Category: Culture (ISLLC 2)

A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by advocating, nurturing, and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth.

Not On The Inside…And It’s OK

It’s all about perspective.

The other day my five-year-old asked me why it’s been so long since we took a trip to 7-Eleven.

I told him we don’t go as much in the winder because we tend to like to get Slurpee’s, and that Slurpee’s are better in the warm weather.

I told him we don’t go as much in the winter because it’s cold.

He said, “Not on the inside!”

Good Point.

When we frame things in ways that work for us, worlds of possibilities open up, even beyond Slurpees in the winter.

Specifically, when we frame things with learning and growth in mind, even our stumbles turn into opportunities for progress.

As parents and educators, this could be a good message for the kids we serve.

It’s ok to want a Slurpee in the winter. You can drink it inside.

Similarly, it’s ok…

…if you’re sad, nervous, or angry. You can take a deep breath, reflect on those feeling and use the tools and strategies you know to restore to a place of calm, focus, and even joyfulness.

…if you don’t know about strategies to restore. You can learn them.

…if you get it wrong. You can practice. You will still get it wrong sometimes, but if you remember that each time you do is an opportunity for growth, you’ll be fine.

…if you fall. You can get back up.

…if you fail. You can try again.

…if you’re afraid. You can use courage.

I’ll bet you can extend that list exponentially.

I say try, and then help the kids you serve understand that there’s always a creative solution to the challenges they face, and that it’s ok (and important) to think creatively about those solutions along the way.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

The Beat and The Flow

Take an intentional breath. Let your shoulders relax. Let your breathing settle into whatever pattern it finds. Let it shift as it will; follow it, don’t force it.

Experience the world with your ears for a moment. Let the sounds around you connect with the sounds inside of you. There is a flow to both. There is a rhythm. There is a pace. There is a beat.

Do you hear the beat? Do you feel the flow?

If not, take another intentional breath, a deep one. Try again. Relax into it. Believe you can.

Imagine that you are on a cosmic beach, watching and listening to waves of energy softy roll or rise and crash. However they come, see them, hear them, and feel them. Don’t seek to shape or influence the waves of energy as they roll or crash, simply seek to understand and appreciate them. Wait for the beat to join the flow. Your influence will come later. Exercise patience. Exercise faith.

If you do hear the beat, and if you do feel the flow, smile. What you do next is entirely up to you.

We have no jurisdiction over many of the forces that impact our lives; at least that’s been my experience over the course of forty-two ostensibly short years.

We do not determine any more than our core, our intentions, and our movements along pathways that twist and turn at the whim of forces outside of our control.

That said, if you listen carefully, with open-minded, openhearted, and genuine intention, I believe you can connect with those forces. I believe you can conjoin the beat of your core with the flow of the world around you. I believe, at the very least, that trying won’t hurt. I have also come to believe that not trying might.

With learning and growth in mind our stumbles through space and time don’t represent setbacks, but rather gifts, each delivering invaluable input into our ever-expanding capacity for connected progress along whatever pathways we tread, and toward whatever benchmarks we aim to reach and surpass.

As educators and parents, the foundation of our internal beat is the children we serve. As community leaders, that foundation extends to all stakeholders impacted by our thoughts, our words, and our actions.

My personal internal beat includes a drive to expand my capacity to live each moment of every day with increased gratitude, passion, curiosity, and humility; in the service of those I devote my energy to, including myself.

I experience moments of confusion and I experience moments of calm.

When I am able to meet and match the flow of the forces around me, amplified or benign, to the beat that defines my core, that capacity grows.

My wife consistently reminds me that most of what we worry about never comes to pass. It’s a mantra handed down by her grandmother. It seems true.

It also seems true that when we allow worry to supplant patience and faith (which is absolutely justifiable in this fast-paced & often frenzied world), we stifle the ongoing development of our individual and collective capacities for genuine learning, compassionate leadership, and positive progress.

So, if you have any sense that there might be value in seeking to join the beat that drives you with the flow that surrounds you, take an intentional breath. Let your shoulders relax. Let your breathing settle into whatever pattern it finds. Let it shift as it will; follow it, don’t force it.

Wait for the beat to join the flow. Exercise patience. Exercise faith.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

It’s What Matters

A few years ago someone I knew experienced an extremely challenging personal tragedy, one that turned her world upside down and inside out.

It would have been reasonable by any standard for her to fall apart as a result. She didn’t; in fact, just the opposite. She took stock of what mattered in her life and made a steadfast commitment to focus exclusively, and joyfully on those things.

She followed through with that commitment, in part, by repeating the phrase, “it’s what matters” at every turn, as kind of a mantra-style motivator.

Baseball…it’s what matters.

Peace…it’s what matters.

Ice cream…it’s what maters.

Happiness…it’s what matters.

And so on.

I was, and remain astonished by her ability to live her core values, even through what I’m confident was unremitting heartbreak. She amazes me with her resolve to stay true to a core that demands courage, faith, and joyfulness above whatever pain life’s challenges bring her way.

Mercifully, not all of us have or will experience extreme personal tragedies.

Challenges are relative though, and we all have them. Large and small, our daily challenges are important opportunities. I firmly believe that every challenge is also a chance, a chance to learn and grow.

How do you manage to balance your daily challenges with your core values?

In what ways do you ensure that the your daily journey is one you can reflect on with a sense of fulfillment and gratitude?

If you’re interested in exploring an alternate strategy you might consider the “It’s What Matters” method. It’s easy to do and it supports a direct connection between what you believe and how you live.

All you do is take a few minutes each morning to identify some things that matter most to you, write them down or commit them to memory, and then force yourself back to them if and when you feel as though you’re shifting away.

Some of my standards are children (mine and the other ones I serve), family, reflection, gratitude, kindness, and calm.

When I falter in maintaining a steady course with each of those at the foundation (which I do multiple times each day) I can forgive and right myself by thinking or saying:

Serving children…it’s what matters.

Appreciating my family…it’s what matters.

Thoughtful reflection…it’s what matters.

Gratitude…it’s what matters.

Kindness…it’s what matters.

Restoring to a place of calm focus…it’s what matters.

And so on.

So many things, large and small, can work so hard to bring us down. Sometimes it happens and we don’t even know how or why.

In the energized heat of any moment, anything, even the most trivial and inconsequential things can seem to matter so much. When I take stock with an open heart and open mind I discover that some of it, especially those things laced with negativity, don’t. That’s when reminding myself of what does, makes such a difference.

What matters most to you? How do you maintain a steady course and right yourself though rough waters? If you’re searching at any level, you might consider trying the “It’s What Matters” method. At the very least, it can provide you with an opportunity for a thoughtful, reflective, moment. If all goes well, it can be a reliable strategy for so much more.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Picking the Positive [a(IQ)]

pick-the-positive

The Foundation. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity. I’ve been focused on considering ways in which I can effectively practice, model, and teach a healthy appreciation and respect for the diversity that exists in every direction I look around this ever-changing and often-challenging world.

I’ve been wondering about ways in which I can best make and support positive connections with those whose paths I cross or parallel along my journey. I’ve been carefully working to understand how the myriad thoughts, ideas, and perspectives constantly surfacing through my interactions with others play into our individual and collective learning and growth, and how the same enhance our individual and collective lives.

That’s what it’s all about after all, isn’t it? Looking for ways to be happy while simultaneously contributing to the happiness of others? The pursuit of happiness is an unassailable right indelibly connected to the core of who we are. Should it not be woven into the fabric of our quests?

As a husband, a father, and an educator, I feel a strong responsibility to protect that right for myself and for those I serve. Fostering and sustaining positive partnerships that lead to joyful teaching and learning has always been at the core of my learning and leadership vision, the foundation of who I am, and what I seek to do in every moment, with each passing day.

My aim is true. My intentions are pure and concentrated. I continue to look for tools and strategies to aid the unfolding of those intentions. I’ve become a master at forgiving myself missteps along the way in favor growth. Much of my thinking energy has gone into ways I might emphasize the importance and impact of positive partnerships.

Recently, I read an article called, “Unconscious Bias: When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough” by an author named Sarah E. Fiarman. Mrs. Fiarman is an educational consultant and a former public school principal who has written multiple books on learning and leadership. She sub-titled this article, “Deep rooted biases hinder our best intentions. Learn how to recognize and address them.” The article is published in the November 2016 issue of Educational Leadership, entitled “Disrupting Inequity.”

At first blush, when I’m considering equity in schools, I go to race. Then, I tend to move to socio-economics, followed by gender, and so on. Could this be a form of unconscious bias in and of itself?

After leading with some thinking on the impact of bias and the need for increased awareness, Mrs. Fiarman addresses naming it. She points out, “Sometimes we increase awareness by naming bias in others and in ourselves,” and goes on to assert that naming is not always comfortable. It’s not easy to consider your own biases. Especially in light of the fact that in most cases where bias plays a role in decision-making and actions the bias doesn’t fit with intentions or worldview.

Bias is often unconscious, which is why it’s so important to dig into it with an open mind, an open heart, and a clear purpose. My purpose in reflecting with critical intention on this article and digging into the potential of my own unconscious bias is to enhance my learning and leadership practice. I’m looking to do the hard work of figuring out where I could be more attentive to the needs of those I serve. I’m seeking to understand how I can enhance my ability to seek to understand.

After moving through pieces of the puzzle in which Mrs. Fiarman points out how important it is to recognize and appreciate that unconscious bias can negatively impact our behaviors, that designing systems to counteract those impacts is critical, and that positive, trusting, and collaborative relationships have the power to provide some essential unconscious bias understanding through shared analysis and genuine, caring checks and balances regarding decision making, I came to the part where she wrote about empathy.

She began with, “Another proven way to counteract the power of unconscious bias is to replace negative associations with positive ones.” This drove straight into the heart of what I’d been thinking about. It caused me to lift my eyes from the page and process. It’s what I would like to be best at. With Dweck’s growth mindset as a foundation, maybe it can be.

If you believe that everything happens for a reason, and at just the right time for that reason to be most striking, than it’s worth noting that this article came to me at just the right time. If you don’t, it might be worth noting anyway. Either way, I dig it.

Mrs. Fiarman says, “Biases are built by repeated exposure to a particular message,” and that, “Deliberately consuming counter narratives can help break down that automatic reflex.” I dig it, indeed.

So, what if our biases extend to the negative itself. What if we are bent to leaning toward the negative in any, and even more troubling, every situation?

The world moves fast ad it’s riddled with challenges. Lest we forget that every challenge is also a chance we could likely become wrapped up in the ongoing tumble of dirty laundry that seems to surround us.

The Story. Yesterday my five-year-old punted a beanbag in the middle of the living room at his Nan and Pop’s house. Let me clarify that Nan and Pop’s living room is not an ideal place for punting anything. Whatever grace prevented that punt from resulting in something being knocked over, smashed, or otherwise destroyed is undoubtedly real and indisputably powerful.

After several seconds that seemed to go by in slow motion, and upon a safe landing for the would-be-destructor of a bean bag, my son and I looked at one another wide-eyed and filled with relief in the knowledge that neither of us was about to be in big trouble.

I spoke first, “That was a really bad idea.”

Then he spoke, “A really bad idea but a really good punt.”

We both laughed.

The Reflection. What if that’s the way?

What if my astute five-year-old was the teacher and I was the student?

What if I found a new mentor?

What if, no matter the situation, picking out the positive is where the treasure can be found?

Sure, there are several, easily conceivable worse scenarios than the potential for a broken vase at Nan and Pop’s house, but in that moment, we were both slightly (if not considerably) terrified. Still, this kid picked the positive. My mentor modeled what might be the way.

My hope is that he understood the theoretically flawed decision-making and the potential for disaster. I try to impart learning around every turn. I also understand that learning comes at its own pace and in its own time.

What if the real learning here is that life is better when we look on the bright side?

What if the nugget of truth in this situation is about a holistic look at our moments with an eye on what went well?

Should I be considering the living room beanbag-punt experiment as a viable lesson in positive responsiveness?

What do we do when questionable decision-making goes right? Should we be focused on the decision making in a vacuum, or should we be focused on the “right?’

What if we set our individual and collective paths on picking the positive?

Is it possible that picking the positive could lead to a paradigm of progress and self-celebration? Might that be good for all involved? Could picking the positive help to foster cultures of teamwork, trust, and growth is school communities? Families? Within ourselves?

Could picking the positive shift our thinking in right directions by repeatedly exposing us to hopeful and optimistic messaging?

I suppose anything is possible, isn’t it?

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

 

And I Quote: Professional Learning As Guided By Professional Learners

Learner Guided Learning

One viable approach for school administrators seeking to support the fitness of a collaborative professional learning culture with reflection as a foundation is through a structure described by Gladwell and DiCamillo as “professional dyads,” in which teachers organically find their way to one another as partners in progress. Regardless of reflective phase or content, Gladwell and DiCamillo suggest that teachers, students, and school communities are well served when administrators are supportive of teachers as the primary determiners of their own developmental pathways, and more specifically, as functionally best-suited to decide with whom they will move along those pathways.

Gladwell and DiCamillo outline professional dyads as partnerships formed over time, born out of genuine interest that leads to the formation of trusting relationships between sets of teachers who support one another in self-selected learning because they’re excited about it, because they each connect to it, and because they’re genuinely seeking to support, celebrate, and learn from one another. It’s a structure that might seem removed from the collective learning paradigm of a school, but for the passion of teachers with an all-inclusive view of school culture and the support of administrators who recognize the value of, and stand committed to a shared instructional leadership standard.

Professional dyads work “because each teacher possesses unique strengths,” and because teachers drawn to this type of partnership are likely to “encourage each other to pursue their unique interests in and outside of the classroom (p.7).” While remaining steadfastly aware and attentive school administrates can take a relatively hands-off approach to encouraging this structure by noticing as various partnerships are forming, encouraging those partnerships to mature and thrive, supporting those partnerships by listening and seeking guidance from teachers as they define progress on their terms, and celebrating outcomes with genuine enthusiasm.

Administrators can value the critically important voice of the teachers they serve by maintaining that teachers are well suited to guide progress in school communities. They can scaffold the reflective learning process by entrusting teachers as learners to follow dedicated, if adaptive routes to shared outcomes of their own volition, and empower them to lead the way for others. Even as Camburn’s three phases of reflective learning unfold in whatever order and over any number of potential schematic possibilities, professional dyads give teachers command of their learning in a way that promotes individual and collective progress with sensitivity.

As we anticipate another great school year, consider ways in which you might support the teachers you serve in designing their own learning pathways, and then get excited about the impact that might have on student well being and achievement.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

And I Quote: A 3-Part Structure For Reflective Professional Learning

Learning, Growtth, & Reflection

Teachers and administrators are constantly searching for the best ways to design, promote, and maintain school cultures in which meaningful, connected, and operational professional learning is supported, nurtured, and celebrated as the norm. Collaboration is coveted as among the most important components of such learning. Autonomy and choice are also revered among adult learners in school communities. Teachers want to have a voice in deciding what makes sense as a pathway to progress in their classrooms and schools, they want to be a part of forward thinking and cooperative teams, and they want to be recognized and trusted as experts when it comes to the wellbeing and achievement of the students they serve; and rightfully so, because after all, they are.

It is widely recognized that school communities are fast-paced places, regularly inundated with demands that would seek to subvert otherwise-established priority preferences and cause time itself to appear the enemy of progress. Camburn suggests that being able to “try out, mull over, and critically evaluate new practices” affords adult learners opportunities to, “make them their own (p. 463).” How can we arrange for time to try out, mull over, and critically evaluate anything when there’s so much coming at us at such a frenetic pace?

Integrated reflective systems and strategies have the power to offer structure and consistency to professional learning models focused on the real-time, collaborative, learner-centric, growth and enrichment regarding best practices in instruction, social-emotional development, an partnership-driven communication between stakeholders in school communities. In separating the three components of Camburn’s suggestion we can define reflective learning practice in a concise way, thereby creating scaffolding for professional learning on the range of topics that will no doubt surface during the course of a school year.

Regardless of subject matter or theme, a “trying out” opportunity can be provided in connection to learning at each turn. Those facilitating professional learning in schools can make clear that learners will have a chance to put their connected thoughts and ideas into action, and that the chance to do so should be understood as an overt aspect of the learning process. While potentially contrived, role-play provides an immediate opportunity for trying things out, whereas a mandate to pilot and/or explore learned content bridges a long term, episodic learning structure. Either have their benefit to reflective practice, and both have potential pitfalls.

“Mulling over” can be done across a wide range of approaches. This phase is arguably enhanced by some degree of independence, as learners tend to need space to process new concepts, ideas, and practices internally before being able to effectively communicate about them with others. The key is recognizing each of the three components of Camburn’s suggestions an explicit piece of reflective learning, and to clearly emphasize reflection is the foundation of authentic processing.

An emphasis on each component and on reflection itself communicates to learners that each is important, and it gives them permission to exercise patience throughout the learning process. When facilitators of professional learning highlight reflection and its parts as a priority they expressly suggest a value for long-term, sustainable practices to.

“Critical evaluation” as a third point in the learning process is also the most collaborative. Moving through “trying out” new practices as connected to new learning and “mulling over” the experience leads naturally to a “critical evaluation” of next steps. Doing so in collaboration with colleagues initiates ongoing partnerships, feeds a culture of connectedness, and drives further learning between professional peers and teams of teachers.

What from the learning can be incorporated into ongoing practice and how will consequent augmented practice impact student learning? What data will be collected to consistently evaluate the connected instruction and in what time frame will it again be considered for the possibility of further augmentation? How can the new learning enhance best practices instruction for groups of students? How can it do the same for individuals? In what ways will these shifts in practice be communicated with parents? In what ways will they be communicated with students?

In his three-part suggestion Camburn doesn’t prescribe specific methodology for reflective practice in professional learning. He simply outlines a foundation that speaks to the need for effective cultures of collaboration in which teachers are valued as experts, partners, and leaders, and one that identifies reflection as a potential pathway to slowing down and isolating a process that we know is enhanced by attention to detail and patient consideration. Facilitators of professional learning in school communities can utilize Camburn’s three-part suggestion to simplify and clarify the process for the learners they serve, and to give unambiguous permission to adult learners to manage their time in ways that genuine learning, growth, and progress demand.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

 

*The foundation of this “And I Quote” post is an article by Eric M. Camburn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “Embedded Teacher Learning Opportunities as a Site for Reflective Practice: An Exploratory Study,” published in 2010 in the American Journal of Education.

Thankful Thursday: Unexpected Marvelous Surprises (ums)

Ums

Relatively recently I was the benefactor of an unexpected marvelous surprise. It was wonderful (in addition to being marvelous…as marvelous things often are).

Here’s how unexpected marvelous surprises (ums) work:

  1. You’re walking along, living your life in the way(s) you expected to be.
  2. Someone approaches you with an unexpected marvelous surprise (or one surfaces is some other form or fashion).
  3. It’s wonderful.

Ums are actually quite basic and they occur more frequently than some of us give them credit for. Also, when we recognize and appreciated them they have the capacity to be outstanding tools for developing relationships and fostering cultures of optimistic enthusiasm and positive progress in school communities and at home.

Ums have the power to support leaders and learners in framing the world as a surprisingly marvelous place, even and especially when they least expect it. Just one *um can fill a heart with joy and a soul with sustainable hope.

A viable school, classroom, and/or home practice to consider might be intentionally issuing 2-3 ums to people you serve on a daily basis. A nice note to your spouse, a new book from the library for your child, a “thank you” card for a teacher with some positive feedback on the wonderful impact he or she makes, or even the gift of a “magic” crayon to a kindergarten with the connected request for a “magic” drawing to be generated and hung on your wall.

Even the most simple, positive contact or communication can be an um in this busy world. Ums support cultures of caring and positive partnerships. Ums remind people that good is all around and that we are in this together!

The relatively recent um I’m writing about now began with an invitation to guest host a popular Twitter chat. My friend and colleague Dr. Mary Howard (@DrMaryHoward) contacted me and four other administrators from around the country. She asked each of us to guest host one in a series of five sessions that would combine to spotlight school leadership and collectively envision the incredible potential of forward thinking school communities (like the ones in which we’re each fortunate enough to serve).

Mary is the author of “Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters” from Heinemann. She’s also the co-moderator of this enormously meaningful and collaborative weekly twitter chat under the hash tag #G2Great. The chat is co-moderated by the amazing Amy Brennan (@brennanamy) and the remarkable Jenn Hayhurst (@hayhusrt3) and it takes place on Thursday evenings from 8:30 – 9:30 pm. Join tonight with guest host Matt Renwick (@ReadByExample) if you can!

The invite was a real um for me, and it turned into multiple subsequent ums as well! It was my first time guest hosting a chat. The learning happened on multiple fronts.

First, I was blown away by the input from and digital dialogue of the #G3Great PLN (Professional Learning Network, if you didn’t know…and even if you did), and second, I was officially introduced to “tweetdeck” and thereby exposed to a whole new world of possibilities with regard to shared digital learning. Frankly…it’s awesome, not to mention very user-friendly. Check it out. And here’s the Storify link to our chat session if you’re interested: #G2Great 8/4/16.

As if that wouldn’t have been plenty of connected ums to fill me up for some time, Mary wrote a way-to-kind, accompanying post on the wonderful “Literacy Lenses” blog (linked to text).   The post warmed my heart, humbled and flattered the heck out of me, and it also fill me with inspiration and the ever-important reminder that the most effective and meaningful leadership is shared!

I’m so fortunate to have such amazing partners, from the students, teachers, and parents I serve, to my building and central office administrative partners, to the remarkable educational and organizational leaders I’m so proud to be intertwined with as a global PLN on this leadership and learning journey. I learn and grow the best and in the most meaningful ways when I do it together with others.

So, look out for incoming ums along with opportunities to provide outgoing ums as you prepare for the start of another great school year. Inspire those you serve with continued demonstrations of your commitment to shared learning and leadership, and allow yourself to be lifted up and inspired by even the most fundamental ums that come your way, if for no other reasons then…um…you’re worth it!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thank you.

 

* In this context the term “um” represents a single unexpected marvelous surprise given the coinciding facts that, 1. The words “unexpected” and “surprise” are synonymous, making it unnecessary to include both unless speaking or writing in multiplicity (with the “s” indicating multiple “ums” as it does with regard nous in general), and 2. You shouldn’t say or write the phrase “an ums” because it simply doesn’t sound or read correct (and arguably, neither does this explanation, but whatever…you get it).

Thankful Thursday: Restoration

A Bit of a Break

I recently wrote about the “Zones of Regulation” in a post outlining a philosophical base and a program structure built on the foundation of restorative practices used for social-emotional learning and growth in the school community I serve and subsequently in my home.

Regarding both my role as a parent and an educational leader I continue to gain increased confidence in restorative practices with each passing day.

I’ve been a restorative kind of guy for as long as I can remember. It’s basic. When things heat up I take a break.

I use the term “heat up” to signify a spectrum of heightened emotions beginning with slight (including mild excitement in the form of frustration, impatience, resentment, etc.), which can happen at varying degrees of intensity relatively frequently in the busy worlds of parenting and educational leadership, and ending with intense (triggered by unusually stressful events or toxic situations), which fortunately happens quite infrequently.

Each “hot” moment is a challenge and a chance. Each one is an opportunity to exercise restoration, and in doing so to increase restorative strength.

Restoration is the act of moving from a state where emotional strain has the better of you to a state where you have the better of it. It’s making your way from emotion-veiled thinking (and the potential for connected action) to clear, core-value driven thinking (and the reasonable assurance of focused, core-value drive action).

As I continue working to enhance my restorative practice and impart a utilitarian understanding of the same to those I serve I find myself particularly grateful for the human capacity to restore.

What are your primary core values? Do you ever find yourself sliding away from them in thought or action? If so, how do you pull yourself back? How do you focus? How do you restore?

Happy Thankful Thursday everyone!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Thanks!

One Thing: In It Together

Spin Around and Fall Down

Would you spin around until you get dizzy and then fall down on a single blade of grass? I would guess not.

Would you spin around until you get dizzy and then fall down on a lawn? If you’re a kid you would. It’s fun, and the lawn, thousands of single blades of grass standing together, would cushion your fall.

When you think of a lawn do you think of thousands of single blades of grass standing together? I don’t. I simply think of lawn; one thing.

My intention here is not to diminish the importance of each individual thing that makes up a whole, but rather to emphasize the fact that it takes every single one of the individual things inside of the whole that they’re in to make the whole whole…holistically, that is.

It’s been said in many ways: It takes a village, a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, alone we can do so little; together we can do so much, I couldn’t fix your brakes so I made your horn louder, and so on…the list is endless. It’s well understood and appreciated that collaboration and community are essential keys to learning and growth.

While we do get some wonderful down time during the summer, educators spend much of that time thinking about and planning for enhanced practices for the fall.  I say we should do so on the foundation that we’re not alone in our mission to enrich the lives of the students we serve.

Three simple questions are helping me remember that while unique and important, I’m but a blade of grass within the lush, green, thriving, & cushiony, lawn that is the school community in which I serve:

  1. How will my practice invoke & demonstrate value for partnerships with the teachers I serve?
  2. How will my practice invoke & demonstrate value for partnerships with the parents I serve?
  3. How will my practice invoke & demonstrate value for partnerships with the students I serve?

How will yours? Don’t attempt to go it alone. Be a strong link but a link none the less.  Value the chain. Take pride in the state of the lawn. Plan for collaboration. Be intentional about it. The learning and the lives of all involved will be enhanced.

Now go spin around on until you get dizzy and then fall down laughing (preferably on something soft).

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

That’s Not Rain, It’s Rice.

Kids as Innovators

I was driving home from a great science museum with two of my four children this afternoon. We were in exploration mode. We saw dinosaur bones, we touched what Mastodon fur “probably felt like,” we watched live bats turn from tiny squirrel-looking things into enormous flying beasts with a simple spreading of their awesome wings, and we even spent some time with Big Bird and Elmo exploring the stars in a cozy little planetarium.

As I drove it began to rain. It was a freezing rain. I called my mother-in-law who was at home with the other two kids to let her know about the road conditions so that she could decide if she was going to make the trek back to her house or stick around at ours for bit. Evidently my six-year-old heard me talking about the rain because after I hung up the phone he commented, “That’s not rain dad.”

I asked, “Oh, what is it?” I got excited about the potential for a states-of-matter conversation with the little wise guy.

Instead, without a smirk or any other indication of sarcasm he confidently replied, “It’s rice.”

Was it the exploration mode? Was it the imagination? Was it the world-view of a six-year-old? Was it rice? Who knows?

What I do know is that each adult I know seems to have a bit of the kid who would suggest rice over frozen rain still kicking inside of him or her. It’s out inner-innovators. How in touch we are with that bit differs, but I don’t think it can ever completely go away.

What’s more, I would argue that that bit is mostly responsible to the “ovation” part of innovation. The part where we get super excited about an out-of-the-box idea; the part where a wave of chills runs up our spines at the thought of one of our crazy thoughts coming to life. Pablo Picasso said something about all children being artists and about the trick not being becoming one as an adult but remaining one. Could innovation, exploration, and the thrill of discovery work the same way? Aren’t all kids up for an adventure of the mind? Shouldn’t all adults be?

School communities are filled with outlandish ideas that are actually awesome. All organizations are. Effective organizational leadership encourages people to latch on the “what if’s.” It’s not always easy because it usually involves taking risks, and it more that occasionally involves moments that in which people hear cries like, “failure!”

In order to genuinely promote and nurture positive progress in teaching and learning school leadership must find ways to help those we serve get excited about hearing the “failure” cry. We must support our incredible colleagues, our enthusiastic parent partners, and our brilliant students as they learn to find comfort in the word “failure,” realizing that it means they’ve tried, understanding that it means they’ve stretched, valuing that it means they’ve believed in and trusted their inner-innovators.

We must be the nurturers of outrageous ideas because we know that they’re the ones with the greatest growth potential. We know that the only failures worth scoffing at are the failures to try and to press on through life’s challenges.

My son is kid. As a kid, he felt comfortable speaking his mind. Without hesitation he was ok with starting from rice. Eventually, on his own, he released the “r” part and told me that he could see that they were little ice balls melting on the windshield. By the time we got home he had come to the conclusion that the streets were slippery and that this was like snow but a bit different.

It’s usually not the initial light bulb that gets made; it’s some incarnation of the crazy idea. It’s a different form of the thought that pops into our heads when we’re inspired. The “can do,” aspect has to be there though. The “ovation” is critical. The part where everyone feels comfortable cheering about possibilities, even and especially the outlandish ones?

What if we stopped assigning homework? What if we only graded tasks that were meant to verify a student’s understanding of a thing and not those meant not to develop that understanding? What if we searched for ways to let kids play all day long while they learn? What if we found ways to let kids play all day long so they learn?

I don’t have the answers, but I do feel strongly that anyone seeking to enhance teaching and learning should be comfortable exploring any pathways that come to mind. Of course we should explore in safe ways. We can’t simply shift our practices on whims. However, if we view ourselves and those we serve as innovators, if we collectively appreciate the failed attempts that initiate and promote achievement, and if we lead in ways that support the child-like exploration of thoughts and ideas, then we just might be on course for some amazing discoveries that could otherwise be put down simultaneously with the loss of our inner-innovators.

As I sit and type this post it’s ricing cats and dogs outside. Makes me want to create and umbrella from egg roll wrappers. Maybe I will.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Press On.