Thursday, February 27, 2014

Completion

Not too long ago I was asked to play music for a dinner party.  I was happy to oblige as playing music for others is one of my favorite things to do.  After I had been playing for about 20 minutes, someone asked what Moe (my lovely bride of 36 years) would want me to play.  Without hesitation I responded with my own rendition of "I Do" (originally recorded by Paul Brandt).  She loves that song.

Today, Moe and I marked our 37th year of shared meals, kids, bills, projects, moves, ball games, prayers, tears, job changes, funerals, births, hugs, laughter, friends, touches, experiences,........................................................................

I still don't know why she said "yes" and "I do," but I'm a much better man because she did.

Moe (now my lovely bride of 37 years) completes me.

"Baby I will, I am, I can, I have, ................. I do."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mel'sView

Several years ago one of the student athletes (I'll call him Mel) on the campus I was serving as principal was a "Blue Chip" football recruit.  "Blue Chip" is a phrase that refers to the very best athletes in the nation.  These athletes are heavily recruited by the most prominent universities in the nation.  Mel was truly a marvelous athlete.  Not only was he a Blue Chip recruit as a running back in football, he was equally recruited as a basketball player, a situation that is extremely rare (and it speaks volumes with respect to Mel's unusual athletic prowess).

One of the universities that zealously recruited Mel, and eventually won his commitment, was the football program at the University of Texas at Austin.  Then coach Mack Brown of UT Austin made several visits to our campus during that recruiting period.  Once Mel committed to UT Austin, Coach Brown offered to have a picture taken with Mel to commemorate the big decision.   It was Coach Brown's practice to give new recruits the option of taking that picture with a significant other, chosen by the athlete.  Most recruits would choose a parent, a coach, a teacher, or some other influential/significant adult for this illustrious photo opportunity.

On photo day, Mel walked Coach Brown down a couple of hallways on our campus to the life skills room.  This is the classroom on school campuses that serve students with the most severe disabilities.  In these classrooms are taught the students with extraordinary physical challenges and/or extreme cognitive limitations.  

Mel introduced Coach Brown to a fellow student (a life skills student I'll call Pete).  Pete was a dyed-in-the-wool UT Longhorn fan, and he also served as an honorary manager of our high school football team.  Of all the people Mel could have chosen for that most memorable photo, with one of the most famous coaches in the history of college football, he chose Pete.

Tears still come to my eyes when I think of that photo shoot.  Mel, one of the most gifted athletes I have ever personally known, and Pete, one of the most challenged students I have ever known, standing in tight configuration with Coach Mack Brown in that once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.  

Why? 

I like to think Mel was paying it both forward and backward with this monumental gesture.

Mel's thoughtful act challenges me still...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quitting

I'm no quitter.

However, I have told every employer in my professional career the same thing: 
"If you get tired of me, if you decide I’m not being effective, if I’m not performing like you want, or if you simply feel the need to 'go a different direction,' just let me know.  There's no need to freeze me out, squeeze me out, document me out, or fire me.  I’ll walk away, without causing a storm."

I use the same kind of thinking with regard to my relationship with an organization and/or its leadership.

When we continue to stay in a role in which we are not being effective, or in an organization we are not able to serve well, or continue to serve a leader which does not have our confidence, it is impossible for us to function at our fullest capabilities.

Certainly, we can stay with an organization/boss if we believe we can influence the organization’s direction or the leader’s thinking in ways to which we all can fully subscribe.  But that "staying" should only be done in a way that is not subversive, divisive, or insubordinate.  

If we can't "stay" with integrity and good will and fully invested effort, I believe we should go, quietly. Acrimonious partings do no one any good, Johnny Paycheck's philosophy notwithstanding.


This is not about wrong or right, fair or unfair.  Life is simply too short to spend our time/effort working in a half-hearted way.  

We will regret it, 
others can see/feel it, and 
the organization deserves someone who can/will produce what it needs.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

LeadershipHell

All leaders have frailties. 

Leaders who know their own limitations and are willing to openly admit them are the ones with the most authenticity.  By virtue of knowing themselves, and “owning” their weaknesses, they understand that leadership is not a singular construct.  Leadership is a collective endeavor, simply because leadership requires followership. 

The best organizations (regardless of size or scope) are the ones in which the leaders and followers understand themselves and each other well.  They’re the ones in which all members know that their individual contributions really count when it comes to accomplishing their goals. 

The leaders of those organizations freely invite those with complementary strengths and skills to provide the work/thinking/contributions that the leader can’t.  Those leaders are also the ones who typically serve up recognition and praise in large doses. 

Leaders who try to hide their own shortcomings and shift blame dishonor and disrespect the contributions of others.  They tend to complain and commiserate about the others in the organization “not carrying their weight,” when, in fact, the leader has created the conditions that cause others to stand down, to withhold, to coast, to hide.


Those kinds of leaders live in a hell of their own making.............and should. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

TheSimplestIncentive

Of all the things we have at our disposal to provide incentive for effort, hard work, honesty, achievement, etc., one stands out as the simplest (and cheapest). That one powerful yet simple incentivizer is the word “Thanks.”

Interestingly, it seems so hard for many of us to use that word.  It’s not like its effects diminish with use.  Thus, there is really no risk in overuse.

ALL of us love to hear that word spoken in our direction, regardless of whether it was truly deserved, or whether the trigger for its receipt was an act menial or significant on our part.

Another aspect of using “Thanks” often and freely is that it cost us nothing (other than the few seconds we take to express it).


Try it out.  I’m betting you’ll be thankful that you did. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

ContentKnowledgeVsPedagogy

Over the years I have been asked on numerous occasions to give my position on content knowledge vs pedagogy  (i.e., the skills used to cause learning to happen) when it comes to teaching effectiveness.

Let me start off by saying that I ALWAYS prefer to employ and to be taught by a teacher that has both a masterful grasp of pedagogy AND a deep understanding of the content.

If you make me stake out a position on which is more important, then I contend that a deep understanding of pedagogy is really the trump card, if the desired outcome is student learning.  And, isn’t that what education is really about?  LEARNING!  

As educators, our job is to create the conditions in which learning is most likely to happen.  We must pique the curiosity of the learners in our charge, cause them to be more interested in a subject, trick them into digging more deeply into content matter, bait them into looking/asking/thinking more deeply about a particular discipline.  With the cheap and pervasive availability of content knowledge these days, few (if any) teachers possess a commensurate breadth or depth of pure knowledge about a subject.  Furthermore, only the rarest of teachers can compete with the freely available tools with regard to process attainment.

So, if you’re gonna make me pick one over the other, I’ll take a teacher who has great pedagogical knowledge over one who has great content knowledge. 

The very best teachers I know have substantive content and pedagogical knowledge.

Their ability to awaken students to a particular disciplinary pursuit is nothing less than magical.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Generosity'sLegacy

Here are some of the blessings in my life that have sprung from the generosity of others:

Affirmations (of all kinds)
Advice (of all kinds)
Expressions of love
Job recommendations
Mentoring
Encouragement
Support
Condolences
Money (when we were poor)
Prayers
Kind words
Hugs
Thanks
Help
Critique (soft, but honest)
Time
Discussions/dialogue/debate (civil in nature)
Proofreading
Admonitions

Each giver that invested their time, their thinking, their effort, and/or other kinds of generous resources have shaped me in countless ways.  I feel extremely blessed to have been on the receiving end of so many of these “gifts” from others (some of whom were little more than acquaintances, but still they were generous with me).

Since "to whom much is given, much is required," I feel a deep and moral obligation to be as generous with my own time/effort/thinking/energy.

Kinda weird how such generosity seems to recursively generate so much good "stuff" in return.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Zombies

In this video, Dr. Zubin Damania talks about the disenchantment he felt as a physician.  With aspirations of helping others, connecting deeply with others, and feeling mutually actualized through medical practice Dr. Damania entered the profession.  Then he learned of the pace, the lack of interpersonal connections with patients, the constant frustration of being overwhelmed, and the demand for "volume" (thus, revenue).  He learned that the elements of homogenization and commoditization of service were/are the underlying drivers in healthcare provision.

Interestingly, I have heard my own physician, Dr. Ben Edwards, speak of similar frustrations while he conducted his practice in the traditional ways.  While both physicians have chosen less traditional paths by which to serve the healthcare needs of their patients, they allude to a dynamic that is not specific to healthcare.

 Joel Salatin is widely known (and published) for his unconventional approach to farming and ranching.  The similarity he shares with Drs. Damania and Edwards is that he has chosen and advocates a move away from homogenization and commoditization.  

I make an interesting connection between the choices made by these three professionals to resist  becoming zombies in their chosen vocations.  I use the word "zombies" in the sense that is saliently portrayed by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932), Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games (2008), and the movie WALL-E (2008).  In their respective ways each of these works portrays a human existence that is subservient to higher powers (whether in the form of governmental hubris or excessive greed) that seek to de-individual human beings and to dishonor diversity (in all its forms).  The effects are deleterious.  

I have seen an evolution in public education similar to that described in the paragraphs above.  Efforts to homogenize our children's learning (regardless of their interests or those of their respective communities/cultures) and to commoditize education (i.e., reducing it to an assembly line environment that produces clone-like results - zombies).

Like Dr. Damania, Dr. Edwards, and Mr. Salatin, I have made the conscious decision to no longer be a zombie, and with respect to my profession of being an educator, to no longer being hell-bent on producing zombies.  

Respect for individuality, the honoring of differences, the power of relationships, the sustainability of holistic education, the sacredness of interdependence and independence represent the kind of life and work I choose for myself, for my children, for my grandchildren, and for all the other learners I yet serve as an educator. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

GoneGirl

My most recent fiction read was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012).  The book tracks the strange and suspicious disappearance of Amy Elliott Dunne, wife of Nick Dunne.  Evidence and testimony lead the police to consider Nick as the prime suspect in what appears to be a murder, though there is no body. 

I won't reveal other details, twists and turns, but prepare yourself to be bamboozled repeatedly.

Wow!  This one fooled me at turn after turn.  Psychological mind games, evil intent, acrimony and recrimination, the list of the darkest sides of humanness goes on and on.  The book was a very interesting read, though it brought to the surface my darkest suspicions about the human condition.  PLEASE tell me there can’t be too many folks who think and act like Amy and Nick Dunne.


Thanks for the rec, Moe (and, sure hope you weren’t hinting at something…).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Uninformed

Several years ago, while serving as a principal in a large high school, I was chairing a leadership team meeting one day.  As was often the case, I was engaging this group of highly trusted and very competent campus leaders in dialogue about how best to meet the needs of our struggling learners.  (That is a perpetual problem in schools, for those of you who are not educators).

During the course of that leadership team dialogue, one of the department chairs took exception to a proposal that I offered for consideration.  That was not at all an unusual situation.  Still isn’t, for that matter.  I was not offended by the push-back.  In fact, I try very hard to foster an organizational environment in which debate, give-and-take, rebuttal, and dissent are protected and safe practices. 

In this instance, the objecting department chair accused me of being “uninformed.”  Not “misinformed” or “misled” or “mistaken” or “misguided.”  Nope.  “Uninformed.”  Ouch!  That hurt.

No, I didn’t bristle or curse or nip the chair back.  I genuinely want feedback and pushback and healthy debate.  I firmly believe that the best and most-likely-to-succeed decisions come from rigorous discourse.  Clearly, I had hit a nerve with this person. 

The assertion that I was “uniformed” did, however, cause me pause for deep reflection.  If I was truly uniformed, or even perceived to be uninformed, then I had work to do, on a personal level.  I either needed to learn more (in order to not be uninformed) or I needed to articulate my position more effectively (in order to not to be perceived as uninformed).

That experience was a good double-barreled lesson for me.  I needed to do two things:
  1. LEARN MORE
  2. COMMUNICATE BETTER

 Seems like those two items remain firmly fixed at the top of my to-do list.