been the worst teacher on the subject.


As we head out to our continuing missions, to seek out new people and new frontiers, we will boldly go where no one has gone before . . . because the crew of the Enterprise showed us the way.
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Gear Up for a New Season

As the summer “pause” button approaches “play” again, my thoughts begin to turn towards getting organized for another season’s goals, plans, challenges, and triumphs.  So where to start?  How do you know how to move forward?  A great place to start is always with a reflection on the results of last season’s work, and a review of the data and evidence that points to what is working – and what’s not.  I’ve got 5 steps for getting myself ready for the starting line. I thought I’d share them with you, and I hope it gives you some ideas that help you get to your starting line this season, too.


Step 1:  Where did I leave off?
I start by looking at the goals and targets I set for myself last season.
Did I meet them?
If not, were they realistic to begin with? Too big or off target?
What worked that I need to keep doing this season?
What didn’t work that I need to rethink?


As I reflect back on last season, I see I met all my goals but two.  One I need to continue focusing on is finding ways to better utilize and integrate technology into my work and the work of my teachers.  I see I set the goal, but I didn’t quantify it nor did I put it in my schedule / work plan so I’d make time to actually do it consistently.  There’s a piece to add to this season’s goals and targets.  The other goal that didn’t quite get met was improving communication with my teachers when I wasn’t physically with them.  Although I tried several things, nothing got me where I wanted to be.  The things I tried were too static and not interactive enough.  There’s another piece to add.  Overall, I ended the season on an upward trend.  Now the challenge will be to sustain and improve on it this season.  There’s another one to add.

 

Step 2: Where do I want to go?

This is where I dream and aspire – and scare myself a little with those visions.  On a personal level, I try to set one goal for myself that takes me out of my comfort zone and will undoubtedly be personally challenging to achieve.  A few years ago, it was earning my doctorate.  This year it’s getting this blog going.  As I looked at last season’s goals, this goal was still sitting there, patiently waiting for me to put my courage to the sticking place and jump in.  So I decided to do just that.  Already I’m seeing how this new adventure is taking me to new places – personally AND professionally – and giving me fresh ideas to bring to my coaching. I’m still not in my comfort zone, but I’m loving learning new things, so that balances it out a little.


Other professional goals include wanting to digitize my coaching binder / log to make my work more efficient and hopefully more effective as well.  I also want to sustain and improve my default schedule, for those times when I suddenly find myself with an unexpected hour-long hole in my day.


So what might you take on this year?  Is there something you’ve wanted to try for a while but felt hesitant about starting?  Maybe this is the year to plunge in!

 

Step 3:  Let’s write a plan!

I usually post my goals and targets somewhere in my work space so I see them everyday and then long-term plan things like Professional Development (PD), Professional Learning Community (PLC) topics to explore, synchronizing dates and hard deadlines in my calendar, and setting goals and targets with my teachers.  But somehow there were still professional activities important to me that still either weren’t getting addressed consistently or as effectively as I’d like.


As a running coach, I always start the new season with a plan.  I take into account the goals we’re trying to achieve by the end of the season, strengths the runners have I want to sustain and weaknesses we need to address through training and conditioning.  Balancing all that over a specific period of time is what makes up the plan.  I make similar plans for my own training and use it as a benchmark to assess how my training is progressing – or not – as I implement it.  It’s a great tool.   And then LIGHTBULB!  Why not adapt what I do for running to my work as an instructional coach?  (Ok – apparently CPT Obvious hadn’t visited me before now.)


As I start developing this new kind of plan, I need to consider making time for planning quality, relevant PD each week, engaging in professional reading to stay current, learning new technology and trying it out, scheduling communicating with teachers when I’m not with them, and setting time aside to review the week’s work in order to set targets for the following week and build that into my schedule and coaching plans.  Merging that with my usual duties, weekly tasks, and the long term objectives set by my district is where my thinking is currently in progress.


What system do you use to plan out your work?  How might you develop your own plan to intentionally capture all those important things that sometimes fall through the cracks?

 

Step 4:  Get organized.
I admit – I’m a school supply nerd.  I LOVE back to school time!  Brand new Crayola markers, colored pencils and crayons, fresh notebooks, sticky notes, tabs, folders, writing pens – oh, I’m in heaven.  But all that can become a finger-wagging school teacher to you as you see it still sitting there on your desk collecting dust a month later.  Whatever organizational system you choose to use, my advice is to keep it simple – easy to setup and easy to maintain.


Generally I color-code my schedule and files for quick identification and filing, whether it’s digitally or old school traditional.  Things I need all the time I keep nearby and easily accessible.  Work in progress goes into a prioritized pipeline on the long counter next to my desk using a 4 Quadrant priority system inspired by Dr. Stephen Covey (author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).  From there, those tasks and projects translate onto the whiteboard on the wall so I can see at a glance what’s critical, what’s looming, and how to manage my time and tasks.  This then drifts into my weekly and daily schedule so I stay in control of all the shiny objects I juggle.

Do you have an organizational system?  If so, is it still working for you?

Step 5:  Run it!

Put the plan and tools in place, gear up, and start implementing your plan.


Hope this gets your head in the zone!
 Melissa
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Step 4: Troubleshooting Dilemmas and Celebrating Success

At this point, the finish line is in sight.  Most of the work has been completed and looks good.  You’re proud of what you’ve done and how much your effort has paid off.  However, there’s a few places that have emerged as dilemmas.  Not terrible, but not working as it should and those few things are marring an otherwise terrific performance.  Hmmm . . . how to fix?


Troubleshooting issues is honestly my favorite part of the process.  It requires me to put all my knowledge, experience, and skill to the test as I weigh my options.  It’s also the part that feels like I’m on the edge between potential greatness or epic failure.  Courage and boldness is usually what’s required at this point, and that’s when I know I’m about to learn something BIG.  I love the adrenaline rush!  Of course sometimes, when I’m at the end of my knowledge and completely exhausted, I feel like I just want somebody else to fix it.  I don’t have any more answers!  That’s when I take a deep breath, stay calm, and just keep trying.  I know I’m on the brink of learning something new here, too.


When last we left the walkway, it was mostly done and looking good, but there were some dilemmas that required special attention.  Odd gaps, unique placements, and time slipping away, I notice my supplies are running low as well.  I’ve got to bring this thing to a positive conclusion utilizing what I have available to me right now. After consideration, I decided to create a new pattern to fix some overall gaps, used smaller “bricks” to fill in odd spaces . . .

 

and in the end just left some gaps as is.
Each fix was specific to one problem, but it had to address the problem both individually and systemically. The solution had to work for both that individual problem AND it had to enhance the overall outcome for the entire project.  There’s the rub.  Sometimes a solution might be found to address the individual problem, but doing so would diminish the positive impact of the rest of the work.  At that point, it might not be perfect but you just have to be happy about it and not rage out.  The success of the whole is more valuable than getting every little thing perfect. Japanese Zen art tells us that the 1% is a valuable part of the finished piece – it reminds us that there is always an opposite to keep us balanced and humble.  The 1% is our human shortcoming and the 99% is the wow we are able to bring into the world.  The 99% is where we’ve been; the 1% is where we start next.  The 1% is where we have never gone before.


And then just like that . . . you’re done!  It sneaks up on you as you persevere until suddenly you look up and realize – it’s finished.  Do take some time to celebrate, congratulate yourself (and your team, if applicable), and admire the results of all your hard work.  Rest, enjoy, and then, when the time is right, let your mind wander to the next project you want to take on . . . and start the journey again.
Thanks for coming with me on this thought journey!

 

So what project are you thinking about taking on this year?

TLC Sprint #1

I’m a runner and a running coach, in addition to being an instructional coach, so my posts are usually peppered with my running references. For my non-running friends, sprints and speed work help to build different muscle responses to make us better runners. So it is with these sprints. The resource is quick to check out and hopefully gives you something useful you might be able to apply to your own work to make it even better. I’ve got two sprints for you today.

The first comes from Ms. Houser’s blog “Ms. Houser”, Instructional Coach and Teacherpreneuer. As we start preparing to line up at the starting line of another school year, it’s a great time to consider how we’re sharpening our saw to stay at the top of our game. She’s got a great idea – hope you check it out!
http://www.mshouser.com/teaching-tips/how-sharp-is-your-saw

The second sprint comes from P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning (p21.org) on blended learning. Great discussion in general about how the quality of our questions is really what provides the rigorous, deep learning we’re looking for in our students. My take away – it still takes a great HUMAN teacher to ask the right questions that help our students get to the next level of understanding. Teachers matter! The author reminds us of some good teaching and coaching points – worth the read!
http://www.p21.org/news-events/p21blog/1826-blended-learning-it-is-the-questions-that-matter?utm_content=26824384&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

If you’re having new thoughts from reading these, please share in the comments below!

Thanks for sprinting with me!

Step 3: Jump In!

This step is where self-confidence, commitment, and a heaping dose of nerve come together. It’s where the rubber meets the road. The key to successfully navigating this part is having a general plan of action. You need to think about how you plan to go about getting the work done. Some important points to consider include sequencing (what needs to come before what), pacing (how much can you reasonably get done in each work session), and accommodations (special circumstances that need individual attention). However, it’s equally important to keep it pretty general and be flexible as you get into the work. Rarely does your initial plan roll out perfectly all the way to the end. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that nothing ever goes as planned. (And sometimes that’s an innovative thing!) So back to my faux bricking walkway example. This is where I have to look over the space I’m going to “brick” with paint. How will I break up the space? What pattern would complement the space and add harmony and balance to the other elements it’s working with, like the flowers, bushes, hardscape, and overall look I’m trying to create? Once that’s decided, I get up my tools, pour the paint, coat the sponge “brick” with the paint and . . . stamp the first brick! I start working my plan until I reach the first stopping point to assess how it’s going. Pretty early on I notice that although most of my plan is working, there’s a couple of issues emerging. At this point, I need to decide if I need to adjust something now or just hold with the plan and see how it plays out a while longer. I decide to stick to the plan to the next stopping point and see if it resolves itself by then. And on I go.

As all teachers, leaders, and coaches know, getting the plan going can give your stomach some butterfly flutterings in the beginning. Nervous, excited, focused but calm, you try to just keep your effort even and your performance consistent. But as you watch your efforts start to play out – on a class, on a team, or on an individual – it’s important to assess and adjust frequently. Is it going as planned? If not, is that a bad thing? Does it need correction or is it just a variation you hadn’t considered but it’s working well too? Sometimes it’s obvious it’s just poop on a plate; you gotta stop and fix NOW. Sometimes it’s just different, and you need some time to think about it. Either way, when the plan starts interacting with others it becomes a collaborative effort and the it takes on a life of it’s own. I’m a firm believer of going with the flow of this new collaborative effort, giving it the respect and consideration it deserves as it becomes something new.

Once you’re in the creative process phase, be prepared for the new insights, flashes of inspiration, and bold new visions you’re likely to have. The work will teach you if you let it. And that’s magic. You’re going to need that new perspective for step 4 – Troubleshooting the Dilemmas and Celebrating Your Success!

Step 2: A Solid Foundation is the key to EVERYTHING

This step is the key to EVERYTHING you will do – the quality of the outcome, how long it will last, and how well it will hold up over time. Whether you’re talking about planning a unit of study, developing an organizational plan, or working with your clients and their growth, this is the step that supports everything you’re trying to accomplish. It’s also the step that often gets short-changed or overlooked altogether. So going back to my walkway example, my first step was to completely clean the areas I was going to paint with a stiff scrub brush and TSP. If the concrete isn’t properly prepped, the paint won’t adhere right and all my painting work will be wasted because it won’t last past the first real test of its endurance.

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. As you start to “prep your ground”, so to speak, you need to make sure your building blocks are up to date and being used effectively. As a teacher, make sure your standards, assessments and activities are appropriate, based on current research, and will be value-added to the overall learning and growth of your students. As a leader, consider what foundational work needs to be in place and firmly established in order to support the next stage of the work. For coaches, our “ground” is people, and this means considering the state of our clients’ foundational skills. Do they have a quality understanding of basic concepts and skills in order to build upon them? What is their level of fitness – literal and figurative? After taking stock of your “ground”, you might decide it’s necessary to spend more time prepping. Although it can feel frustrating to have to linger in this stage, it is vitally important to the quality of the final outcome. It’s really a simple equation: the quality of the base = the quality of the result. Granted, this looks like the unsexy part of the process – and it is – but it’s also the key ingredient to making the magic happen in the end. As a runner, I know all the time and work I put into my base and my overall fitness will allow me to reach whatever personal goals I set for myself later. So it goes with most everything else, as well.

The next part of this step is laying down the new base or framework upon which you’re going to create your new work. It’s providing the clean, solid base that will make the rest of your additions work well together to create the right effect. The final tip for this step – give it time to set up. You don’t need a long time, but enough time to be sure that the new base has adhered properly. In our TLC vernacular, this means buy in. Again, if the new base doesn’t adhere properly, the rest of your work won’t last and ultimately won’t produce anything. Once your foundation is solid, you’re ready for step 3 . . . Jump in!