Saturday, January 10, 2015

Living Under the Influence

With it being the start of a new year many of us have made resolutions. My colleagues and I all enjoy the One Word challenge and have shared them with one another. My family is on board this year and we spent one evening creating our One Words together. Mine for 2015 is STRONG. My wife JOY. My daughter MOTIVATION. My son CHALLENGE. I could not think of a better way to spend an evening with my family. I personally find it more effective than creating a long list of wordy resolution statements. After all, only 8% of the 45% of people that make resolutions actually keep them. How sad is that? Many stop within the 1st week. Just look at your local YMCA. The first Monday back after New Years is insane. You can't find a piece of cardio equipment open and the workout area is full. Yes, there is a benefit to working out early in the morning....beating the resolution crowd.  If you are a regular in the gym you see the trend every year but you know that by February the crowds will be back to normal. Teachers are no different. We make resolutions to stay on top of our grading, contact more parents, prepare lessons plans in advance and so on. Why is it that we fall short? I believe it all goes back to INFLUENCE.

I recently heard a story about Carrie Underwood's new hit "Something in the Water." As I listened to the radio (Yes.. the radio was on country in my car and I did not turn Carrie off) on New Years day the DJ told the story about how the song was literally written and recorded in one day. Carrie and her team came into the studio with an idea and out of excitement the entire process unfolded instantaneously. They had no clue they were recording a hit. All they knew was that they loved the meaning of the song and felt they were all connected for a single purpose in that moment. I call that living under the influence. Pastor Brad Kochis of Lifepoint Church in Hilliard, Ohio recently shared about this in one of his sermons. He stated that when we are able to approach each moment driven by a purpose greater than ourselves we are living under the influence. Most of the time when we hear this phrase we tend to give it a negative association. We don't recognize that influence can be positive and play a significant role in the way we approach our day to day. We all allow things to eat up our time and influence us to make decisions good or bad. Let's face it, time is valuable but we can't control it. The clock keeps ticking no matter what we do. However, what we can control are the influences in our lives and the activities we allow to consume our time. I, more than anyone, need to work on my activity management skills.....just ask my wife she will confirm this.

Influence is defined as the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone, something, or the effect itself (thanks Google). As educators we constantly allow outside influences to impact our world. In turn these impact the way we teach and interact with students. We place more value on things like standards, lesson plans, and evaluation systems. All while devaluing the student experience, relationships, and culture. Influence is a multiplier. It has a ripple effect when properly used. Let's break down that definition; Effect on Character...Effect on Development....Effect on Behavior of SOMEONE.....SOMETHING....or the EFFECT itself. As an educator think about your influence on SOMEONE-Students-Peers-Parents-Community. Your Influence on SOMETHING-Culture-Professional Development-Policy Making. Your Influence on EFFECT-Change-Positive-Negative. We have way more power than we think. We build the CHARACTER of our students. We shape the DEVELOPMENT of our peers by sharing ideas. We affect the BEHAVIOR (perception) of our communities by being a positive force. Now, think about this, what are you UNDER the INFLUENCE of? If we truly can be change agents and influence is a multiplier than we must be aware of what influences us.

“No matter what your goals are in life, you can achieve them faster, you can be more effective, and the contribution you make can be longer lasting if you learn to develop your influence.”
- John Maxwell

Four ways to harness the power of influence in education and elsewhere:

  1. Have Faith! I am firm believer. You may not believe in what I believe but you put stock into something that guides your daily efforts. Understand your WHY! Just last week I was asked what my gift is....without hesitation I said to TEACH. We each have a gift that we are meant to share. Don't be selfish with it. Do I have to be in a classroom to teach? No. Any moment provides an opportunity to use your gift. Share your passion and purpose with others. 
  2. Build relationships-Developing integrity and trust is the foundation of healthy relationships. Want to increase your influence....develop trust in your relationships. Be open and honest with those you come in contact with.  Connect with others, empower others, LISTEN to others, hurt when others hurt and take advice when it is given. Start with your family first. These are the most important relationships. Then build on your friends, peers, students, and so on.  
  3. Admit your faults- We all make mistakes. We all fail. Admit it when it is your fault and identify what you can do to change it next time. Nobody is perfect and others will connect with you when they see how you react to struggle and opposition. Stay positive!
  4.  Be Social- I don't mean increase your followers on Twitter or LinkedIN. You may have hundreds or thousands of connections on social media. Great! But in reality you only pay attention to a few; those who share the same values as you or provide unique perspectives. What I am referring to is the face to face conversations that occur daily. The moments at the water cooler, the after class conversation with a student, when your child needs your attention,when a friend is in need or asks for advice, and the unplanned off the cuff conversations. Just be in the moment. Be open to social interactions that help lead to influence.
I finish with a quick story from class yesterday. I teach in a different district than I reside in. My kids were out of school for a snow day and my family decided to come by and visit for lunch. I love having them drop by the building to see what I do. My son (2nd Grade) decided it was best to dress up because, in his words, he wanted to "walk in school like a Boss!" He shows up in a shirt and tie while I am wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. Truly showing me up. After lunch he asked if he could stay. He joined me in the classroom and became my assistant for the rest of the day. My students loved him and commented on how he was dressed up more than me. He had a blast pretending to be a teacher and leading the class. When we got home my wife asked him what he thought. He gave the basic answer of he thought the girls were cute. But then hit us with the....I think I want to be a teacher when I grow up! He stated he enjoyed watching Dad teach and helping his students in class. Influence! 

Always be under the influence! Let it ripple throughout your life, your classroom and throughout your building!