Covey’s 5th Habit – Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood

Using Habit 5 and posting to my BLOG  are almost incompatible and has made it the most difficult to write about, so far.

With the responses available on Social Media outlets “like, favorite, & stars” and the only feedback received is “number of views” or “tagging” SM communication makes it difficult to evaluate the relevance of your writing.

Engaging in Twitter chats on particular topics requires rapid fire digestion of hash-tagged comments” full of condensed thought and abbreviations. The forum allows for groups to assemble but generates a deluge of conversation offering little or no “private think time” on questions and an ever escalating rapidity of response to be heard above the din.

Grant postings offer the writer free range to their imagination, give voice to tangential ideas that can be accepted or rejected with no feedback on why the idea was “rejected” and little follow on dissemination of information of the grant’s work product.

It has become acceptable to request submission of in-depth personal information for public job postings with no guarantee of feedback for the effort expended preparing the submission.

If active recruitment includes clearer candidate identification and submission qualifications, a more focused pool of candidates would appear for screening.

This type of activity could occur during the education pipeline with:

  • Assessment of career interest
  • Development of career interest-matching
  • Internship programs for high school students matching interests with skill trajectories
  • Technical certification recruitment for TNPromise candidates
  • Career trajectory counseling for university bound students

All of these require listening from both parties and realistic assessment of current potentials with career development track counseling, support-through-study sponsorship, intern development and post-graduation placement

Written by an associate of Covey’s, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play is directed toward sales teams with the intent of improving performance.

It features five characteristics (O-R-D-E-R) to move from the beginning of an opportunity to closing in the business world.

  • Opportunity – listen to whether a true opportunity exists
  • Resources – resources in place to move the opportunity ahead
  • Decision Process – clear decision process necessary to proceed
  • Exact Solution – requisites and measurements clearly identified
  • Relationship – strong communication channels to exchange constructive criticism (trust).

I use this set of criteria in the classroom to open classroom conversations around learning.
O – Is there a true opportunity with this person or group to learn?
R – What resources are in place for them to:

  • Grasp the concept?
  • Apply it to practical situation?
  • Gain fluency in the use of the knowledge and its application?

D – How will the person/group decide to engage in the learning?
E – Will they push toward an verifiable (exact) solution?
R – Is the relationship (trust) in place to offer evidence of their learning?

Covey says:

Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak.

But what about listening?

What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being?

Probably none, right?

Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:

Evaluating: You judge and then either agree or disagree.

Probing: You ask questions from your own frame of reference.

Advising: You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.

Interpreting: You analyze others’ motives and behaviors based on your own experiences. Covey’s Habit 5

My work as Core Coach utilizes techniques encompassed in the Modeling Process and Accountable Talk. Accountable Talk Sourcebook

It  places the teacher in the role of the facilitator, helping participants through a discovery process of clearly understanding essential understandings and learning.

It moves away from pure didactic instruction and uses keen listening to direct discussion toward discovery.

When a person engages in this process there should be a open expression of learning.

Proactive “response-ability” results from listening to the requirements of others and focusing attention on the learning.

Listening (before speaking) is now more relevant than ever to keep the focus of conversations clear, resulting in the formulation of responses that satisfy the stakeholders’ criteria.


Covey’s Habit 4 – Think Win/Win

An analogy was presented in this year’s Tennessee State Standards training with teachers making the following comparisons:

  • Teacher A – I teach students math so they may answer them correctly on the test.
  • Teacher B – I teach students math so they may understand and apply mathematical concepts.

During intense discussion, participants aspired to be Teacher B but saw Teacher A keeping their job. The conversation resolved itself in a discussion of Rigor, which was defined as follows:

Content taught with rigor is represented by the following concepts taught with equal intensity:

  • Conceptual Understanding
  • Contextual Application
  • Procedural Fluency

This approach to instruction is Thinking Win/Win. Teachers need to strike a balance between Teacher A and Teacher B in the classroom. Gaming the test yields higher test scores but does not lead to deeper understanding. Project based learning without practice of the discovered concepts could lead to deceptive assessment results and put a teacher’s job in jeopardy.

A classroom represents the ultimate in Thinking Win/Win but poses major conflicts with school boards looking for higher scores, administrators maintaining retention and graduation rates as evaluation measures and future employers looking for well-rounded students with a basic set of executive skills to function in the workplace.

Covey says:

A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:
Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments

Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others

Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone

Many people think in terms of either/or: either you’re nice or you’re tough. Win-win requires that you be both. It is a balancing act between courage and consideration. To go for win-win, you not only have to be empathic, but you also have to be confident. You not only have to be considerate and sensitive, you also have to be brave. To do that–to achieve that balance between courage and consideration–is the essence of real maturity and is fundamental to win-win. Covey’s Habit 4

Educators involved in the long term delivery of a very critical economic product (well-prepared students) should also experience the same kind of Win/Win thinking coming from their stakeholders.

It is not a matter of someone succeeding at someone else’s expense:

  • re-indexed student proficiency scores
  • school closures based on performance
  • students socially promoted to reduce retention rates
  • students transferred to “adult high school” to maintain graduation rates
  • standards and tuition elevated making them inaccessible to in-state students
  • reduced funding to schools because of tax-incentives offered to industry
  • complaints about an ill-prepared workforce without communicating about present and future skill profiles & offering internship programs

It requires a long-term balanced approach where students should be the beneficiary of Win/Win Thinking giving them a “personally owned”  trajectory.

Covey’s Habit 3: Put First Things First

It is not about working on the right thing.

It is about working on something.

The first thing is the first step, deciding to act, setting a trajectory.

It is not going to be perfect but the first step does also not decide the total end product.

As a math teacher facilitating seniors’ work in Bridge Math during their last year of high school, the path that brought them here has been full of unrewarded attempts and perceived failures.

During their math career, 11 years in the making, they have been taught that there is only one right way, one right answer, written in pen and impossible to change. Their first mark has to be the right mark toward crafting the exact right response.

Because of missed classes, missing concepts or past failures at a particular subject, they question each step they take before they take it.

Early on, i teach them to give up the pen in lieu of a dry erase marker (easy to modify), read the problem out loud, write down anything they think is important, and start work. I ask them to use what they know to start work toward an answer they can check and see if it solves the problem.

When I get them to do that; even if it is not the most efficient route to a solution, I let them continue until they arrive at a solution they can report out and check.

In my work as a TNCore Coach, I put educators in the same position using “real world context problems”, I answer questions about the context (not the answer), encourage them to work toward a solution in which they are confident and report out using permanent marker (making a record of their work). Then and only then, can they compare their answer against their peers.

I have heard more than one teacher say, “Now I know how a student feels.”

Covey says,

Habit 3 is the physical creation. This habit is where Habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment-by-moment. It deals with many of the questions addressed in the field of time management. But that’s not all it’s about. Habit 3 is about life management as well–your purpose, values, roles, and priorities. What are first things?” First things are those things you, personally, find of most worth. Covey Habit 3

To find worth in something you have to offer something, have it accepted at face value, and compare it with other peer’s offerings.

A person has to be comfortable to step out, take risk, check reaction in a safe environment and use feedback to hone their vision and craft their next step. (trajectory)

This process nurtures confidence.

So often a person’s offering are rejected as wrong. Small wrongs build to a break in confidence and a generate a willingness to accept failure.

A person who has their “first things” supported, have the confidence to share their experience, get feedback from their peers and continue to pursue the priorities they recognize as their “first things”. The alternative is a group who have no “first things”, no visible trajectory to follow.

Industries can help in this process by offering a variety of trajectories that match student interests and making present and future trajectories visible.

Craft guilds, then trade unions provided visible evidence of trajectories. Paths to realizing productive lives. Coopers. Chandlers and Taylors, family names associated with trades are long lasting evidence of these trajectories. Families become aligned with public service: politics, law enforcement, fire fighting, education, all have clearly outlined and supported trajectories. The Mannings: Archie, Peyton and Eli provide another visible trajectory.

Clear, intentional, and supported efforts at making trajectories visible is a role that industries can play in education.

Industry initiatives could sustain students’ choices toward ownership of a trajectory that makes education one of their “first things”.

Covey’s Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind

In the late 1970’s, “Choose Your Own Adventure” books your own adventure stories were published by Bantam.Wikipedia: Choose Your Own Adventure

Targeting 10 to 14 year old children, 184 titles were published over an 18 year period. They spawned parallel series of publications, televisions shows and now gaming platforms.

Covey positions Habit 2 to generate the same type of response, “Create Your Own Life”.

Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. Covey’s Habit 2

Buildings or machines are completed and function according to a design, but people connect with personal, moral and ethical guidelines to craft a personal trajectory. Like the Choose Your Own Adventure books were targeted at 10 to 14 year old children, the education pipeline can begin to support the formulation of this trajectory during the same period and support it through the secondary phase of their education.

Current pedagogical initiatives bring more real world context to the classroom experience where education’s connection to real life can be sustained.

A student can then exercise their “proactive muscles” to make things happen (Covey’s Habit 1) and alter their personal trajectory (higher or lower).

The paths to choose from are more varied than ever and the need to support these choices is critical. Post-secondary stakeholders (college, military, trades, industry) all report under-prepared students showing up at the end of the pipeline.

Communication from these stakeholders on present and future needs is critical to the process and can help the “Create Your Own Life” group to incorporate these elements into their personal adventure. (Twitter: #CYOL @mba04jvs3)

Through some defined paths, professed shared choices and self-directed study, students and adults can choose and then elevate personal trajectories to enhance achievement.

In my Twitter feed (@mba04jvs3) I re-tweeted an Edutopia post which gave an overview of how educators can support this kind of pursuit.
This requires a safe and supportive environment generated and maintained by a committed educator determined to engage students using their particular learning style, recognizing their level of interest, activating past knowledge and using real-world contexts.

Through a balanced combination of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art (spoken, written & creative expression) and Math, (#STEAM) students can “Begin with an End in Mind”.

This image; mentally conceived, physical pursued and consciously elevated, provides them with purpose to get up each day and create their own life (#CYOL).

Covey’s Habit 1: Be Proactive

Definition: Oxford English Dictionary
1930; pro-, prefix, denotes earlier occurrence.
Person, Policy, or Action creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.

A preemptive step or method of thinking about situations becomes Covey’s first habit of highly effective people.

Being proactive is associated with responsibility, or as Covey states “response-ability”.

It is an individual’s decision to take control of their own life and move it in the direction of their choosing.

As a result, they make the life they want and they influence their immediate surroundings in the way they communicate.

Positive communication has a much greater influence than negative and expands that person’s Circle of Influence.

“One of the most important things you choose is what you say. Your language is a good indicator of how you see yourself.” Covey’s Habit 1

This circle is where a proactive person chooses to focus their energy without blame or justification.

I communicate in a positive manner about situations and consistently act on my Circle of Influence by:

  • Pursuing the role of a continuous learner
  • Guiding family response to situations and assuming control of their lives
  • Working with students to recognize this kind of control over their response, eliminate their negative reactions to situations, take response-ability for their lives and dictate their own trajectories
  • Providing colleagues support by listening to their particular challenges, sharing unfiltered information I glean from my continuous learning but do not lay blame if they misuse or ignore the information presented
  • Focusing energies on the learning process and share it without condition and minimal filters

This is how I strive to be proactive.

I believe that stakeholders in the education process should be open about communicating needs and taking responsibility for results.

If the workforce is lacking particular skills, then industry is not communicating clearly enough about current and future needs.

The education pipeline is now 15 years long (K-14).  An extended process by any industry definition.

By statute, the state dictates that participants can change direction every five years, subjecting participants to wholesale change in direction and scrapping current practice for the “new thing”.

Stakeholders should be less concerned about laying blame about where failings have occurred and take responsibility for communicating their needs and supporting improvements to the process.

They should acknowledge that they have “skin in the game”.

This would be proactive.

Covey’s 7 Habits Revisited

The educational playing field is shifting.

  • Content
  • Pedagogy
  • Assessment
  • Evaluation
  • Technology
  • Readiness

Teachers must maintain an effective position to serve their customers, “students” and all stakeholders in the education delivery process.

Anticipating this shift, I decided to revisit a significant work written for personal and business effectiveness,

Dr. Stephen Covey’s, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

It maintains a lasting presence in my work in each marketplace I have chosen to participate.

Its tenets frame every activity in which I engage.

I see traces and reframed concepts in the work of more contemporary authors.

  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Put first things first
  • Think win / win
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the Saw: mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically


Creating an environment for all things to occur requires educators to push the boundaries of the traditional classroom and use an integrative holistic approach and create a new place for learning to occur.

  • A place where guiding principles are practiced to insure consistency in the agenda.
  • A place where deliverables target the true customer(s) and stakeholders in the process.


Content initiatives (SPI’s, “ I Can Statements”, CCSS), pedagogical revisions (Growth Mindset, MKT & Accountable Talk), assessment (Summative, Formative, PARCC, MIST, Mastery or Standards based grading), career-readiness activities (TNPromise: K-14, Internship/recruitment, hour(s) of code), technology integration (1:1, Technology goes Home, “free/reduced internet service, social media communication), PBL (discovering essential understandings), STEM/STEAM (creative problem solving), Heutagogy, Adrogogy (student centered, self-directed learning), et al.

I want to align my actions to maximize effectiveness and deliver quality in and out of the classroom to my customers / clients / stakeholders.

After recently completing work as a Tennessee Core Coach for the new state standards and reviewing the blueprints for the new assessments to teachers across the state, I am preparing to deliver Geometry content and Credit Recovery using Edgenuity.

I am using this series of blog postings to  personally reconnect with these tenets and plan my work in the classroom for 2015-16.

The re-examination of these concepts in the form of Blog Posts will, for me, solidify my thinking for this plan and transition to the 2015-16.

Your comments would be appreciated.

A Path less Travelled

A Path less Travelled

Learning and leading has been at the forefront of my experience in my career.

  • Learning the Creative Design Process through four years of secondary work in high school and applying it through my study of Architecture in college.
  • Studying the functional components required in the development of water features and packaging a standard process merging creativity and engineering of these particular features.
  • Training in the technical issues of project estimation/construction and applying pattern recognition to identify standard elements of diverse construction projects.

The realization of this work came only through the ability to transfer this knowledge to a defined process, communicate its value to colleagues to secure adoption and measurement of outcomes both in the aesthetic reaction of the end user and the quantitative analysis of profit and loss.

This sums up the trajectory of my experience in the world outside of “education” but required me to marshall elements of educational pedagogy to insure continued success.

I came to education from an engineering and construction background and have used my skills to advance the production process, as opposed to moving toward administration, where people abdicate their role on the front line of producing and delivering and delegate the complexity of product delivery.

After extensive work, I extended my vision through post-graduate work in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, recognizing the critical components behind disruptive innovation and the basis for successful business ventures.

This required adopting the position of a continuous learner but never shying away from the role of “temporary expert & advocate” in the area of a particular process.  This world of continuous learning has exploded with the advent of the “virtual learning environment”.  I have been promoting the potential of online learning to the current student population and it extension into a continuous learning environment for continuous learners.

Most encounter online course materials as “de rigueur” for entry level college courses but this access is oft times restricted and requires a “ticket” for admission and participation.

However, offerings through a variety of well-known colleges have begun to break down barriers to this type of content through sites like:

  • Coursera
  • Udacity
  • Acumen+

I reside in a “gigcity” renowned for internet speed but with idle computing capacity in libraries and schools.  This resource could move a population toward continuous “student centered, self-directed learning”. (Heutagogy: student-centered, self-directed learning.)

School leaders and administrators have the opportunity to open these resources to their “zone” and encourage engagement in an under-engaged population.  Industry leaders have the opportunity to pressure this move to more open access by stating specific demands outside of the “ticketed admission” channels of post-secondary education and throw open their doors to a population interested in self-improvement with the hurdles of “acceptance” and allow self-determined interests guide learning to enhance the trajectory of people’s lives and careers.

Suggesting Parents Opt Out of Evaluation is Wrong

A recent post at publishes an expert’s suggestion that a parent refuse “student evaluation” for special education.

I commented on the article but the comment was rejected.

This article provides arguments against rejecting evaluation and gives no credence to the education professionals’ suggestions that a child’s condition be evaluated.

I stated in my comment that state-wide testing and evaluation is an ongoing practice in schools and that the child is being regularly evaluated on their skills and career-readiness.

Early intervention could elevate the trajectory of a child’s education and their abilities to cope with the demands of adulthood.

I am interested in comments.