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Is Our “Gold Standard” for Education Research the Right Standard?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst grade students show improved performance with a reading intervention. But what about their enthusiasm for reading? And, have they improved on isolated skills or on being able to comprehend, analyze and use/appreciate the information?

Fifth grade students taught with a new mathematics curriculum show better ability to multiply and divide fractions. But do they understand the concepts? Can they come up with real-world illustrations of what  3 1/2 / 4/5 really means?

Eighth grade students show mastery of more science concepts when online teaching modules are used to supplement curriculum. But are they developing curiosity, a necessity for great scientists? Are they learning the lab techniques necessary for meaningful research? What about measures of their creativity? Are they increasing or decreasing?

Right now I’m seeing a great deal of research showing improvements that are:

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3 Moves for Moving from SMART Goals to Intentional Results

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

(Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 101)

How about substituting  “SMART goals” for management and “being intentional” for leadership in the above quote? Why?

Too often, a goal is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound) but still not the right goal. If you’re setting goals for yourself, or if you’re coaching others, here are three key questions that aid in ensuring that goals intentionally target what is most important, not what your or your client might assume is most important.

  1. Is this the right goal right now? Leadership is situational. While there are core competencies all leaders need, different ones are more important in some situations than in others. Unfortunately, those new to leadership—or to a given role—may be unaware of priorities they’ve never needed to attend to in the past.
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Tools to End the Time, Money and Energy Wasted on Polarization

Now AvailableI’m so excited about my newest book that I’m breaking from my usual blog content to include the press release here. 

How should mathematics be taught? What must students learn? Who should teach? What is the proper role of arts education or physical education in schools? Educators, politicians, parents and business people often take polarized positions, yet these issues involve interdependent “answers,” not right/wrong solutions.

Now a new book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking for Our Schools, by Jane Kise, Ed.D., introduces a powerful set of tools for ending polarization by bridging differences. Polarity thinking allows individuals and groups to work together and acknowledge the wisdom of each other’s viewpoints. Jane points out, “The alternative—and we see it everywhere—is wasting time and money on partial solutions that are doomed to be replaced when leadership changes or when results fail to meet expectations.”

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Lessons Learned from a Planful Police Force

Berlin ped signals.001Recently, the Charleston, SC, announced a 25 percent drop in violent crimes. I learned from Margaret Siedler of Power Surge that they credit much of their success in reducing crime to an intensive strategic planning process that involved polarity thinking.

Their strategic plan states that “In using Polarity Management, we recognized that the work of keeping our community safe is complex and we must address a series of chronic, ongoing problems by viewing them from a broad perspective. What are polarities? Polarities are sets of interdependent pairs [that] while competing actually need each other over time to achieve and sustain success. ”

Their five strategic directions, based on these “pairs”, are

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How Do You Know You Know What You Know?

P6141528By chance….Have you noticed that right now, intelligent people are polarized on issues? They’re holding polar opposite viewpoints? We all do. We think we’ve carefully vetted our positions and are in the right. So how much should we trust our own wisely-thought-through views?

Not much, actually, if one considers the research on how we form our viewpoints. A recent slew of books asks us to ponder this and perhaps change how we interact with those who hold opposing views.

Jonathan Haidt, in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, guides us through the neuroscience and psychology research on how we form our opinions. And it’s humbling. Or should be. Not only do we consistently pay attention to information that reinforces what we believe, but the more intelligent we are, the better we are at spinning one-sided arguments.

In Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Katheryn Schulz uses both research and humor to help us understand just how wrong we can have the facts and thus how flimsy our arguments can be.

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The Test of a First-Rate Intelligence

Fitzgerald quote.001

The Center for Creative Leadership identified it as the second-most important strategy leaders can develop.

F. Scott Fitzgerald deemed it the test of a first-rate intelligence.

Congress is obviously clueless about it.

What is it?

Polarity Thinking

You see, all too often we need our opposites to understand the bigger picture, the viewpoints or elements we’re overlooking. In our increasingly polarized world, though, the beauty of working with our opposites seems to be entirely overlooked.

If you live in the Upper Midwest, autumn colors are beginning to peak. Why are they so beautiful? It’s the pairings of contrasting colors–those opposite each other on the color wheel. Reds and greens. Oranges against the pure blue sky. Purples and yellows. Richness comes not from sameness but from contrast!

And so it is with opposite points of view.

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Get Your Priorities Straight!

Intentional Leadership Priority CardsDid you know…leaders are great at setting goals, but seldom set priorities.

Another way to put this is that leaders far too frequently bite off more than they, or those they lead, can chew. Lack of priorities can take several forms, such as:

  • Overwhelming their staffs with competing initiatives
  • Leading projects with “scope creep” that end up devouring time and resources way beyond what was anticipated, funded or staffed
  • Asking others to “do more with less” until, inevitably, human capacity is truly overwhelmed.

Goals are often tangible—profits, products, student learning targets, or implementation of strategies. Priorities are things such as professional development, staff relationships, accountability, autonomy, consistency in policy, and so on. And we can only concentrate on so many of them. Not setting priorities is similar to playing poker–you won’t have as much control as you like over the cards you’re dealt.

When I coach for intentional leadership, I start by asking leaders to sort their priorities. We then map those priorities onto essential tasks of leadership and compare the patterns to the leader’s natural strengths and equally natural blind spots. Are they focused on the right priorities for the situation, including their current goals?

Now there are three ways to sort your intentional leadership priorities:

  • Use the exercise provided in the book (included in the first chapter, part of the amazon.com free downoad)
  • Work with an Intentional Leadership Coach
  • Use the Leadership Priority Cards–hot off the press and available through me. When you use these cards, though, you’ll be able to choose your ideal hand–and move toward your goals.

Why the cards? All learning styles benefit from the tactile use of cards. As a coach, you can observe

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Yes, Polarity Thinking is Crucial for Leaders!

Corwin, November 2013
Corwin, November 2013

In its most recent e-letter, the Center for Creative Leadership listed leveraging polarities as the second-most important strategy for leaders to master, right after strategic learning. I couldn’t agree more–my next book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences, is all about using polarity thinking in conversations about education reform.

What is polarity thinking? The term, coined by Barry Johnson, describes situations where there is truth and wisdom on more than one side of an issue–each side is incomplete without the wisdom and input of the other. Think of how often we fight about the “right” way to organize, when in fact we need some of both. It isn’t either/or but both/and for things such as

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Any Initiatives Not Working?

P6141528Three times this weekend, friends relayed tales of woe regarding initiatives, strategies or decisions that aren’t working. All in casual conversation.

  • An accountability test for science is given to students with disabilities via computer voice. The computer mispronounces words such as “wind” and “lead” so that question meanings are changed. And students can’t adjust volume once it is set, even though portions are so loud that they pull off their headphones
  • Late in the year, teachers are asked to add a specific read-aloud to their curriculum to prepare for a school-wide event. Not only will it keep some teachers from finishing key curriculum units, but as they preview it, several do not believe it is age-appropriate
  • District-wide cuts in school office staff hours are made without consulting office staff workers. Turns out, several key personnel will not be in the office during the traditionally busiest weeks of the year.

All three of these situations are the result of two common leadership imbalances:

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