Teaching with the language of the heart…

With this being the standard week of giving cards of love and yesterday Valentine’s Day, I would like to touch on how teachers and leaders can reach the hearts of their students and followers.


Understanding that one box of chocolate does not fit all and more importantly, you throwing a red rose blanket at the feet of others does not cover all; there are certain points a teacher can make that are exemplary of their leadership for others that truly comes from the heart.

Challenge them

Great teachers are not afraid to challenge the heart of a student. How do you do this? You step into the unknown, looking for opportunities that can help a student grow. You inspire their hearts to the point that they want to do and be better. Sometimes, that even means going against what the pacing guide or the curriculum says to do that day. No one is ever for the better if they are always staying the same and unchallenged. Challenge students to succeed, not to fail.

Make your classroom a shared vision

While you are the teacher, your classroom should be more about your students than you — a shared environment, where ownership exists between both parties. What is the vision you want your students to see? Too many times, teachers “box” their students in, keeping the lid closed, stifling their growth. A shared vision pulls students forward. Be willing to speak their language and have an idea of who they are. Together, your classroom becomes much more conducive to teaching and learning.

Model the mature way

Someone has to be the adult in the classroom; please let it be you. Yes, you, as the teacher or leader, must model the mature, professional way. This is the behavior that wins the respect of others. Do not be the clownfish who drowns in their own immaturity. You set the standard, let them be high. Why would you set them low? Having a quiet strength has been shown to win the day more often than not.

Teach from the heart

This is why we teach and lead… or suppose to anyway. It is our calling that enables us to build students up who are torn down by society. With the concept of “me first” being propagated everywhere one looks, the one constant has to be your teaching from the heart. This is the only way we can lift spirits, and promote a better way. Knowing what to teach is nowhere equal to knowing how to teach.

While every one of the above topics aligns with servant-leadership, it goes without asking, “What are we here for as teachers?” As an educator, are you trying to pull the best out of a student from the inside, where their heart is, instead of pushing something down their throat from the outside? Like anything else in life, for all involved, understanding the why of something increases the likelihood of a better effort given. Why a person does anything can always be seen by where their heart is.

Teach with the language of the heart, you just might be able to see a heart melt and turn into something solid.

©2019 J Clay Norton

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Encouragement… Have You Used It Lately?

Staying on the educational side of leadership this week let’s touch on the idea of encouragement, and how teachers and leaders* can enhance this characteristic.

*Again, while discussing this idea, you can at any time switch out the words teaching and leading/leadership.


One of the most useful tools a teacher can have is being an encourager. In today’s culture, many things cause students to be cast down, and it is very easy for them to be and become discouraged. They put up a “front,” not wanting anyone to recognize help is needed. They believe they are self-reliant, saying, “I can get through this,” all along knowing they need help. A majority of the time, that help can be nothing more than simple encouragement. You can tell when students are encouraged. They have a new spring in their step and a broader smile on their face.

We have all, at one time or another, needed encouragement. Why? Because we have all had experiences when someone or something failed us. It is at that time encouragement was needed most; wanting to be understood and have someone stand for and with us. None of us can know what lies ahead. For the most part, we do not know what is going  on in the lives of our students. Until we are intentional with our relationships, any words of encouragement become shallow and unfelt. Lip service is never good in leadership.

I have found the best way to encourage students, especially in the classroom, is to just acknowledge their existence in an adult, professional manner. A “hello” with their name at the door, a fist pump, or an elbow tap eases the slightest apprehension a student might have. When you make it where the student understands that you are there for help, it changes their whole thought process. What does not work is saying, “If you need some help, let me know.” Without intentionality, this sounds like a blanket statement, quickly said, so it goes on record.

We must also realize that words of encouragement do not immediately make troubles disappear. However, what words of encouragement do is acknowledge someone needs help. Encouraging words can help a person not live in a room of emptiness. Often, students feel deserted, only painting a picture of loneliness because they do not understand something or feel devalued.

As we continue to educate, make sure you are for your students, and that means, when needed, truly encouraging them. You might be the only one who does.

©2019 J Clay Norton

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Is your teaching and leading built on a foundation of excellence?

For this week’s blog, I am going off the road of general leadership but staying on the leadership map. Today, I would like to take a small side trip and talk about the educational leadership side of teaching.

Let’s start with this quote from Epictetus (Roman Teacher/Philosopher, 55-135, AD)…



Foundation of Excellence: “Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes. Therefore give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to consult your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths. Remain steadfast – and one day you will build something that endures: something worthy of your potential.”


I believe the question that can be asked of the quote is, “What are the foundations of our teaching/leadership* building?” I have a few thoughts…

*While discussing this idea, you can at any time switch out the words teaching and leading/leadership, because I think both, in essence, are the same.

To build anything, we must know the personalities of all involved. What are the personalities of those we teach? What makes them tick? When we understand who we are teaching first, our teaching becomes much more effective; understanding that leading is not about us but others. Learn who your people are.

We must also be consistent with our teaching. I have never seen a foundation made for a structure that is not consistent. Inconsistent foundations will not hold up and support what is being built. It reflects the “tentative efforts” part of the quote… for we will obtain “tentative outcomes.” Overall, one of the main problems teachers have is not being consistent with their day-to-day methods; how they teach, how they manage.

Your foundation is your foundation. No one else can build it for you. Now, there are some great teachers who are very deserving to model, and it does us well to emulate some of their teaching characteristics, if and only if those characteristics can work for you. However, a common mistake of many teachers, young and experienced, is always copying and not being yourself. Be you and adapt and adjust depending on the environment. The worse thing you can do is be hard-headed. “My way or the highway” is not good teaching or leadership.

Great teachers are willing to try new approaches. The worst six words with regards to any leadership are, “We have always done it this way.” Just because the “manual” says this is the way to do it, does not make it the only way. As teachers, we have to find what works and connects to our audience. Only when both are established can we bring our efforts “fully to our endeavors.”

Lastly, I believe great teachers are willing and want to keep learning. There is nothing more disappointing than seeing a teacher who is either contented or disheartened. Go back to the “tentative efforts” part of the quote. Experience does matter, but not to the extent of believing you know it all. We can always learn something new.

Great leaders are aware of not only who they are but also who everyone else is and the environment surrounding them. This is an ongoing process that is rooted in servant-leadership. Start today building that foundation of excellence.  Be that person and when you are, referring to the quote, “one day you will build something that endures: something worthy of your potential.”

©2019 J Clay Norton

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Leadership Pitfalls

Who remembers, back in the day, Activision’s “Pitfall!?” For those of you who are young and read this blog, “Pitfall!” was played on the original Atari. I remember the day we purchased the cartridge. It was in the fall of 1982, and I was ten. As soon as I got home, we started playing it. I remember two things very vividly about “Pitfall!”. One, after we went to bed on a school night, my dad came into my room, woke me up, and asked if I wanted to play a quick game. The other memory is when I scored over thirty thousand points. The cool thing was to take a picture (with a real camera) of the TV screen showing your score, mail it in, and Activision would send you an official “Pitfall!” patch. Yes, I was pumped.


Not to go into the whole idea of the game, but “Pitfall!” was about a jungle explorer, named Harry, who had to avoid the pitfalls of water, sand, alligators, scorpions, etc. You get the picture. Harry had to run, jump, and swing from vines, to find the treasure.  It was a classic.

What made me think of that, you ask? Well, I was just having one of my many memory moments and started thinking about the connection that could be made with pitfalls and leadership. With leadership or anything else for that matter, pitfalls can be those unseen holes of missteps that we fall into sometimes. Not so much on purpose, but pitfalls are there nonetheless.

Staying with the letter “p” of “Pitfall!,” here are a few pitfalls that I believe leaders have problems with…


Is perception reality? I think not, but there are those who believe it to be true. The problem with perception is that it is yours and yours only, and that does not make it right. A majority of the time, we see things only how we want to see them, rose-colored glasses idea. So much of our understanding is tainted by the values we hold dear in our minds and hearts. It is the misconceptions that cause many problems in leadership. Whenever a misconception is made, let’s admit that it could be a wrong conclusion and do everything we can to correct it.


Pride needs no write-up. We see it every day. There will always be that leader who thinks they have all the answers. This might be the deepest pitfall of them all, actually an abyss. The hard part is sometimes we cannot avoid prideful leaders. Pride… it’s like a bad odor that keeps hanging around, and it stinks. My good friend, Allen Marret says, “Pride causes your perception to miss out on what is real.” That’s a pretty good statement. Be humble enough to know that you do not always have it figured out.


This is the one I despise, being passive-aggressive. Leadership positions are not a utopia. The grind and the struggle are sometimes real, but leaders who lead with pouting, moodiness, and manipulation are demoralizing to others. Yes, occasionally passive-aggressive leaders make hard decisions that need to be made, but it is not until they are backed into a corner of their own doing, and someone else is looked for to blame. Be a leader who is willing to address issues head-on, accept healthy conflict, and realize that everyone is not a “yes-person.”

I hope that after reading the above pitfall list, you can appreciate the really good leaders that are leading for the right reasons — those who make it a purpose of avoiding these common pitfalls. Yes, pitfalls do creep up on us, but to be diligently looking out for them can make all the difference.  Now, go find that treasure of leadership.

Just in case you wanted to know what the patch I received looked like, here it is:


©2019 J Clay Norton


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