Since writing Best Year Ever!: Winning Strategies To Thrive In Today's Classroom, I have been asked many times to describe what my book is about and where I came up with the ideas and strategies that I used in my classroom each year that are included in it.
My Initial Answer That I Shared for Years
For years, my standard answer has been that my book is about leadership, team building, and classroom management ideas. It also gives strategies that teachers could use each year to help build their group of students into a "winning team" while creating a positive, safe, and productive work environment for all to thrive in.
I would explain that Best Year Ever! is the "playbook" I used each year to help create a "Best Year Ever!" experience for my students.
Two Problems With My Initial Answer
Looking back, I now realize that, though everything I just mentioned above is accurate, one error I made was that I have been selling Best Year Ever! way too short of what it's totally about and the potential power it can have on those you lead. Basically, for years, I forgot to mention the "prize inside this box of Cracker Jack"--the magic that makes my Best Year Ever! book uniquely different than many other books written about leadership, team building, and (classroom) management.
My second mistake is that when I set out to write my book, I saw myself writing it as one teacher writing to help other teachers (especially new teachers) better manage and lead their teams of students each year. I assumed that my target audience was for teachers because they would be the only ones to benefit from reading it --which, again, was selling my book (and myself) short. I had no idea that my ideas and leadership style could reach many other leaders within and beyond the education setting.
So, my goal now is to take a step back and correct these two critical errors by explaining more thoroughly what Best Year Ever! is about, and who can benefit from reading it and how it can help. To begin with, I want to explain my teaching/leadership philosophy and share where many of my ideas and inspiration for my leadership/management approach came from.
My Teaching/Leadership Philosophy Behind Best Year Ever!
This quote, by Robert H. Shaffer, from the book, The Best of Bits and Pieces clearly summarizes my philosophy of teaching students how to think rather than what to think. I wanted them to become thinkers of possibilities; I wanted them to be confident they could think big and then work to make it happen.
My philosophy of teaching has been developed and shaped from reading and studying about what makes certain individuals, teams, and businesses excel by accomplishing extraordinary feats while many others just seem to get by. Basically, I am fascinated by what makes the great "great" and what it takes to make great teams. My professional library is filled with self-help books, biographies, and autobiographies that talk about motivation, leadership, coaching, business management, personal growth, triumph, teamwork, psychology, and spirituality.
Over the years, I developed my teaching/leadership style to be more like a coach, trying constantly to find new ways to motivate my students to perform at higher levels. I also created four strategies I call "Setting the Table for Success" that I used each year to help build my new group of students into a "winning team" and to help create a positive, safe, productive learning/work environment that encouraged my students to work together to reach their full potential individually and as a team.
I created Best Year Ever! based on my teaching/leadership philosophy to share with other teachers and administrators. I chose that title because a goal I set for myself is to make every year my best year ever.
"Best Year Ever!" is a mindset and expectation that I continually strive for each year and encourage the people I teach/lead to do the same. The way I see it, there is no other reasonable choice. I mean, how crazy would it sound for anyone in a leadership position to stand up before the group of people they lead and say, "Let's set a goal to make this our "Mediocre Year Ever!"…or…"Let's work to make this year our "Worst Year Ever!" In my opinion, "Best Year Ever!" seems like the only option for any team to shoot for.
It is important to note that "Best Year Ever!" doesn't mean "Perfect Year Ever!" or "Challenge Free Year Ever!" Again, "Best Year Ever!" is a mindset or outlook where you go into each day striving to reach your full potential and doing your best despite any challenges you have to overcome instead of using them as an excuse as to why you cannot do your best or perform at your highest possible level.
Two themes are the driving force behind my teaching/leadership philosophy and Best Year Ever! The first comes from a well known book in the business community called Think and Grow Rich. This masterpiece, written by Napoleon Hill, explains how to live life with purpose. The simple, yet powerful philosophy described in his book states: "Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve!" He goes on to stress how anyone can become successful and live a rich life by following certain success principles and learning to believe you can achieve most anything you set your mind to if you believe you can do it and are willing to put in enough time and effort to make it happen.
So, the first of the two themes behind my teaching/leadership philosophy is based on the power of mindsets--more specifically, adopting a growth mindset. Like Napoleon Hill's books, I'm confident you will not find the term "growth mindset" anywhere in my book. However, though that term is relatively new to education, the idea has been around long before Napoleon Hill wrote Think and Grow Rich in 1937. A line from James Allen's classic book (As a Man Thinketh), written in 1903, states: "As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains."
"Best Year Ever!" is about learning to develop a certain outlook, mindset, or expectation that will drive you to success. I would say that one of my greatest contributions and accomplishments as a teacher/leader was my ability to get my students to believe in themselves and to believe they could achieve. I had a quote hanging in my classroom that read: "You are as smart as you choose to be." I taught them to set exciting goals for themselves and develop plans to make those goals happen.
My goal each year as a teacher/leader was to help all students to experience their best year ever in school by planting a seed the very first hour of the very first day of school that said, "No matter what their past experiences had been in school, this year could be their best yet." And then, I would provide them with a "three word success formula" (this helps promote a growth mindset) that would provide them with an easy-to-remember game plan to follow to make every year in school their "Best Year Ever!" (and beyond).
#2 Treat Those You Lead Like Your Most Important Resource
The second major theme that is a driving force behind my teaching/leadership approach comes from a shared philosophy that many of the best companies follow: Treat your employees like they are #1 and they'll respond that way. The summer before I started teaching, I was selling appliances at a local Sears store. Having no real training in sales, I remember buying and reading The One Minute Sales Person written by Spencer Johnson (co-authored with Larry Wilson). I still remember a key segment of the first couple sentences in the book: "…take a minute to look at each customer as a PERSON. And to realize that they are our most important resource."
I knew before I even started my first year as a teacher this was important not to forget when it came to how I wanted to treat, teach, and lead my students throughout my career. I made a conscious choice to think of my students as both my employees and my customers. I would manage the way I wanted to be managed. My goal as a teacher/leader was to motivate them to work together as a team while striving for their personal best. I consistently tried to model what I wanted them to be doing, and when I caught them doing it to make sure to publicly praise them. I also tried to work with my students and parents to provide them with excellent customer service, working to make their experience in my room the best it could be. I wanted them to walk away at the end of the year satisfied, wanting more, and advertising to others the extraordinary experience they had had as a member of my team.
My goal each year was to help create, lead, and be a member of a winning team. As the leader of my team, I knew it was my responsibility to invest that needed time and energy to build my team and make it happen instead of just hoping they would just naturally start performing as a winning team. By doing so, the members of my team (including myself) were able to be a part of something very special.
Who Can Benefit From Reading Best Year Ever!
I don't want to mislead anyone. This is an education book. I wrote Best Year Ever! to provide teachers with a set of proven strategies to help build, manage, motivate, and lead their students each year encouraging them to work together while striving to achieve their full potential individually and as a team.
However, Best Year Ever! is much more than a book of specific strategies that only teachers can use that will only work with kids or only work in a school setting. It provides the framework and foundation along with strategies that help foster a "Best Year Ever!" mindset. This type of expectation will work for any group of people in any organization that are working together towards a collective mission.
This Is A Book For Anyone In A Leadership Position
I believe anyone in a leadership position can benefit from reading this book--teachers, principals, coaches, parents, supervisors, sales team managers, business owners, etc.
I have a huge collection of books written by leaders in organizations and situations not directly related to the teaching profession or the people I was leading (in my classroom setting) during my teaching career --books written by professional coaches, business leaders, leaders of social movements, government leaders, military leaders, etc.
I read each of those books as a leader looking for ideas on leadership, team building, management, and motivation that I could "adopt" and "adapt" to work for my teams in my world. I would encourage you to do the same if you aren't already doing this.
And I know the perfect book you can start with or add to your list of reads…
It's called Best Year Ever!
Thanks for visiting my website. I would love to hear what you think of this blog post, and I hope you will take a second and share it with other teachers/leaders that might enjoy reading it as well.