Friday, December 18, 2015

The Elevator Pitch

One pervasive urban legend tells of a young and hungry entrepreneur who couldn’t get an interview at a large corporation.  Completely frustrated, he came up with a plan born of desperation.  He spent several weeks observing the daily routine of the CEO and preparing for just the right moment.  When he was ready, he timed his entry onto the first floor elevator to match that of the CEO and began his pitch with the closing of the elevator door.  By the time they reached the top floor thirty seconds later, the young man had convinced the CEO and was offered a job.

What can you say in 30 seconds that makes all the difference?
I couldn’t find any evidence to support the veracity of this urban legend, but true or not, the concept of the elevator pitch has become part of our lexicon.   A quick search of “elevator pitch” gets millions of hits and a whole list of resources for writing a clear, brief message about you and how you can become an asset to a company or organization.  

I suggest to you that the concept of an elevator pitch has implications for all of us in education--today more than ever.  The debate surrounding education is all around us, and if we are not prepared to make a sales pitch about who we are and the value of what we do, there are plenty of others outside of education who will be more than happy to provide words for us.

Want proof that I'm right? Check the headlines of the Indianapolis Star for the next few weeks.  I have no doubt you will find lots of people who haven't been inside a school recently with lots of opinions about Indiana schools.

We must give voice to the words of our hearts.
When You Can't Find the Right Words

How do you respond when someone from outside of education asks question like these?
  • Why should I send my children to pubic schools and specifically to one of the Hamilton Southeastern Schools?
  • What is HSE21, and why is it important to my child?
  • Why should I give my financial support and vote to public education?
Do questions like these catch you by surprise?  Do you fumble for words?  Do you think of the great things you should have said later in the evening?

To be perfectly honest, I know I do—and I know I shouldn’t.  I should be prepared.  I should have an elevator pitch for HSE practiced and ready to go. 

Daniel Pink, the best-selling author of books about business and management, gives some good advice about an effective elevator pitch.  He is speaking about business, but it applies to us in education as well:

The pitch process, when it works well, is inherently collaborative.  In some ways, pitch is not the right word because pitch implies I’m going to throw this to you and you’re either going to catch it or not.  It’s much more interactive.  We have to think of pitching not as I’m going to sell you on this right now, but essentially, "Here is an invitation—an intriguing invitation—to have a conversation."

Pink's Drive has major implications for education.
See the link at the end of the blog to learn more.

The Challenge

The HSE Teaching and Learning Team gave ourselves the challenge of creating an elevator speech about Hamilton Southeastern Schools and HSE21.  How can we briefly and clearly state our beliefs?  How can we do more than simply “sell” Hamilton Southeastern Schools to someone from the outside?  How can we provide, as Pink says, an “intriguing invitation” for further conversation?

Those are tough tasks to complete well in 30 seconds.  After the holiday break I invite you to consider what we write; furthermore, I invite you to consider during the break what you might say if given the same challenge.

Even better, how about sharing your ideas in this blog?

What will you say when you get the unexpected question?
There is no time more important than now for educators to share the good things happening in HSE Schools.  Leading up to the election in May, you will undoubtedly be asked questions about our schools.  Each and every one of us must be ready to speak clearly about what we believe about public education, about the good things happening in our schools, and why continued support of our schools is so important to our children and our community.

So have a great holiday break, HSE.  Rest.  Relax.  Come back in January ready to educate our children—and ready to educate others who may have questions about the value of who we are and what we do.

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Bonus Video:  You might want to watch Daniel Pink’s TED Talk on what motivates people (and remember students are people, too).

Click this Link: The Puzzle of Motivation

Respond to Phil at

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Alarm Clock

In the face of the daily grind, it can be difficult to maintain the passion for your profession.  This week’s entry comes from Bev Smith-Redmond, our Director of School and Community Relations.  She shares her routine for focusing and maintaining her energies.

From Bev: Taking Care of Others Starts with Taking Care of Yourself

The alarm goes off between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. every day.  With a swipe to my cell phone screen, on a good day I can delay the inevitable until 5:45 a.m., but that is rarely the case.  Having worked in school administration and communications for the past 16 years, no two days are the same. I am one of the lucky ones.  My career brings me joy. Helping people connect is my passion. Public education is the arena in which I have been gifted the space to work.

However, in the busiest moments, my vision can become cloudy when solely looking at my days as a to-do list rather than sets of interconnected opportunities. A new phone call, a Tweet, an e-mail, an article, a photograph all vie, sometimes simultaneously, for attention at any moment. Work often comes in grandiose doses. In my experience, the days, weeks, semesters and school years can pass without consciously taking time to focus and refuel. As a result, I am learning to safeguard my professional passion.

Bev argues that you should prepare yourself for this journey.
I start my day quietly and purposefully.

Before checking in with the world, I connect with me. Who am I? Why do I do what I do? My goal—and I’m still a work in progress—is to recharge daily, even if for only a few moments.

Each morning, I attempt to listen first and list tasks second. Getting back in sync is not always easy, so simplicity works best. It could be the sound bites of a poem or devotion that connects me as I iron my clothes. Sometimes, I don my ear buds and stream my favorite podcast while I eat my Chocolate Chex, or swap professional encouragements and ideas with my mentors by text.  My car has become my rolling fortress where I rehearse affirmations or lessons gleaned from articles or conversations. In a pinch, I have even been known to turn up my playlist and just jam because I only have five minutes.

Recharge Your Batteries Wherever You Can

This week, I struck gold with some retro You Tube clips from famed television mogul, humanitarian, and master teacher Oprah Winfrey. In my profession, I cannot think of anyone who has shone more brightly as a source of inspiration. I chose two videos: the 2015 “Harry’s Last Lecture” on a Meaningful Life at Stanford University and Oprah’s farewell address in closing the famed Oprah Show after 25 years.

Oprah has many useful nuggets in these videos, but two of her challenges stood out for me:
  1. Would you rather be right or be happy?
  2. Find your passion and run after it!
Admittedly, number one requires much more introspection. But, item two is where I proudly stand, fulfilled and ready to run!

It snowed during Bev's wedding!

Respond to Bev Smith-Redmond at  (and don't forget to congratulate her on her recent marriage).

Have a great week, HSE!

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Speed of Trust

This week, Tom tells us about a book that has influenced his thinking, The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M. R. Covey.  

"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior."  --S. M. R. Covey

From Tom: Outcomes Depend on Trust

I am a trustworthy guy, at least I think I am. 

My family trusts me.  My students trusted me when I was teaching in the classroom.  The athletes that I coached trusted me, so why didn’t parents trust me when I became a district administrator?   Did I change?  Did I do something that made me not trustworthy when I took this job?  Why did it have to change?

These are tough questions!

After nineteen years as a director of special education, I have come to realize that these questions don’t really matter.  What matters is how I address the trust factor when working with parents during emotionally charged situations.  That is what led me to the book The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M. R. Covey. 

The Speed of Trust focuses on why trust is important, as well as what the outcomes are when you have established true trust in a relationship.  Relationships can come down to one essential question: Do we trust each other or not?  The answer tells us why progress is being made or why progress has come to a complete halt. 
Simply stated, when you have trust, things move at a much faster rate than when you don’t.  For example, when you are in the middle of a difficult situation with a parent or student and you do not have trust established, often the conversation is bogged down by multiple questions that are not pertinent to the problem, or the same question is asked over and over. 

This slows the problem solving process down and sometimes grinds it to a halt. 

The converse is true when you have trust.  The conversation remains focused on the problem and finding solutions; therefore, the time it takes to reach agreement is much shorter.  This is a speed that results from having trust. 

Sounds simple, right?  Establishing trust, however, is not always that easy.  It is an ongoing process that must be the focus of what we do with our students and the parents we work with daily.  The Speed of Trust helped me realize how important trust is in both our professional and personal life.  When we follow the steps that Covey outlines in the book, we can establish trust that will have a lasting impact on our daily lives and the people we come in contact with personally and professionally.

Cores of Credibility

In order to accomplish this, we need to possess the foundational principle of credibility.  Am I credible?  Am I believable? Am I someone people (including myself) can trust?  Covey identifies four “Cores of Credibility” which focus on character and competence within us.   

  • Integrity:  A deep honesty and truthfulness.  It is who we really are. It includes congruence, humility, and courage.
  • Intent:  What is our agenda?  It is your fundamental motive or agenda and the behavior that follows.
  • Capabilities:  Capable people and organizations inspire confidence.  Capability is our capacity to produce and accomplish tasks.  It is our talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and style. 
  • Results:  What is our track record?  Results matter.  They matter enormously to your credibility.  People evaluate your results/performance on three key indicators:  past performance, current performance, and anticipated performance. 

The Four Cores of Credibility are only one example of many in The Speed of Trust.  Covey addresses many other topics as well.  I strongly encourage you to take the time to read this book and look deeper into the roll that trust plays in our daily life as educators.  

Respond to Tom a

We hope your week is a good one, HSE.

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education