Category: Academic Writing

Picking the Positive [a(IQ)]


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.


3T Learning And Leadership (trus(T)act): Trust Yourself And ACT [a(IQ)]


Abraham Lincoln once said, “Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.”

Stephen Covey encourages us to seek understanding of those we partner with and serve as the foundation of relationship building and communication.

The Dalai Lama contends, “The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.”

And Eeyore so eloquently reminds us, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”

I believe in reflection. I believe that genuinely reflective pathways have the power to supplant fear in favor of hope, constraint in favor of possibility, and defeat in favor of progress.

I believe that reflection can be a driver of growth when coupled with the understanding that stumbling cause us to practice regaining balance, that falling force us to practice dusting ourselves off and getting back up, and that challenge in all forms lead us to triumph we might otherwise consider out of reach, or worse yet, find unimaginable.

I believe we need reflection in order to press on in right ways. I believe we must process each moment with a certain degree of consideration and patience.

I would suggest with great fervor that authentic and effective learning and leadership calls for us to imagine experiential reflectivity as a catalysts to self-improvement, and then to interweave the imagining of such with a wholehearted consideration that our subsequently enhanced selves might just serve to enhance the world in which we live, and finally have a positive impact on the well being and happiness of those we serve, including ourselves.

However, as a dedicated reflective learner I have cause to wonder if there are times in which deep, reflective thinking can stifle progress. It is through that wondering that I found a possible connection between reflection in learning and leadership, and tact.

In his Article, “Reflection in Education: A Kantian Epistemology” Henk Procee points out that Van Manen shakes up thinking about reflection by brining in the idea of tact and pointing to the following three related components:

“1. A highly developed sensitivity to situations and persons; 2) a well-cultivated capacity to combine heterogeneous aspects, without having explicit rules for doing so; and 3) the unique role of the individual involved in this process.”

In other words, if you buy into that tact plays a potentially contrary role to reflection in learning and leadership, even only in certain discernable instances, you might consider listening rather than speaking, seeking to understand others well enough to at least consider the lenses through which they see the world (and their pathways within it), and to always recognize the splendor and value you know exists in the multitude of beautiful weeds that spring up around us as reminders of what our eyes are capable of beholding if only we would let them.

In other, other words, there might be time in which we’ve already reflected enough to simply trust ourselves and act.

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

Reflection and Growth: The Bad News Is the Good News [(a)IQ]


When I think about reflection I typically think about looking back on something. I think about a blanket analysis of something I had previously thought, said, or done.


Why do I think of reflection as a simple backward-looking act when I know what the word means? A reflection is an image of the present. It’s essentially an aura of the moment in which it exists, and in that, it’s a powerful tool for considering growth and next steps.

While the incorporation of pathway and progress are essential to planning and forward thinking, it would seem that those next steps should be the critical focus of a meaningful reflective practice.

Hank Procee refers to Frank Serafini’s outlining of reflective practice on the foundation of both “reflectively” as dealing with “profession-related issues” and “reflection” as stressing “critical social issues.” He summaries Serifini’s distinction between “three critical dimensions” or reflective practice as follows, “The first dimension in purpose (what is the goal of reflection); the second is process (how is reflection exercised); and the third is focus (what is the central event or experience to reflect upon)” (p. 238).

I’m beginning to consider that my conventional reflective paradigm might have something to do with a type judgment that lays outside of the scientific lens that Serifini constructs, and in that, has the potential to restrict meaningful and progressive outcomes.       It is through that consideration that I have been further contemplating shifting my paradigm in favor of a more real-time conception, solidifying a new reflective paradigm that better aligns with my intended purpose, process, and focus, and framing each reflective stop along the path with forward progress always in mind.

In doing so, I’m also bearing in mind an effort to reframe and enhance my perception of judgment as a function of learning and growth indelibly connected to reflection.

Visualize your own reflection in a mirror. What do you see? Do you not see yourself as you are right now?

Arguably, in this moment, within your reflection, and given the knowledge you have of yourself and your past, you can see how that past has impacted your progress toward this moment.

As I reflect right now my thoughts are with what has led to this moment, professionally and personally, and with what I might think, say, and do to continue becoming what it is I’m aiming at. This would be a process focused on real-time growth with the purpose of learning and enhances practice…process, purpose, and focus.

In reflection through this lens I would be forced to think on a foundation of the moment I’m witnessing and asking how I can bring my best and most thoughtful personal and professional qualities to each consecutive moment, even as I change along with an ever-changing understanding of myself within both a personal and professional context.

Another critical aspect of understanding my best and how to tap it in each moment is reflection around best practices in others. Sometimes it’s difficult to see and understand our own best. It often seems less difficult to recognize others at their best or to pick out best qualities in others. If that is the case, scientifically reflecting on the thoughts, ideas, and actions of others as potential models of effective practice (whether through a “what to do” or a “what not to do” lens) could contribute to progress in meaningful ways as well.

In doing so it is critical to avoid negative or personalized judgment, while focusing in on growth-producing judgment. What if I were only to pull only the very best from every situation I see or hear about? What if my reflective practice was only about the positive? What if even the instinctively negative aspects of reflective judgment were forcibly viewed holistically as opportunities for advancement?

Inside of a growth mindset, even challenges and mistakes are to be considered positive opportunities for learning. Through this lens, even the bad news is the good news because the bad news is fodder for contemplation of connected development.

I would suggest that thinking about reflection as a scientific act in which purpose, process, and focus set the stage for growth allows us to separate from the arguably reflexive potential for negative judgment, and to connect our personal and professional practice to the meaningful growth patterns we would inevitably then discover in ourselves and in others. I would further suggest that the same has the potential to help reflective practitioners see those patterns with enhanced clarity and use them as drivers of continuous and positive progress.

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

And I Quote: Meeting Teachers In Their Classrooms As A Foundation For Professional Learning

Meeting Learners in Their Space

Professional learning in school communities is unquestionably a complex and challenging concept to attend to. Teachers, like all learners, are wide ranging in their interests, their developmental pathways, their learning styles, and their capacity to engage on any given day and in any given setting. There is no standard that works for everyone (at least I haven’t come across it).

Some adult learners require movement and interaction to stay connected while others prefer to stay put, listen, and take notes. Some want to generate thoughts and ideas through a process of individual and collaborative brainstorming, exploration, and critical thinking, while others prefer to have information delivered to them. Even so, dynamic lecturers can transform the traditional “sit and get” experience into vibrant and engaging opportunities for rich, meaningful, and connected learning, and effective group facilitators can draw enthusiastic participation out of the most reluctant collaborators.

As school administrators and professional learning teams consider reflective systems and structures such as Camburn’s three phase reflective process, Gladwell and DiCamillo’s professional dyads, and/or Purcell’s “post class reflective notes,” we must also consider connected and meaningful content. How do we get at learning that truly drives individual and collaborative progress and effectively impacts student wellbeing and achievement in authentically positive ways?

Of comprehensive school reform (CSR) programs, Camburn warns, “if we wish to develop a fuller understanding of how teachers’ work experiences support the development of their practice, it is useful to look beyond their participation in traditional staff development and consider a broader array of experiences” (p. 464). He further clarifies by suggesting, “knowledge about teaching that is acquired in teachers’ immediate work context (their classrooms and the larger school organization) may be more readily applied than knowledge acquired outside that context” (p. 466). A suggestion that connects directly to the “try it out, mull it over, and critically evaluate it” professional learning triangle he points to as scaffolding for genuine reflective progress.

Individual and/or collaborative reflective practices, employed in real-time and on location can influence professional learning a ways that provide teachers with the autonomy needed to connect in meaningfully with school reform or improvement initiatives, a valued voice along their own learning pathways, and a framework regarding how learning meets application for them and for their unique student population during any given moment in time.

Enlisting connected research and reflecting on outside scenarios and ideas has its place and should not be dismissed as worthwhile for professional learning in school communities. However, school leaders must also consider that the base of any truly connected progress specific to their school community is in fact real-time teaching and learning challenges and triumphs that are also specific to their school community, and that are concurrently transpiring along with the progress. Empowering classroom teachers to drive their own professional learning through reflection on their own experiences can be immensely powerful.

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.

And I Quote: Immediate Written Reflection Might Make Even The Best Teachers Even Better

Immediate Puddles

Teachers have loads of pencils, shelves overflowing with books, buckets of paper clips and pushpins, and they have drawers that are jam-packed with construction paper. They have magic markers and they have paintbrushes to match their plethora of vibrant, plastic, circle-basin watercolor trays. They have computers, they have printers, and they have copy machines. They have chairs and they have tables. They have colorful carpets and they have decorative wall art. They have expertise and they have one another for collaboration when additional expertise is required. Teachers have many of the things they need to create comfortable, safe, and engaging learning environments for the students they serve.

What’s the one thing that teachers might highlight as something they don’t have? Enough time. The business of education is multifaceted, enormously demanding, and fast-paced. It often seems that there isn’t enough time in a school day to include intentional reflection along with the many other things teachers have to do, most of which present as urgent and important, while reflection might not, even for those who value it as important to their learning and growth.

David Purcell wrote about his exploration of “post class reflective notes” (p. 5) in a way that suggests consideration of time management with regard to ongoing and intentional reflective practice for connected, real-time learning and growth for teachers. Engaging in the practice took time, however, Purcell found the return on that time investment pointedly beneficial for him, and moreover, for his students.

Purcell suggested, “The cumulative effect over time of incorporating reflective practice is that I have increased my sense of mastery as a teacher (p. 14).” Again, time is critical in this equation. We don’t see the impact of reflective practice immediately, but rather “over time.” Ironically, for that impact to be maximized, Purcell suggests we engage in the reflective practice immediately.

While the challenges and triumphs of a class session or a school day are fresh in mind, a teacher’s immediate reflective notes can be invaluable to future learning and ongoing reflective growth. Keeping a daily reflective journal, even if only jotting down a few sentences or bullet points for further consideration, can be powerful in insuring a connectedness between professional learning and professional practice.

Whether as a foundation for any of Camburn’s three phases of reflective collaboration, as a tool for reference within a professional dyad as outlined by Gladwell and Dicamillo, or in connection with other intentional reflective systems or structures, immediate “post class reflective notes” are likely to serve as reminders of potential, and genuine areas of focus for driving progress in best practices instruction.

Regarding his use of regular and immediate written reflection Purcell further submits, it “has likely had a positive effect on student learning through (his) improved effectiveness as a teacher” (p. 14). He equates an “increased sense of mastery” with “improved effectiveness as a teacher,” as well he should. We know that one’s self image is a influential force in one’s progress. When teachers regularly remind themselves of their own challenge areas and growth patterns they energize themselves with the consistent cue that improvement is indelibly connected to critical and targeted processing.

Immediate written reflection is a professional learning practice that has the capacity to shift a traditional (and valid) time-deficient paradigm into one where connected perceptions of importance are capable of overriding those of urgency, even and especially in the busy day to day of teaching and learning.

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


*The foundation of this “And I Quote” post is an article called, “Sociology, Teaching, and Reflective Practice: Using Writing to Improve” by David Purcell.

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.

Teleo-Tubbies: Teleological Ethics & Equity In Pre-K Ed

Whose responsibility is it to make sure that every child is afforded every opportunity?  Is it a parent’s responsibility to understand and be able to offer ideal educational experiences to his/her children every step along the way?  Should teachers and district leaders reach out to families in their communities, facilitating processes by which children are matched with individual learning pathways aimed at maximizing potential?  How about local, state, and federal government agencies? What are their roles?  Where is the onus?  What is at stake?

Encyclopedia Britannica online defines the term teleological ethics as a “theory of morality that derives duty or moral obligation from what is good or desirable as an end to be achieved.”  In other words, the thing that produces the most favorable outcomes is the right thing to do.  Agree or disagree, let’s consider it for a moment.  For the sake of examination, let’s also consider that there are certain universal outcomes each member of any given society would agree upon.  Now bear with me, let’s imagine that one of those outcomes is equity in pre-k education.    Let’s take it a step further by pretending that there is a relatively clear-cut route to achieving that outcome.  Finally, let’s simplify the myriad, intense mysteries of human development, the mind-bogglingly complexities of institutional education, and then let’s throw in the assumption that diverse populations of individuals thrive on consensus and collaboration.  Again, under that construct, let’s think about equity in pre-k education thought a lens of teleological ethics.  What is the right thing to do?

W. Steven Barnett (2011), in a National Institute for Early Childhood Education article, contends, “a substantial body of research finds that high-quality preschool can substantively improve the learning and development of young children” (p. 1).  Barnett goes on to indicate, “long-term outcomes include lasting effects on cognitive abilities, school progress (grade repetition, special education placement, and high school graduation), and social behavior” (as cited in Camilli et al., 2010).  Furthermore, he points out that oral language and literacy skills are typically a strong focus of preschool education, and he asserts, “oral language proficiency in English at kindergarten entry is strongly linked to later achievement for language minority children” (as cited in Galindo, 2010).

Based on Barnett’s report, it would seem that equitable pre-k education is significant for all students, and more specifically, has some serious implications for our language minority population.  Students for whom English is a secondary language typically come from homes where little or no English is used.  If this at risk population could notably benefit from effective pre-k programming, it stands to reason that such programming should be made available, and accessible to them.  One critical aspect of access is information.  If information regarding pre-k programming is disseminate in English, parents who do not speak, write, read, or understand English, are arguably at an inherent disadvantage when seeking that information.  How would they find out whether or not services are offered in their communities?  And, if they are not able to, doesn’t that leave their children are at a long-term disadvantage as articulated above?

Communication is key.  First of all, what programming do we offer?  Have we done the research?  Do we know what needs to happen so that our entire population has access to the pre-k social, emotional, and academic resources they need for long-term achievement?  How are we communicating with, and accommodating our language minority population?  What about other groups who would otherwise be unable to access the services we offer for one reason or another?  Are we doing all we can to make sure that every parent in each of our communities is well informed regarding pre-k programming?

In the end, with every child, we are educating a future adult citizen of our world.  It benefits each of us to make sure that they are all accounted for.  Frankly, I don’t know enough to know if we are already doing a decent job of this or not.  I do however, feel strongly that we ought to be.  What programs are available in your community?  How do educational leaders and various other community representatives communicate about those programs?  Is your school district, local and/or state government facilitating a process by which every parent knows how to access every advantage for his/her child?

The recent national dialogue on pre-k education has me just scratching the surface of this subject.  As I dig deeper and continue reflecting on what I learn, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!  Please comment here with insights, ideas, and/or links to resources…or touch base with my research partners Lisa Rheaume (@Rheauml) and Sara Delgado (@saradelg10), and/or me (@BergsEyeView) on twitter using hashtag #PrekE.  Thanks!  Have a great week!


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.



Barnett, W.S. (2011). Preschool Education as an Educational Reform: Issues of Effectiveness and Access. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.

Camilli, G., Vargas, S., Ryan, S., & Barnett, W.S. (2010). Meta-analysis of the effects of early education interventions on cognitive and social development. Teachers College Record, 112(3), 579-620.

Galindo, C. (2010). English language learners’ math and reading achievement trajectories in the elementary grades. In E. Garcia & E. Frede (Eds.), Young English language learners: Current research and emerging directions for practice and policy (pp. 42-58). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Teleological Ethics. (n.d.). In Encyclopædia Britannica online. Retrieved from

Personalized Theoretical Constructs for Doable Ongoing Action Research

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary suggests multiple definitions for the word “theory.”  I find, “an idea that is suggested or presented as possibly true but that is not known or proven to be true,” to be the most impactful one, as viewed through a researcher’s lens.  Specifically, think that definition works well for practicing educators and educational leaders engaged in ongoing action research framed by already-defined theoretical constructs.  In large part, research is designed to impact change in positive, progressive ways.  The developmental process by which change happens is embedded in a paradigm of possibility.  Using theory to guide research, with the understanding that there are ideas to be adapted and truths to be discovered, can be a powerful strategy for growth and development.

Dressman (2008) points out, “as research methodology has broadened in its scope, the ways in which theories are used have changed as well, from the generation of hypotheses to be tested to the use of theories as rhetorical “framing” devices that provide powerful metaphors that in some cases organized entire research projects” (p. 3).  In other words, research does not have to end in the proving or elaboration of any given theory.  Alternatively, theoretical beliefs and assumptions can be used to guide research that is intended to impact people, programs, and/or situations rather than the development of those beliefs and assumptions.  That kind of research is based on theoretical constructs or paradigms.

“Applying theory as a lens through which to view the social world is a powerful analytic process with significant implications for social change” (Allen, 2011, p. 16).  I think of the lens that Allen writes about as a theoretical construct, and the analytic process as research.  Suppose that people learn more effectively when they are joyful.  This is not an entirely implausible supposition.  In fact, there is a large body of existing research that suggests comfort, happiness, wellbeing, and even joyfulness can aid in productivity.  Stephen Covey’s incredibly popular strategies for organization and communication are meant to increase meaningful productivity and lead to “success.”  In part, Dr. Covey’s strategies focus on finding joy in one’s work, life, and relationships.

Regardless of Dr. Covey’s, or any other research, it would be reasonable for me to theorize that joy plays a significant role in learner productivity and success based on my own experiences, both as a learner and as an educator.  I can recall a multitude of situations in which the absence of joy left me preoccupied, and equally as many in which the presence of joy contributed to my ability focus on the task at hand.  I have worked with a several students who have lacked drive, and have pointed to challenging, joyless life scenarios as distractions from engagement and productivity in school.   I could very reasonably scaffold a research project on the theoretical construct that joy enhances learner productivity, without seeking to validate or otherwise justify it.

I could use case study methodology to identify ways in which joyful learners participate in the learning process, and then generate a list of behaviors that seem to lend themselves to meaningful engagement.  I could do a comparative ethnography of varied school or classroom cultures that speaks to joy as a motivator for learning, never attempting to substantiate the theoretical construct itself, only using it to scaffold understanding and progress with regard to learning cultures.  Research requires a starting point and a frame of reference.  A theoretical construct can provide both, even without defining proof that the construct is universally held to be true.  Furthermore, resulting data need not point to the validity of the theoretical construct, only to progress in the area of focus, or for the focus subjects of the research.

As an administrator I appreciate the use of theoretical constructs as the basis of ongoing research, because I believe that it diminishes the perceived intensity of research itself.  When research can move forward without the burden proof its assumptions, its accessibility is enhanced.  Besides, the outcome of such research will speak to that proof, even if in indirect ways.  The researcher and the research subjects can benefit from focused exploration, especially if they are willing to adapt according to outcome indicators.

I think that educators at all levels should be constantly doing action research.  Using personalized theoretical constructs to support that effort reduces formality and allows educators to weave reflection, analysis, and a growth mindset into their daily work.  By simply identifying critical challenges, framing them within a theoretical construct, collecting and analyzing related data, then applying those data to development through application, educators can effectively engage in continuing progress.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.



Allen, E. J.  (2011).  Women’s status in higher education: Equity matters.  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Dressman, M.  (2008).  Using social theory in educational research: A practical guide.  New York, NY: Routledge

Theory.  (n.d.).  In Merriam-Webster online.  Retrieved from

Scientific Management & Schools as Social Systems: Best Practices Leadership

In his article Social Systems, Talcott Parsons describes the overarching purpose of any organization as the attainment of a particular goal (p. 98).  He goes on to illustrate how the goal of any functional organization would connect itself in a valuable way to some need or desire of a larger system (p. 99).  He expands on that notion by suggesting that the achievement of that goal would produce, “goods or services that are either consumable or serve as instruments for a further phase of the production process by other organizations” (p.99).  In education, learning is the means by which our product is generated.  Through varied systems and structures we work tirelessly to provide students with the ability to make meaning from the knowledge and experiences they come by in our institutions.  We aim to guide them through the standard phases of human development that we each brave during early childhood, adolescence, and young-adult life, with an eye on individualism, diversity, and integration into the ever-complexifying world in which we live.  Incidentally, I feel comfortable inventing compound words like “ever-complexifying” to describe the larger social system (or “other organization”) whose “production process” we wish to positively impact with our commodity (educated citizens), in part because that system changes at a dizzying pace which, in my mind, demands that type of liberty.

Were time travel possible 100 years ago, an explorer from 1913 might wonder if the modern world is in fact a work of fiction, invented by way of the collective imaginations of his children and theirs.  Moreover, our children, along with the students we teach, could be the ones to perpetuate innovations in time travel, considering its ethical, financial, and political implications, and integrating it into the paradigm of their society.  As social systems, schools are responsible for helping young people understand what is expected of global citizens, in the workplace, in the home, and as positive contributors to their society at large…and that’s a big deal!

Parsons suggests that organizations are “subsystems” of one another (p. 100).  It gives me cause to think about the fact that learning literally leads to every service, good, or commodity in existence.  Through formalized education, trade apprenticeships, impassioned self-study, and/or other varied means, we must each learn to do the things we do.  This makes schools unique in that everyone who works for or benefits from the productivity of a school community (which is arguably everyone) is a member of that school as an organization.  Each student needs to learn, and whether or not they fully appreciate it, each student needs all of the other students to learn too.  As a social system schools are enhanced when we focus on individual AND collaborative growth and development.  Parsons concludes that organizations as social systems are, “organized for the attainment of a particular type of goal,” and that the goal is, “the performance of a type of function on behalf of a more inclusive system, the society” (p. 108); which leads to Scientific Management.

In chapter one of his book, Classical Organization Theory, Fredrick Winslow Taylor tackles The Principles of Scientific Management.  He writes about “labor saving devices” and “soldering,” and how traditional forms of management isolate workers, often causing them to feel disconnected and threatened.  In education, we face some complicated and relatively unique management challenges, not the least of which (for all involved) is the need for creative budgeting and often-complicated labor negotations.  However, those challenges often balance out as they collide with the universal and extreme passion for our mission that exists in the classrooms, the schools, the central and board offices, and the homes in communities in which we do our essential work.  Taylor outlines “the first of the great burdens which are voluntarily undertaken by those on the management side” as,

the deliberate gathering together of the great mass of traditional knowledge which, in the past, has been in the heads of the workmen, recording it tabulating it, reducing it, in most cases to mathematical formulae, which, with these new laws, are applied to the cooperation of the management to the work of the workmen (p.73).

In my experiences, this burden really pops when it’s shared.  The most effective educational leaders I’ve worked with have perpetuated cultures of collaborative learning by encouraging leadership at all levels.  The most successful learning communities I’ve been blessed to work in hold students, teachers, administrators, parents, and all other critical community partners to the task of assuming leadership roles in the development and implementation of best practices.  Taylor suggests that scientific management is effective in part because it forces collaboration through mutual benefits that often come in the form of financial gain.  One of the things that I love the most about our amazing field is that so many of us push harder than we have to, stay up later than we’re asked to, dig deeper than we ever thought we could, and care about our outcomes with every fiber of our beings, not because it earns us more money, but because we feel called to do so.  In my estimation, education is a profession full of people who work under a system that could be described as very similar to Taylor’s scientific management system.  We are constantly developing ourselves, and our systems, by critically reflecting on our collective daily work.  As a public school administrator, Taylor reminds me just how important it is to remain connected to all pieces of the learning puzzle, to value partnership above all else, and to thrive on the contributions of those I serve.  When we recognize our organization as a social system and are scientific about our process in collaborative ways, students grow, and we all benefit.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well