Author Archives: Michelle Carlson

Embracing Irreplaceable

How many times have you heard, “everyone is replaceable” or what terrible business practice it is to have anything “sole source”?  I can name a fairly long list of colleagues, just off the top of my head, who would never be replaced should they choose to pursue their dreams elsewhere.  Sure, someone could be hired to replace them, but the connections, passion, and magic they bring to the work would be lost right along with them.

Our industrial society was built around the idea that everything should run like a well oiled machine.  It was the goal.  Having a well oiled machine meant you were doing things right managing your system of cogs and wheels and pulleys – all with their very clearly defined jobs.  The well oiled machine was controllable and predictable.  It was comfortable, reliable.  You could expend a decided upon amount of resources (money, time, etc.) and get your expected amount of output.

Business today is organic and volatile.  It is a living, breathing creature made up of many different types of people, some of whom simply don’t have the ability to perform like a cog.  They are not easily replaced.

What we do with our irreplaceable parts reveals a lot about our core values as leaders. Some fear irreplaceable parts.  What do we do if these parts break or wear out?  Where does that leave us as an organization?  The most logical solution is to rework the machine to be more modular; to ensure that every part can be swapped out at any time to maintain productivity and order.

On the other hand, we can embrace a more contemporary option.  We can see these hard to understand, hard to replace parts for what they are.  We can allow ourselves to see that they bring fresh ideas and positive change – they help us to push the envelope and provide the necessary balance today’s organizations need in order to truly thrive and maintain their competitive edge.  The key to making it all work together lies in understanding how to meet the very different needs of these two groups and how to ignite the passion and drive which fuels organizational success.

Let’s look at the two groups.  On one hand, we have those who thrive in environments of clearly defined roles, responsibilities and expectations.  They are happy when they know exactly what needs to be done and are given the necessary support to complete the tasks at hand.  They value predictability and are easily managed.  This group serves as the lifeblood of an organization.  They provide necessary foundation, security and strength and ensure sustainability.

Then we have the innovators and visionaries – people who thrive in environments which are starkly different from the group above.  They are entrepreneurial dreamers who are happy when they are given the support needed to implement their vision.  They value freedom and flexibility and perform best when they are entrusted with the ability to manage themselves.

Leaders need both of these groups in order to maintain healthy organizations.  Understanding the varied needs of each is not only empowering, it is the surest way to create and sustain an environment where magic happens all around you.  Not understanding the very different needs of these two groups, or the fact that you need both types can be disastrous.  Innovators must be valued for their gifts, not their replaceability or manageability.  Leaders who are comfortable embracing this are far more apt to feel a sense of accomplishment and power than those who cannot.

Innovators perform best when they are able to forge their own path.  They often describe themselves as “having a calling” that is very personal and intrinsically motivating.  Their motivation comes from being able to see their own vision take form, not to breathe life into someone else’s. Because of this, it’s critical that innovators find themselves inside an organization that values their individual vision, and where it fits into the larger goals of the organization.  If the innovator is drawn to building something the organization needs or wants and the organization can provide the support and resources needed to execute the vision, everyone wins.

So, what happens when managers attempt to harness an innovator’s talents and abilities in other ways – to, in essence, separate that person’s talents from the individual?  I have, on occasion, seen this happen.  The expectation is that “you work here and you will funnel your gifts into the things the organization needs most”.  It seems like a fair trade, money for talent, but I have yet to see this play out in a positive way for anyone involved.  In fact, the most devastating thing for an innovator is to be asked to funnel their passion and drive into someone else’s vision or need.  Instead of stoking the fire, it smothers it and all that potential for greatness ends up turning to ash,, quickly blowing away in even the slightest breeze.  New York Times best selling author Daniel Pink talks about these principles at length in his book Drive.

Over the past decade or so, it has been my distinct pleasure to walk a path of discovery on both sides of this concept and also to see some of my most treasured friends do the same.  It has given me a perspective that includes both personal experiences and outsider perspective, all coming together in this post with one goal: to help leaders and managers understand how to ignite their teams in ways that are truly magical.  If you are able to identify your innovators and find ways to support their vision, you will see the world change around you in ways that are truly remarkable.

With sincere gratitude to all the leaders out there who understand and support your innovators!  The world is a better place because of you.

Further Exploration…

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing, recently wrote a great article for Harvard Business Review that details the 5 characteristics of successful innovators, which are quoted below.  Most notable is trait number five. It’s important to recognize that successful innovation is most often not an individual endeavor.  Successful innovators possess:

  1. “An opportunistic mindset that helps them identify gaps in the market. Opportunities are at the heart of entrepreneurship and innovation, and some people are much more alert to them than others. In addition, opportunists are genetically pre-wired for novelty: they crave new and complex experiences and seek variety in all aspects of life. This is consistent with the higher rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among business founders.
  2. Formal education or training, which are essential for noticing new opportunities or interpreting events as promising opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, most successful innovators are not dropout geniuses, but well-trained experts in their field. Without expertise, it is hard to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information; between noise and signals. This is consistent with research showing that entrepreneurship training does pay off.
  3. Proactivity and a high degree of persistence, which enable them to exploit the opportunities they identify. Above all, effective innovators are more driven, resilient, and energetic than their counterparts.
  4. A healthy dose of prudence. Contrary to what many people think, successful innovators are more organized, cautious, and risk-averse than the general population. (Although higher risk-taking is linked to business formation, it is not actually linked to business success).
  5. Social capital, which they rely on throughout the entrepreneurial process. Serial innovators tend to use their connections and networks to mobilize resources and build strong alliances, both internally and externally. Popular accounts of entrepreneurship tend to glorify innovators as independent spirits and individualistic geniuses, but innovation is always the product of teams. In line, entrepreneurial people tend to have higher EQ, which enables them to sell their ideas and strategy to others, and communicate the core mission to the team.”

Daniel Pink’s book Drive is a fantastic read, available here

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” – an absolute MUST watch!

Seth Godin’s book Lynchpin talks about the essential building blocks of great organizations

 

Driven by Opportunity… Or possibility?

If you could name the one thing that really drives you, really engages you and lights your fire, what would it be? Would it be opportunity? Or would it be possibility?

I had a conversation the other day with a colleague wherein she mentioned that she perceives me to be very driven by opportunity.  “You are able to see the big picture and within that, you can identify and seize opportunities to make a difference as they arise,” she said.  I thought about it for a moment and then agreed, replying with “Yeah, I guess.”

That concept – and her perception – stayed with me for a couple of days and upon reflecting, I realized that I really am not driven by opportunity; I am driven by possibility. And, although the two are related, they are very different at their core.

Opportunity is all around us and if we’re paying close enough attention, we will see it. If we can see it, we can use it.  Going a little deeper – opportunity is something that’s kind of passive.  It exists.

Possibility on the other hand is something that lives in the minds of those who refuse to be limited by that which already exists.  Seeing possibility allows us to create something from nothing and is limited only by the boundaries of our own imaginations. Seeing possibility in the world around us gives us the power to create our own opportunities.

For people who see endless amounts of possibility, the possibilities are endless.  They generally find themselves occupying professional positions that did not exist before their tenure.  The positions they hold are almost always created around the possibility that they bring to the table.  They are flexible, imaginative and buoyant problem solvers.  These are the people who, no matter the challenge, will always find a way.  They are change makers and in the grand scheme of things, they are rare.

Our systems are in desperate need of people who broker in possibility.  These agents of change are the ones who will find new and truly innovative ways to solve the toughest and most gruesome challenges we face in today’s society.

In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in young brilliance such as 12 year-old Thomas Suarez who taught himself how to create iPhone apps, 14 year-old Taylor Wilson who created nuclear fission in his parents’ garage trying to find ways to solve the global energy crisis and 15 year-old Ann Makosinski who invented a revolutionary flashlight powered by body heat.

This power to see possibility exists in everyone, but as we grow, it is diminished.  As Sir Ken Robinson states: “…we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this — he said that all children are born artists.  The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.”

Endless amounts of testing and research have proven that the innovative and fearless spirit we see in youngsters like Thomas, Taylor and Ann is “educated out of us” as Robinson puts it.

How do we put a stop to this leaking sieve of creativity?  First, we embrace the possibility that we can effect change.  The possibility that we can choose to do what’s right for our students and that we can allow them to learn and grow in a system where creativity, diversity and individuality are truly embraced.

The next step is to end the senseless use of labels that box us in and kill the creative process.  Words like socioeconomic status, ethnicity, manager and subordinate, male and female have no place in the world of possibility.  We are all capable of being amazing in our own way, but somehow that gets taken from us over time.

Society has a need to categorize us and put us into boxes.  After a decade or so of being labeled in this way, the majority of children will find no other option than to succumb to the system’s demand for sameness. We’ve all heard the stories… “Well, I wanted to be a scientist, but I was told that I wasn’t smart enough.” “I wanted to be a computer scientist, but I was told that because I was a girl, that really wasn’t the best field for me.” ….It’s interactions like these that grind away at the hopes and dreams that exist in all children and it robs our society of possibility.

What if we stopped telling kids what they’re good at and what they’re not and started letting them tell us what their dreams are? For the most part, this is not the world that exists today, but if we engage in the possibility, we will see that we have the power to create an environment where this is the norm.  It should be our goal to have open minds, to listen to them and to help them achieve their dreams.

Let’s believe in the power that we have to encourage and guide our children and let’s believe in the power that they have to change the world.  Possibility is a state of open-mindedness, achieved first by belief in one’s self and second by belief in the power and goodness of those around us.

The first step to doing something truly ground breaking is simply believing that it is possible.

Plans Are Great… Dreams Are Better

Just the other day, I had the pleasure of being part of a conversation with a friend that really inspired me.  She recounted a recent meeting with her staff that was rather unconventional  Most meetings focus on an agenda, a specified set of topics, issues, events, etc.  This one was different.  It focused on the hopes and dreams of the participants.  Wait a minute, what?  Hopes and dreams?  Yeah, that’s right.   Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a need for the standard issue meeting, or lesson plan, or structured activity, or whatever, complete with agenda and all the trimmings, but there is an equally important place at the table for engagements that focus on people and what drives them.

Instead of the regular time-delimited, structured meeting with norms and outcomes, this particular meeting focused on people.  Each participant was encouraged to talk about what motivates them, what their dreams are for themselves and and what they believe is important in the work that they doThe meeting was, of course, a phenomenal success.  Some might say, it’s the work that is important and that’s why we focus our time talking about what we’re doing, and how we’re going to do it, but it’s the people who do the work.  If you inspire them and allow them to inspire you, the work will naturally grow from that fertile ground.  Not only will it grow, it will thrive.

The conversation got me thinking… I wonder if we give enough credit to the power of hopes and dreams when it comes to motivating people? Whether it be the students in our classrooms, or the people we work with everyday.  You can plan, plan, plan, but if there is no inspiration, the plans often fall flat.  Gone are the days of factory style classrooms and workplaces.  If you really want to get things moving, inspiration is the way to go!  

I remember being a student.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t the most well behaved kid in class, but I got good grades and followed most of the rules.  I dreaded, no, hated the assignments in which I had to do something that I wasn’t interested in.  I challenged everything that didn’t make sense to me.  Yeah, I was that kid.  I had some incredible teachers though. Teachers that understood the need for flexibility and the amazing learning that could take place when kids got to find their own way through the content.  Those teachers understood kids and their dreams and their interests… best of all, they knew how to harness that invisible energy to make learning happen.

Fast forward several decades… I’m no longer a student of the educational system, but the concepts are the same.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re teaching, administering or managing, you are shouldered with the responsibility of being a leader and with the challenge of motivating people.  If you start by figuring out their dreams, you can make plans from there.  People’s hopes and dreams act as fuel – and it’s the most free and renewable kind of energy there is.

A couple of posts back, I wrote about a TED Talk that continues to pop up as a source of inspiration in my work.  The speaker, Simon Sinek talks about how to inspire change and how to lead in a way that has gravitational pull.  If you’re looking to make the world a better place, start with dreams.  Plans are second.

Where will you find yourself amidst changing tides?

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The world around us is changing.  Education is changing.  In fact, large scale change has been occurring for quite some time now.  At first it was gradual – so subtle that it was easy to miss the technological and societal shift that was happening all around us.  But now?  It’s a full throttle race to be competitive and to provide an educational experience that prepares our students to take on the challenges that exist beyond school.

Our young people are our future leaders.  They will be the next change makers and innovators, but only if we can give them the tools and experience they need to flourish.  What does that mean for those of us in education?  It means that the classrooms of today will look different, and the role of the teacher has never been more critical than it is right now.

It gives me great joy to support teachers in this work.  In my experience, teachers are excited about the possibilities that technology brings but are also a little unsure sometimes of where to start.  I recently co-presented the first in a series of workshops on how to flip your classroom with my colleague and friend, Maureen Clements.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term “flipped classroom” it is, in essence, a type of blended learning which allows teachers the ability to provide more personalized guidance and interaction with students.  It changes the role of the teacher – from head of the class – to something that more closely resembles a coach and allows students to work at a pace that is more comfortable for them.

Technology allows us to make use of this innovative approach to teaching and learning in ways that were never possible before.  About 30 educators attended the workshop, ranging from those who are fairly new to the classroom to those who are nearing retirement.  The energy in the room was amazing and one thing became abundantly clear: we are poised and ready to effect change in our small, rural county.  Amidst changing tides, we find ourselves leading the way.

Change is not an easy task; we find challenges and difficulties along the way, but maintaining the inspiration and energy helps us look forward to the process.  Inspiration generates motivation like nothing else can.  It helps us go farther, get there faster, and tap into the power of the team.

So where do we go from here?  We can start by making a commitment to inspire each other.  Whether you’re in education or not, one thing is certain, our students are our future and we can work together to make it a great one.  The work of Expect More Tehama has connected education to the community in new and exciting ways and has spurred conversations that continue to inspire.  Every day I get the great pleasure of working with local educators, community members and colleagues who inspire me and that inspiration helps to move the work forward.

Start each day with something that inspires you… whether it’s a TED Talk, coffee with your mentor, a quick read of your favorite website or Twitter feed or simply a moment to ponder your reasons for choosing this path.  Then take that inspiration and pay it forward!

Let’s also commit to challenging one another.  We all naturally strive to do our very best, but having others who challenge us professionally can be very invigorating. That outside “push” can act as a catalyst for progress in a way that goes far beyond where we would take ourselves on our own.  My colleagues and the teachers that I work with challenge me regularly to see things from different perspectives and to always have an open mind.

Finally, we need to commit to supporting each other in the work ahead.  We’re talking about needle moving change and that just doesn’t happen without lots and lots of support.  If you’re in education, be ready to support your colleagues when they need it and be willing to ask for help when you need it.  As a community member, your willingness to support your local school, or your child’s teacher will be crucial.  Support is one of the keys that will help open up a bold new future for our students.

Imagine, for a moment, the amazing opportunities that would unfold if we were able to do those three things.  To inspire, to challenge and to support each other in providing the most innovative educational experiences for our students.  Imagine the course their lives could take and the levels of success they could achieve with a community of support behind them.

A perfect example can be seen in the young Robby Novak, better known as Kid President.  Novak, now 10 years old, is a motivational speaker, TED speaker and a YouTube sensation.  He calls himself “the voice of a generation” and has moved millions of viewers with his talks.

In the words of Kid President, “this is my time, this is your time, this is OUR time!”  Let’s use it wisely.

What We Do Today Will Help Them Shape Tomorrow

If someone were to ask you why you teach, or why you are in education, what would your answer be?

Sitting on a bus loaded with kids on our way to the Hands On Science Lab at CSU Chico, I found myself with a little time and the need to occupy my brain.  TED Talks seemed like a good place to start and so I browsed around for something engaging.  I found this segment, presented by Simon Sinek about inspiring action and it started a train of thought that is still churning away.  Sinek’s model, the golden circle, all starts with the question “Why?”  His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers and he talks about what they did that allowed them to change the world.  It all started with their ability to express what they believed and why they believed it.

So, why are we in education?

For me, it means that I get to be a part of something much larger than myself.  Something that sits right smack at the top of the importance scale.  You’ve heard it many times… our kids are our future, they are our greatest resource.  They are the leaders, the innovators and the creators of tomorrow.  My work is all about giving them what they need today so that they can shape tomorrow.

For those of us who serve in education, the work is deep and meaningful and so very important.  It’s about more than just proficiency, numbers and goals.  It’s about giving our young people the tools they need to make the world a better place.  We have the opportunity to help them learn and grow and become the leaders of tomorrow.  It starts with what we do today.

Let’s work to inspire others!  Please leave a comment below and share why you chose to work in education.

Your Kids Have a Voice

What if there’s a way to teach your students 21st century Skills, geography, writing, and the fundamentals of technology in a way that’s enjoyable for them AND for you?  I know, impossible right?  Enter the Student Blogging Challenge.

A recent visit with a colleague who teaches 4th and 5th grade is proof that it can be done – and what they’re doing in their class is pretty impressive.  Mrs. Vazquez and her students came across the Student Blogging Challenge and even though they didn’t get started in time to participate officially, they’re using the challenge as an opportunity to get started on their own class blog which can be found here.

Blogging is a great way to teach real-world skills in a real-world environment.  “My students are taking this really seriously, because they know that they have readers all over the world.  It’s not just the teacher and their classmates who are seeing their work,” said Mrs. Vazquez.

Let your students create work that has a life beyond the classroom, it has the potential to spark a lifelong passion for writing and reading.

Student-Blogging-Infographic

feel free to use/share the infographic… linkbacks are always appreciated! 🙂

Additional articles and resources to help you get started:

FREE Edublogs
How to get started
Edutopia article on student blogging

Looking for a Magic Bullet? Start with Curiosity!

Curiosity is the seed from which everything else grows.

Think about it…  How many times have you found yourself curious about something that resulted in exciting and genuine learning?  How many times have you learned something you weren’t curious about?  See the difference?

If we can allow ourselves the opportunity to feel curios about technology, we’re on the road to doing the same for our students.  Check out the TED Talk below where acclaimed educator Ramsay Mussalam talks about the three rules to spark learning:

Curiosity is free, Let’s make good use of it!

These Could Be Our Kids

Our students have the ability to change the world!

There are kids out there right now, who are using technology in ways we can’t even fathom.  Take 14 year old Taylor Wilson, for instance, who created nuclear fission in his parents’ garage to find ways to solve the global energy crisis (http://on.ted.com/Wilson2013)…  AT 14!!!  There are kids like Taylor all over who are re-imagining the world they live in in order to make it a better place for everyone.  With the right environment, these could be our kids!

Coming Soon!

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Stay tuned!  The Tehama County Department of Education has got some pretty exciting things to share with you in the coming year with regard to Instructional Technology professional development!

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