Back to school is here! We’re starting up the year with principal Dr. Sanée Bell, author of the new book, Be Excellent On Purpose, Intentional Strategies for Impactful Leadership. Today, Sanée shares her eleven principles from the book and gets us motivated for an epic school year. (We’ve also included the transcript.) Note: This episode is sponsored by Sanée’s publisher, Times 10 Education publisher of the Hack Learning series and the new Lead Forward Series of which Sanée’s book is the first.
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Transcript: 11 Leadership Principles for an Excellent School Year
Vicki Davis: Happy Motivational Monday and welcome back to school, everybody! We’re starting Season 6 of the 10 Minute Teacher today, and we have an amazing principal with us to help us get motivated it’s Sanée Bell, author of Be Excellent On Purpose, Intentional Strategies for Impactful Leadership.
Sanée Bell: Welcome back, teachers. This is a fantastic time of the year because this is the time when we get to get motivated and pumped up.
So, when you think about excellence, how many people do you know wake up each day and say? “You know, I really want to be average, below average, or completely ineffective.”
I mean, I don’t know anyone that does that!
Everybody wants to establish some type of excellence for themselves; so in order to do that, you have to be intentional in everything that you do. Intentional with your time, intentional with the company you keep, being intentional about how you focus your thinking, your energy, and so being excellent on purpose is taking action on things that are really important to you, things that really matter, and making sure that you breathe life into that excellence.
Vicki: . So, what we’re going to do, Sanée, you and I have agreed, is we’re going to do a lightning round speed share on the different principles so that we can try to get in 11 principles that are going to motivate us to be intentional in this school year, you ready?
Sanée: It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m ready. Let’s do it.
1 – Own Your Excellence
Vicki: Okay. So, in your first chapter, you talked about owning your excellence.
Sanée: All right. In order to own your own excellence, you have to know where you want to go and visualize yourself there. That’s a critical step toward pursuing excellence. Once you know where you want to go, and you see yourself making it there, then you back up, and you put the intentional actions in place that are necessary.
So for example, if you know that you want to try this new initiative or this new strategy in your classroom, and you see in May… in May we would have reached this goal. What did you do to get to that point? Then once you know what you need to do, you monitor your progress, you make adjustments along the way, and then you keep the momentum going. So that’s how you get to that excellence. You gotta know where you want to go first.
Nobody gets in a car and says, “You know what, we’re going to go to Florida. I’m not really sure how we’re going to get there.” You have a plan! Right? You know exactly where you’re going and you map that out; so that’s what you need to do to own your excellence. You’re in charge of it.
Vicki: So I was speaking in Memphis recently, and I showed a picture of people on top of Mt. Everest; I said, “What do these people all have in common?”
“None of them accidentally ended up here!”
Sanée: Exactly! Yeah!
What if someone is not sure about their goal?
Vicki: What if somebody doesn’t know where they want to be?
Sanée: You know what, if you don’t know, find someone you can look to as a model. It’s a very important question that you just asked because what we do all know, and this is what is so apparent in the beginning of the school year, is our “Why?” When we know why we are educators and our purpose and why we wanted to get into this profession, it really then helps us to determine where we’re trying to go.
So for example, most educators got into the business to impact kids, to impact their lives, to change their lives, to connect with others, to make a difference, and so when you know that you want to do that, what kind of actions and activities do you need to do in order to make a difference? What would making a difference look like? We have to get beyond the whole this piece of hope and “Oh, this is great fluff stuff,” and we want to make a difference.
How are we going to make a difference? So what is needed in your space? What’s needed in your school in order for that difference to manifest itself in the lives of kids? So if you need to increase the love of reading, how are you going to do that? If you’re trying to get kids to be more curious, what do you need to do that?
If you’re working, if you’re a leader, and you want to empower your teachers more so they can collaborate together and create a fantastic school and high-performing teams, what do you need to do as a leader to make that happen? Go back to your “Why?” and then that’ll help you determine what you need to do and what actions you need to put in place in order to realize this excellence that you’re seeking.
2 – Understand the Power of Words and Actions
Vicki: There’s an old proverb: without vision, the people perish. We’ve got to have vision, and our students need to have vision, and that leads to Number Two: Understand the Power of Words and Actions this school year. How do teachers need to do that?
Sanée: So one thing that all leaders need to realize is that our words have so much power. They have words to inspire, or they have the power to tear down. How do you want your words to be used when you’re working with kids, when you’re working with your coworkers, when you’re working with parents?
People want to identify with leaders, and I use “leaders” generally. If you’re a teacher, you’re a leader. People want to identify with leaders who excite and energize them to do more collectively than they are able to achieve individually. If you think back to your favorite teacher, there was something about that teacher.
They made you feel like you could do just about anything, and it was probably the way that they made you feel. Probably had nothing to do with the content that they were teaching. You may have only liked the content because you liked the teacher.
So the words that you use can really determine if you’re going to be able to live out this excellence that you have because people want to follow others that inspire them to do more and to create more and to be more.
3 – Expand Your Connections
Vicki: Absolutely. Number Three: How can we expand our connections this school year?
Sanée: This kind of connects to the question that you asked me: what if you don’t know what you want to accomplish? I am connected to people who make me better.
If your connections are not people who are making you better, people who are causing you to want to thrive, to do more, and be more, I suggest that you check your connections.
Get connected with people. When we’re serious about who we are engaging with personally and professionally, we’re not only committed to being excellent for ourselves, but we’re committed to being excellent for those who are counting on us for uplift and support.
I surround myself with other professionals, educators who are really doing things that I may not be doing because it’s helping me to grow, they’re pushing me. Also, they’re giving me new ideas. If I’m struggling with something, I have a network that I can depend on.
If we’re in isolation today as an educator, it’s because we’re choosing to do so, and I know I’m preaching to the choir here because you’re listening to this podcast, so you’re connected with other people and other ideas. It’s really important to expand those connections, not only within house, within your school, within your district, within your state, but outside of those spaces as well.
4 – Get Focused Feedback
Vicki: Number Four: How can we give more focused feedback?
Sanée: Okay, so I’m a coach, and that’s all we did in coaching: you run a play, you give feedback, correct it, let’s do it again. In order to help our students get better, in order to help our teachers get better if you’re a leader, in order to help each other get better, we need to be committed to giving each other feedback and practice giving that feedback and monitoring the feedback.
Be open, put yourself out there, be vulnerable, and say, “Hey, you know what? Vicki, I’m really struggling with teaching this concept. Can you come in and observe my class and give me some feedback on what you see. I’m just curious to know if I’m missing something.”
So, being committed to feedback as a professional, but then also giving our students feedback, and then allowing our students to give us feedback as well, it’s that 360 feedback. Leaders, your teachers should be giving you feedback. Teachers, your students should be giving you feedback. That’s the only way that you’re going to get better because you can’t see yourself the way others see you, so be open to that. Excellence only comes from feedback and from growth and from being willing to let others in and help you get better.
Vicki: You can even film yourself, and then you can see yourself better, how others see you.
Vicki: Okay so Number Five, and this is something all of us need: How can we overcome barriers to teamwork because there are barriers?
Sanée: Yes, there are a lot of barriers, and I think so often in our world, especially around this time of the year, we’re anxious to get school started. We’re trying to get our classrooms organized and decorated so they’re welcoming for our students. We want to get our lessons planned, and it’s a lot.
As the year goes on, there’s more and more things that we have to deal with as educators, and so what happens is around October, Vicki, I don’t know in your world if that’s the case, but October we are like, “Man, we still have a long way until we get some break,” and we begin to pick at each other, not intentionally, but it’s just the weight of what we have to do as educators begins to get heavy.
As adults, we tend to focus on completing tasks and projects, and we forget the fundamental principles that we learned in kindergarten and that’s how to play nice in the sandbox with others. In kindergarten, we learned how to work with others, how to apologize and own mistakes, how to show compassion, how to tell the truth and be honest about our feelings which a lot of adults… we just say if someone says, “What’s wrong?”, “Oh, nothing. I’m fine,” and we hold that in and it festers, or we don’t ask for help, or we don’t offer to help others. Just living in peace in harmony, we deal with so much as educators. We need to depend on each other and lift each other up.
Vicki: Okay, so Number Six: We Need to be an Intentional Champion for Equity. Now, I want to say something here. A friend of mine had posted, bragging on his robotics club, and some people called him on it and said, “Hey, there’s no girls in there,” and then he went and admitted, “You know what? I didn’t even notice that. We’re going to have girls in this robotics club. We’re going to be intentional.”
Is equity part of this intentional activity?
Sanée: Equity is all about this intentional activity because you have to look, you have to notice, you have to call out. If it’s important to us, you’ll be able to see, you’ll find a way to ensure that all students have a safe, supported, equitable environment to thrive in academically, socially, and emotionally. This probably is the most important chapter to me because I would say that we really have to begin to look at all students. Our schools may be good for your kid and may be good for the kids in your school, but is it good for every single kid? Not every single kid has that same experience. So we have opportunities and experiences that are not available to all kids, then that’s definitely some work that we have to do. Excellence can’t be for some; it must be for all, and in order for it to be for all, we have to look at our practices in our schools and to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of every single child.
Vicki: And that’s so challenging. Number Seven: Lead Impactful Change.
Sanée: This is where the rubber meets the road. Change: that is not because the leader is there. If it’s good, then it will stick. This is where I get into the notion of “I prefer ownership over buy-in.” Buy-in is, “You know what? We’ll do it. We’re not really committed to it. We don’t really believe in it, but I guess we have to do it.” Ownership is, “We believe in it. We own it, and it doesn’t matter whose change it is, it’s good, and it’s what’s good for kids, so we’re going to own it and keep it and thrive. It’s going to thrive and we’re going to cultivate it.” Leaders who are excellent on purpose know how to use shared leadership to get everyone on board when it comes to growing and changing, and that’s that ownership, and you give me ownership any day over buy-in.
Vicki: Now I wish we had time to go into all these, but I am going to mention them. So this year we want to Number Eight: Amplify Student Voice, Number Nine: We Want to be Self Aware, Number Ten: We Want to Create Stories Worth Telling, but Number Eleven, let’s finish up with a challenge: could you give a pep talk of teachers to dare to be different this school year, and why is that so important?
Sanée: So this is how I challenge myself and my staff. Every single school year, you have an opportunity to become something new. You have the opportunity to become something better than you were the previous year, and so my challenge to you is this: make a plan for what you want to accomplish, take a risk, put yourself out there, and find people who will support you through that challenge.
Publicly state what you’re trying to accomplish this school year, and you may not have a clue how to get there. Honestly, if you knew how to do it, you would’ve already done it, so own the fact, “I have no idea how to do this. I know it’s what’s best for kids. It’s motivating me to want to be better this school year.” Put that out there, and then you find the people that will hold you accountable, and do something different.
If you’re the same teacher that you were last year, if you’re the same leader that you were last year, you didn’t grow. If we’re challenging our students to grow each year, and that’s what we do: we’re supposed to take our kids from one level to the next in a year’s time. We should be doing that as educators, and if we’re growing each year, man, we’re going to make amazing things happen, not only for our kids, but for the profession. Being excellent on purpose means constantly growing, you never have a ceiling, you’re going to keep moving each year to be better.
Vicki: Okay! It’s Sanée Bell, Be Excellent on Purpose, Intentional Strategies for Impactful Leadership. The book has just released in July of 2019. Pick up the book, consider being intentional, and hey! Have a great school year, Sanée, and everybody else listening!
Sanée: Thank you, you too as well!
Dr. Sanée Bell – Bio As Submitted
Dr. Sanée Bell is the principal of Morton Ranch Junior High in Katy, Texas.
She has also served as an elementary principal, assistant principal, teacher, and coach. In 2015, Sanée was recognized as the Katy ISD Elementary Principal of the Year. She earned her doctorate degree in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston Clear Lake.
Sanée is passionate about authentic, purposeful learning for students and teachers, and she also has a strong passion for leadership and its impact on teacher engagement, student learning, and school culture. Sanée recognizes her impact as a leader and uses her role to inspire, motivate, and empower others. Sanée has presented at state, national and international conferences, and has contributed to several publications, including Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead. She has also been a guest on several podcasts focused on leaders
hip and its impact on students and teachers. Sanée is co-author and co-editor of the Education Write Now Series, and is the author of Be Excellent on Purpose, Intentional Strategies for Impactful Leadership. Sanée shares her thoughts on leadership on her blog saneebell.com.
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