10 Steps to Overcome Self-Destruction

Attention, attention! I have an important message to share with you: if you are an educator, you are the most important person in the building. I know you may not want to hear or read this, but your attitude and mental well-being does affect the climate of your classroom or school. I am sorry if you disagree with me, but it’s true you know. That’s a great deal of pressure and we sometimes sabotage ourselves because of self-destructive thoughts…


Sometimes our greatest enemy or barrier to success is ourselves. Past experiences, fear, doubt, or even replaying negative words of others that have been spoken to us can sabotage ideas, goals, and dreams. If this describes you, raise your hand. I’m with you and I understand.

I recently attended the Jostens Renaissance National Conference (@J_Renaissance) held in Anaheim, California July 15-17, 2011. The closing speaker was Liz Murray, author of Breaking Night. Her life story was made into a Lifetime movie titled, From Homeless to Harvard. Her story is simply amazing! As I listened to her and frantically wrote down and tweeted nuggets of wisdom that she shared with the students and educators in the audience, one message emerged loud and clear: she chose not to self-destruct. I don’t know about you, but there have been a number of times in my life when I have thought or spoken destructive thoughts or words to myself that sabotaged my dreams. Following are 10 steps I gained from her presentation that can help overcome self-destruction.

1. “No matter where we come from, we all feel like giving up.”
• Lesson-acknowledge these feelings, embrace them, and then do the opposite. This is easier said than done, but each of us has reached major and minor milestones by simply not giving up.

2. “Think about what has made a difference in your life.”
• Lesson-rely on past actions that led to successes in your life and celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Think about the process and simply apply the lessons learned.

3. “Focus on your blessings, not your faults.”
• Lesson- we are imperfect humans with a number of faults. Okay, we get it, now move on. Focusing on our blessings of family, friends, a reasonable portion of good health, teammates, and opportunities encourages us to persevere.

4. “You are already making a difference. The question is how are you making a difference?”
• Lesson- when we walk into a room the energy either goes up or it goes down. Those in the room either feel encouraged or discouraged, no one stays the same. With that in mind, when you look in the mirror or really think about whom you are, focus on the things you do that positively change lives and impact others. Self-destruction is also destructive to those with whom you interact.

5. “Don’t push off your dreams by saying, ‘I’ll do it later.’”
• Lesson- we are not guaranteed time so whatever your dreams are, write them down, establish a plan, and DO SOMETHING. Better yet, just do something and develop the plan as you go. Excuses are self-destructive and waste time. Replace the, “yeah, buts” with “yes, and.”

6. “There is always something to complain about if that’s who you want to be.”
• Lesson-choose action over talk, questions over complaints, and solutions instead of massaging the problems. You’ll be amazed by how much better you feel and how much you actually accomplish. Additionally, your circle of influence will be even greater!

7. “You never know when you are going to meet someone who is going to change your life.”
• Lesson-self destructive behaviors prevent you from being keenly aware of those around you because you selfishly focus on your faults. Open your eyes, ears, and mind to people around you. Embrace the experiences and be receptive to new ideas, new adventures, interesting books, or opportunities to serve others. Better yet, invest in other people and be the person that changes someone’s life.

8. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
• Lesson-become a great student of yourself and others. Learn and do something new each day, week, month, and year. Live your life! If you have no pre-conceived notions or ideas of what is supposed to happen, you have no barriers holding you back and no doubt. Learn along the way and enjoy the process!

9. “The world is filled with people who tell you what you can or can’t do. You’ll know it’s possible when you are doing it.”
• Lesson-ask and answer the “what if”… question. For example, what if I run a marathon? Or what if I start journaling? What if I hug twelve people a day? You don’t know what will happen if you only think about it. There are no statues of people who simply thought great things, only of those who did great things!

10. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I most passionate about?’”
• Lesson-finding your passion provides purpose for your life. Just think about those times when you were exhausted, but you suddenly had a burst of energy when you had to do what you are most passionate about!

So what does this have to do with being an educator? Everything! As an educator you are in a position of influence which impacts students’ lives every day. Believe it or not, you are the most important person in the classroom. Embrace it and then act on it!

What are your practices to overcome self-destruction? What advice can we share?

Be Great,


“No Zeros Until…”

zeroSeveral months ago, after much reflection, examination of school data, and conversations with a few teachers, I asked my teachers to not assign a zero to any student until they intervene in some way; talk with the student to find out why they did not turn in the assignment, call a parent to let them know an assignment was missed, do something before recording a zero in the grade book.
There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, meetings after the meeting, some cheers and head nods, and every other emotion imaginable. I should not have been surprised because the timing of my proclamation was bad (criticism well deserved), but I was. I was surprised because we’ve had some high quality professional development over the last decade or so that includes Total Quality Management by David Langford, Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design, Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships, and Professional Learning Communities including the Pyramid of Intervention all in addition to creating common assessments and learning targets. With all that knowledge, I figured we were ready to look more closely at why we still automatically assign zeros for missed assignments. Well, like most things, some were ready and thankful while others were… not so much. Ah, the controversy of grades continues.

Doug Reeves, Thomas Guskey, David Langford, and Ken O’Conner among others have researched this for years and have thoroughly explained why zeros create a huge hole for students to dig themselves out of. So why assign them, especially on a 100 point scale. It’s not as damaging if using a 4 or 5 point scale. However, the point is to find out why a student did not turn in an assignment and if the assignment is important to their learning, then why wouldn’t we want it turned in? Just intervene…

Some of the arguments against this reasoning have been:
“We are not teaching students to be responsible if we allow them to turn in work late.”
“They are not going to be prepared for college and the real world because deadlines are deadlines. Period.”
“We are teaching students to be lazy and to procrastinate.”

I understand these arguments, but I don’t necessarily agree with them. Learning is a continuous process and real world deadlines are flexible. There are deadlines and penalties, but companies want their payments regardless if it’s on time or not. A deadline is a deadline, but they want to be paid.

Okay, back to my point. Once the dust settled and there was further clarification, many teachers began extending deadlines, talking with students about missed assignments, and examining the assignments they were giving to students. As a result, we had the largest number of incompletes at the end of each quarter than ever before. This may not sound like a point to celebrate, but it is because teachers were giving students chances and many responded.
After recently talking with a couple of my teachers while at a workshop I can see that there is still a need for more clarification about the expectations. For example, incompletes should not go on forever. After the teacher has intervened by talking with the student, contacting a parent, and/or assigning the student to the PASS Room for additional help, etc. and there has been no effort to complete the assignment, then a zero is warranted and it’s time to move on.
We are still working through a number of questions and concerns about the “No Zero Until…” guideline and I’m very excited that we are able to discuss this openly and honestly as a staff. Many agree, many disagree, and many are intervening with creative ideas. What are your thoughts about zeros for work not turned in? How do you handle this as a teacher or administrator?

Be Great,