Saturday, August 30, 2014

HowToDeliverAGreatTEDTalk

I read How to Deliver a Great TED Talk last by Akash Karia (2012) last week. 



The book was a quick read, full of concrete ideas and suggestions on how to improve our presentation skills and move audiences.  AK did a nice job of organizing the book and provided excellent supporting examples for his ideas and suggestions. 

Some of the big takeaways for me:
  • Start presentations with an interesting/compelling story.
  • Analogies/similes/metaphors are very powerful tools for engaging audiences.
  • Use powerful images and few words (large font) on presentation slides.
  • The best speeches are those that are experienced by the audience, not just heard by the audience.
  • Great stories have these elements:  Colorful characters, a Conflict, a Cure for the conflict, a Change in characters as result of the conflict, and a Carryout message.
My first encounter with AK's work/thinking.  Glad I read it.  Now it's time to start implementing some of his ideas.


Friday, August 29, 2014

BestMost

An interesting question came to my mind as I was reading the other day:
Do the people that know me the best respect me the most?

That’s an interesting question when we reflect on the number of high profile and public figures in history who had sparkling public reputations but were held in disdain by the people closest to them.  We can easily think of leaders of high regard who, in private, engaged in hateful treatment of others, who spoke disparagingly of opponents, who connived to undercut or ruin those who disagreed with them.  It is not hard to conjure up memories of ministers whose private lives were not at all aligned to the values they preached from the pulpit.  I imagine that every one of us can think of a boss in our past (or present) whose public personae was sparkling, but whose words/deeds behind closed doors revealed a far less attractive character.

The issue at hand can be captured in a couple of words, I think - integrity and authenticity.  Those two words speak directly to the level of alignment between our true beliefs/values and the way we manifest those beliefs/values every moment of our lives (not just when "on the stage").  

So, the question begs:  
Do the people that know me the best respect me the most?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

FunTeam

I've been blessed to be a part of all kinds of teams over the years, from athletic teams to work teams to teams of volunteers.  Some of those teams have been simply marvelous to "play" on.  Others...........not so much.  

Which prompted me to consider the differences.  All had talented and smart and capable folks on them.  So, what made some of them much more enjoyable to be on?

Here are a few of my conclusions about the "good" teams, the ones that were most fulfilling, usually more successful, and always more self-actualizing:

  • They had a clear vision of the outcomes they were pursuing.
  • Their leaders were others-centered people, interested in team objectives and not personal accolades.
  • They pursued challenging goals and tackled tough problems.
  • Team members gave more than they took, and didn't "skate." 
  • Tussles, conflicts, and debates were civil, respectful, and centered on team (not personal) objectives.
  • Trust between and among team members was pervasive.
  • The collective focus permeated the team's interactions and created synergy. 
  • Team members understood that effort, failure, laughter, struggle, blood, sweat, and tears were necessary ingredients in the process.
  • They were adaptable, fluid, and dynamic in response to the conditions/contexts.
  • They ran their course, then ended (they didn't artificially try to extend the life cycle of the team).
I'm playing on yet another of those teams now and having great fun doing it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

50thFirst

I was having coffee with Moe (my lovely bride of 37 years) this morning at 5:00 a.m., as is our custom.  We were discussing this first day of the 2014-15 school year.  Moe asked if I could recall my first day of school ever and it occurred to me that today marked my 50th first day of school in a row.

On the first day of school 50 years ago I entered first grade under the loving and powerful influence of Miss Nell Flores (who happened to have also been my dad's first grade teacher 19 years earlier).  Miss Nell gave me the gift of reading, a gift for which I could never repay her in kind.  

From that moment on I have been blessed to have partaken in the first day of school as a public school student, as a college student, as a teacher, as a principal, as a superintendent, and as a professor.

What an amazing country we live in that has taken on the challenge of educating EVERY child.  I believe the very life and sustainability of this nation depends upon an educated electorate.  In recent years, I've been perplexed at the assault on public education from political quarters which have, frankly, surprised me a bit.  It seems to me that a fully educated electorate serves all political parties well (other than those who lean toward  the political extremes of dictatorships and communism). 

Education IS the ticket to a better life, regardless of one's current station in life.  I, and many like me, serve as a case in point.  We simply must preserve the opportunity for every child from every family to receive a free and quality education, if we truly value the ideals upon which this great nation was founded.

Looking forward to that 51st first day of school now (but not before we touch and improve the lives of millions of young people during this school year).  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

ProfessionalMalnourishment

We need nourishment for our professional lives just as our bodies need nourishment.  And, just as our physical wellness depends on a variety of healthy nutrients, so does our professional wellbeing depend on our consumption of an array of wholesome inputs. 

What might some of those professional nutrients be?
  • Watching and learning from masters of our craft.
  • Finding and engaging with quality mentors within our field of endeavor.
  • Regularly consuming new learning (books, articles, videos, audios) related to our work.
  • Networking with a wide variety of practitioners, both within and outside our profession.
  • Dabbling with creative and innovative practices, both for the novelty of it and for the potential breakthrough experiences.
  • Learning beyond our particular profession from those who are performing in exemplary fashion in some other field, seeking transferable practices.
Returning to the body-profession analogy, just as our bodies need the macronutrients of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates so do we need, in our professional lives, the macronutrients of
Experiences, 
Exposures, 
Engagement.  

And, in both body wellness and professional wellness, we make choices everyday about what we consume.  The inputs dictate the outputs.

To choose not to nourish ourselves professionally is to choose (by omission or commission) to be professionally malnourished.  You probably know how that story ends.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

FlowTastic

Back in 1998 Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a compelling book titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.   In the book he describes the effect of being "in the zone" we sometimes experience while doing things we love.  Even though those activities may be difficult or challenging we sometimes slip into that state of consciousness that brings us great enjoyment, unusual levels of self-actualization, a burst of creativity, the experience of exceptional performance, and/or a sense of fully satisfying involvement.  

You've probably felt that experience of being "in flow" from time to time yourself.  It's a really cool place to be.

I experienced it earlier this week in working with the professional team of Guthrie Common School District (the school I currently serve).  That collective oneness of mission, single-mindedness of purpose, synthesis of thinking/effort toward creating a world class school for our students sent me into the state of FLOW.  

Excellent!

I'll have another, please.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

FoodSanity(7.0)

Been getting this question quite a lot lately:  
What should I eat and not eat? 

To quote my physician, Dr. Ben Edwards, "Eat what your body needs; quit eating what your body doesn't need."

Here’s a synthesis of what I’ve learned about eating well and using food as our medicine from the likes of Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Robert Lustig, Dr. Ben Edwards, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Leonard Coldwell, Dr. Dean Ornish, and other functional medicine practitioners (all can be found easily on the internet):
  • Eliminate all processed sugars from our daily diet (high fructose corn syrup is most egregious). Kill the sodas, sport drinks, skim and chocolate milk, fruit juice, etc. (or they will most assuredly and eventually kill us).
  • Remove almost all processed grains from our daily diet.  Processed flours, corn products, soy products, wheat products, etc. are malisimo.
  • Eat as many and as wide an array of vegetables as possible.  These need to be organically grown, which means non-genetically modified, non-chemically treated.  As a general rule, the greener the better.  The more orange or yellow in color, the starchier (thus sugar inducing in your system) they are.
  • Eat fruits sparingly. The darker the better, dark berries are best. Always organically grown.
  • Eat high quality protein in moderate portions.  Pasture-raised and grass-finished meats (beef, chicken, pork, etc.) are bueno, in portions about the size of your cell phone.  Fish consumed needs to be wild-caught, not farm-raised.  Meat raised or finished in confined feeding areas should be avoided.  Eggs from pastured chickens are superb!  Watch out for beans, potatoes, dairy, soy as primary protein sources because they’re chock full of carbohydrate content (there’s that #%$@ sugar spike again).
  • Partake in lots of natural fats.  Yep, I said it.  Fats.  Real butter (minimally processed), coconut, coconut oil, avocados, raw/organic nuts, even animal fats (like bacon grease). And eggs (from pastured chickens)!
  • Processed food is of the devil.  If it comes in a package, box, a can, or a bucket, WATCH OUT! The healthiest foods should look very much like they do when first harvested.  Mixed, mushed, squished, pressed, rolled, and creamed...........not good.
  • Drink water, tea, coffee, plain and unembellished.
I continue to be surprised at how MUCH of the good stuff I can eat.  All I want.  I don't go hungry and don't feel cravings.  The pounds melt off (and stay off).  All of my health markers continue to trend in the positive direction.  More importantly, I feel better than I have in years.

There you have it.  Ball is in your court, sir/madame.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

MakingThinkingVisible

I recently read Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison (2011). 


Some of my key takeaways from this book:

  • “Understanding is not a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating, and creating but a result of it.” (p. 7) 
  • “In most settings, educators have focused more on the completion of work and assignments than on true development of understanding.” (p. 9
  • A Magical Teacher Question:  “What makes you think that?” 
  • Cultures of Thinking are places where a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all group members.” (p. 219
8 Thinking Moves Integral to Understanding 

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there  
  2. Building explanations and interpretations  
  3. Reasoning with evidence  
  4. Making connections  
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives  
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions  
  7. Wondering and asking questions  
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things (p. 11-13
 I love to learn about learning and I learned a lot about it from this book.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

GuthrieEd

I was recently interviewed by a journalist for a newspaper on the plains of Texas.  With his permission, I am sharing with you the exchange we had...

Reporter: Earlier in our discussion, you made a statement, something to this effect, "Public education is not in a good place and has become a slave to high performance testing." Please explain the statement and how does the statement apply to Guthrie's school.
Coulter:  I am convinced that public education has lost its way.  We have allowed ourselves to become slaves to policies, and a subsequent accountability system, that assumes that learning can be reduced to a set of test scores, mostly centered around four academic disciplines - math, science, English, and social studies.  There are many social and political variables that have brought us to this current dysfunctional reality, but the only way of reversing it is for local communities to take proactive steps to "take back" the responsibility for educating our own children.
Reporter: When you outlined an alternative method for teaching strategies, you developed four "Conversation Drivers" for parents, teachers, and school trustees, what were the general responses to each?
Coulter:  The questions you refer to were the ones I used in starting a dialogue with our school's stakeholders in Guthrie, Texas, about what we really wanted for our children.  Those questions were framed in direct accordance to my belief that we (local communities) must simply "take back" the responsibility for educating our own children.  Once (and if) we believe that, then we must have substantive conversations about what that "taking back" should look/smell/feel/sound like.  In effect, if we decide that we are the ones to prescribe what our children learn (not folks in Austin, Texas, or Washington, DC), then we have to make some real decisions about what that local prescription for education should be.  Thus, the questions...

(1) What are our highest aspirations for our students?  I started each (of about 20 stakeholder meetings over an 18 month stretch) with this question.  The response from all groups was something akin to a collective sigh of relief.  It was like our community was actually relieved that someone wanted to hear what THEY wanted for their children, not what the state or federal government wanted.  This question yielded a whole host of noble and worthy aspirations, most of which are distilled in the response to the next question.

(2) With those aspirations in mind, what do we think a Guthrie graduate should look like?  Once we had dialogue about what our highest aspirations for our children were, then we began trying to derive some definite goals which would guide our educational effort at Guthrie.  This took shape in what eventually we named our Guthrie Graduate Profile (GGP).  It is a framework of knowledge, skills, ways of thinking, and ways of behaving that we deem most likely to prepare our children for full lives of happiness, success, and productivity.

(3) How well are we "aligned" to ensure that our students succeed?  This question was/is used mostly with professional educators and serves as a lens by which we critically evaluate how we use every minute of every school day.  Are we doing things that directly improve student prowess along the five dimensions of the GGP, or are we allowing ourselves to get distracted by the expectations of "others" from places far away from us.  Response to this question has been good and fruitful.  It seems that our educators, in particular, are very open to re-defining education along holistic lines, rather than reducing it to a series of drill and kill exercises meant to improve test scores, not grow strong citizens.

(4) How can/will we know if we're fulfilling our dreams for our students?  This is the toughest of the questions because it turns our attention to assessment.  How will we know we are being successful.  What, for instance, does quality education toward creating Compassionate and Responsible Citizens (one of our GGP dimensions) look like at Grade 1, Grade 4, Grade 8, Grade 11?  What metrics should we be using to assess our success in causing these kinds of learning to gain traction with our students and to push them toward prowess in those areas?
Reporter: Are you throwing state testing out the window, and if you are, is this taking a risk in any way?
Coulter:  Nope, we can't.  The state and federal government exercise jurisdiction over us, both by law and by purse string.  We still teach academic disciplines, and should.  We still take the prescribed tests, and should.  We do not, however, have to be held hostage every minute of every day by those tests.  We do not and will not define our children, our teachers, our community by such a narrow and superficial and flawed approach to education.  In effect, we have made the conscious decision to recalibrate our use of time to focus more on our chosen educational goals and less on those of the state and federal governments.  Not at all surprisingly (to me, anyway), our students do just as well on the high stakes tests as they ever have.
Reporter: You have developed goals and an outline to determine what a Guthrie graduate should look. I believe you call this the "Guthrie CSD Graduate Profile." Discuss this.
Coulter:  Through response to your previous questions I have outlined the history and development of the GGP.  Here are its five dimensions that were distilled from those many conversation over years of time (and continue to be refined/revised annually):

 
Guthrie Graduate Profile  (we desire and deliberately and daily work toward developing our children along these five dimensions):
> Learners/Problems Solvers/Critical Thinkers
> Effective Communicators
> Persons of Strong Character
> Productive and Valuable Team Members
> Compassionate and Responsible Citizens


(Who wouldn't want their children to possess such assets?  What better set of standards by which to conduct school?)
Reporter: Would this plan work for every school district in Texas, including both the rural and metropolitan districts as well as the poor and more affluent districts?
Coulter:  I have worked in schools of all sizes - tiny, mid-size, and huge.  The children in each are remarkably the same.  The parents and communities of each, when asked, describe remarkably similar aspirations for their children and their children's future.  The Guthrie CSD school board has given their full support to this effort, and I believe most other school boards in the state would do the same.  Yes, this is an approach for education that can work in every community.  I would argue that it SHOULD be the approach in every community.
Reporter: You seem to be more than a fan of technology. How is used by the faculty in their different subject areas and what is the student response? Is it truly better than traditional teaching methods?
Coulter: Technology is nothing more than a tool, just like a hammer, a pair of glasses, a windmill, or a car.  Many kinds of tools can and have been used for learning: chalk, pencils, pens, markers, paper, books, and now, the internet.  In the hands of a skillful teacher learning always occurs, no matter what tools she has at her disposal.  In the hands of an ineffective teacher NO tool will offset that deficit.  The availability of technology simply allows teachers and students to work and learn more efficiently and with fewer boundaries.  Just a guess, but I suspect very few of us would, by choice, return to the days of traveling everywhere by horseback or horse-drawn wagon...
Reporter: Returning to the mandated state testing and end-of-course testing. Do Guthrie students perform just as well or better on these? And since it appears that these tests do not hold the same significance to measure student success in your district, are students adversely affected when they apply to different colleges, universities, and other schools of higher learning?
Coulter:  The short answer is that our students do very well on the high-stakes test, and always have.  We have simply chosen MORE for our students by taking this approach to education.  Our teachers continue to teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which is the state's articulation of the kinds of knowledge and skills students should be learning in the academic disciplines.  By expanding our educational effort to the development of the whole child (through the GGP), we are viewing education as simply one of many elements in an integrated and holistic system.  I don't have data to prove it, but I suspect our children are better prepared, holistically speaking, because of our approach to development of the whole being (not just the brain).  Actually, it makes rather good sense, because most of us learn when we move into adulthood that life, success, respect, and happiness are not measured on multiple-choice tests.  They are all the results of our prowess along social, physical emotional, cognitive, and spiritual wellness and attributes (much like those defined in our GGP).
Reporter: Dr. Coulter, do you have any other comments you would like to make?  

Coulter:  Thanks for making me think, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to share some of the great things that are going on for children in the Guthrie Common School District.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mentors


Having a respected and willing mentor is critical to our success, whether we are trying to learn the craft of fly fishing, painting, accounting, management, farming, yoga, leadership or any other endeavor that requires the acquisition of significant skills and knowledge.

Quality mentors can make our learning meaningful, relevant, seamless, and relatively disaster free (not mistake free).

From my experiences both as a mentee and a mentor, a few of my thoughts on what makes for a quality mentor:
  • They truly believes in and desire to see the mentee succeed.
  • They do the work of mentoring for the service, not for the money.
  • They are accessible NOW (not two days from now or next week or next month).
  • They connect seamlessly with the mentee, face-to-face, by phone, email, text,...
  • They share their learning regularly, as well as respond to queries.
  • They teach ways of thinking, not procedures.
  • They function best outside the organizational structure.
  • They help mentees toggle from the BIG picture to the tiniest details constantly.
  • They are honest, but not hurtful, in their feedback.
  • They "coach on the fly" rather than engage in infrequent yet voluminous exchanges.
  • They ask LOTS of good questions.
  • They listen powerfully.
Boy, have I had some great ones to learn from!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Waves


Wave of greeting.
     Waves ripple.
          Ocean waves.
     Waves of good-bye.
Sound waves.
     Wave 'em off.
          Periodic waves.
               Infrared waves.
          Tsunami waves.
     Light waves.
Waves of grief.
     Wavy hair.
          Warning waves.
     Waves of grain.
Heat waves.
     Concentric waves.


Waves are a naturally occurring phenomena.  They indicate the cyclical nature of life.  Waves serve as an equalizing force.  They carry information, energy, sound, heat.  Waves smooth and polish and grind.

 Why do leaders resist and even punish the wave-makers in organizations?