Thursday, November 27, 2014

ProcessOfLearning

The year was 1988 and I was pretending to be a math teacher, athletic director, and head football coach at a school on the rolling plains of Texas.  The assistant superintendent of that school asked me and three other faculty members to attend a workshop in April of that year.  The training was dedicated to helping schools meet the needs of at-risk students.

I agreed to attend.  Only then was I informed that the training would be a whole week in length.  Yep, five whole days away from my math students and athletic teams during the month of April.  That's a tall order for an educator.  I began to have second thoughts about participating, but stuck with the commitment anyway.

I learned a lot of important stuff that week.  About the antecedents to at-risk-edness.  About the ways schools can address both the root causes and the symptoms of at-risk-edness.  About myself - as a teacher, as a coach, as a parent, as a school leader.

Each of the five days of that training the presenter began the day with exactly the same sentence:  "This is a process, not an event."

He understood that each of the folks in that training (around 60 of us, from a wide range school districts) were each working in different schools, with different contexts, with different students, and working from different experiences personally.  In effect, he understood and overtly stated daily, so that we would begin to understand, that learning is a process.  It has no beginning point, and it certainly has no ending point.  It occurs in fits and starts, and it is inseparably intertwined with our personal contexts. 

Yep, I learned a great deal that week.  The most profound lesson for me was the realization that LEARNING (mine and yours) is a process, not an event.

I am profoundly thankful that BillieM pushed me to attend that training, and even more thankful that some 26 years later I still get to learn with/from her.  It's a process, you know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MainThing

The late Stephen Covey is oft quoted as saying, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."  Truly, in that sentence he captured the essence of focus (or lack thereof), both in personal and organizational life.

In the school I currently serve (Guthrie Common School District in Guthrie, Texas) we have spent the last three years developing and striving toward our fundamental goal for our students, which we call the Guthrie Graduate Profile (GGP).  We attempt to embed within the fabric of our daily work a persistent, underlying drumbeat of developing the whole child, refusing to let our work and school be centered only on academic content.

Aligned to that singular pursuit, our practice has been to dedicate two or three days per year in which we assemble as a whole school, students of all grade levels and all the instructional staff, to turn our attention fully to that GGP.  Today was one of those days in which we focused our collective attention on the GGP as we considered, examined, discussed, and digested the GGP through a wide range of learning tasks and through multiple lenses.

That process was and is our attempt to keep our attention on what we believe is the main thing - the GGP.

Covey was right:  The main thing really is to keep the Main Thing the MAIN THING,


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Inertia

Inertia happens!  In life and in work.  We sometimes hit that spot where we feel stymied, stumped, paralyzed, unable to git-r-done.

But, why?  Experience indicates a number of antecedents to inertia:

  • We lose our passion.
  • We allow ourselves to become de-energized.
  • We begin to settle for average.
  • We get "comfortable."
  • We stop pushing our limits.
  • We quit learning new stuff.
  • We forget what our goals are/were.
  • We forsake trying something new.
  • We grow tired of what we're doing.
  • We get centered on "self" instead of focusing on service to others.
It's actually a self-imposed malady.  We allow ourselves to slip into that mindset when we forsake our self-discipline.  The good news is we are also the only ones that can jettison ourselves out of that state.

So, how do we fight through the inertia?  
Look at that bulleted list above, pick two or three or five of those items and 
DO THE OPPOSITE.  
It's simply a choice; nothing more, nothing less.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

MyBestTeachers

What a blessed man I have been to have had many wonderful teachers during my lifetime.  Those teachers have come in many forms and existed in many contexts.  Like...teachers, parents, pastors, coaches, spouse, mentors, my kids, students, tutors, counselors, friends, and pets.

The best ones share some commonalities, though I'm pretty sure they didn't all exhibit these traits in a deliberate way.  But exhibit them they did.

Here are some of those common learning catalysts:

  • They fostered curiosity in me by modeling it.
  • They let me know, in many ways, that they cared about me and about my learning.
  • They watched over me during the learning process, but didn't coddle me.
  • They asked really good questions (that couldn't be answered in a multiple-choice format).
  • They allowed me to fail, but made it relatively safe to do so.
  • They challenged me, through their words, through their actions, through the learning tasks they laid before me.
  • They encouraged me and cheered me on.
  • They somehow got me to connect the dots between the new learning and the old, and to ways that learning might transfer.
  • They never gave up on me.
  • They loved me (or, at least, they did a really good job of faking it).
Yep.  This guy is one lucky lead learner.

Monday, November 17, 2014

TheDivorce

About a year and half ago, the folks in the school I serve (Guthrie Common School District in Guthrie, Texas) began conversations about the importance of nutrition in the current and future health of our children.   These conversations were an outgrowth of our decisions to educate our children according to our own, locally derived learning standards, which we call the Guthrie Graduate Profile.   

Our learning journey toward better health and sustainable well-being has been interesting, invigorating, infuriating, and enlightening.  Like most public schools in our nation, we subscribed to the national school lunch program (i.e., federally subsidized meals).  As such we were compelled to comply with the nutritional standards prescribed by that program.  As we learned more about the impact of wholesome, "clean" food on our bodies, our minds, and, yes, even our emotional states, we became more and more convinced that the national school lunch program was designed more with the goal of maintaining the health of the profit margins of the food industry than it was about the health of our children.

Thus, we divorced ourselves from the school lunch program.

What we have done instead is change the kinds and quality of foods we feed our children (and staff) every day through the Guthrie CSD school cafeteria.  

The foods we NOW feed our children:

  • Only organically grown vegetables and fruits (no pesticides, no herbicides).
  • Only grass-fed and grass-finished meats (no hormones, no antibiotics).
  • Organic dairy products.
  • Eggs from pastured chickens.
  • Clean, healthy fats (i.e., real butter, avocados, coconut oil, raw nuts, etc.).
  • Only whole milk.
  • Only natural sweeteners (i.e. organic maple syrup, xylitol, stevia, etc.).

    The foods we STOPPED feeding our children:

    • Processed sugars of all kinds (and there are over 50 of those).
    • Any grain, fruit, or vegetable that was/is genetically modified.
    • Sugared drinks, any milk stripped of the natural fats, flavored milks.
    • Gluten-laden foods.
    • Virtually no meat that was commercially fed.
    • Most grain-based products.
    • Margarine and vegetable-based oils.
    Evidence seen to date:  67% perfect attendance among students during the first six weeks, 69% perfect attendance among students for the second six weeks.

    Has this change in practice/thinking been challenging?  You bet.
    Has it been worth it?  Absolutely.
    Are we still learning?  Indeed.






    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    SimpleRules

    I was watching a television documentary about 15 years ago that moved me deeply.  A family in Wisconsin (I think) had adopted not one, not two, but 12 children over the years.  Moreover, every one of those dozen children had some kind of challenging, life-impacting condition.  One was blind, another had cerebral palsy, a third had deformed arms, etc.  These special needs children ranged in ages from one to 18.

    The journalist in the documentary was interviewing the parents and all the children who were capable of responding.  His questions probed the motivations of the parents, the systems used by the family to function, and the dynamics of living in such a challenging environment.

    Two of those responses have lingered with me for the last 15 years:
    1. When the journalist asked the parents Why? - Why so many?  Why such challenging children? Why such a broad age range?  Why such diversity of needs? - their response was simple and heart-warming:  "We've got more than enough love to share."  Wow!
    2. The journalist posited to the 18-year-old boy with Down's Syndrome that living in such a diverse and challenging family dynamic must require an elaborate set of interactional rules and protocols.  The young man simply shook his head and said, "No, sir, we just have one rule in our family."  Puzzled, the journalist asked what such a powerful rule might be.  The boy's response: "If you're making your brothers and sisters cry, then you're probably doing something wrong."
    I have adopted both of these simple axioms and tried to apply them in my life, personally and professionally:
    1. I can never give away too much love.  The more I give, the more I have to share.
    2. If I'm making my brothers and sisters cry, I'm probably doing something wrong. 

    Saturday, November 8, 2014

    Crazy

    We go crazy when...

    • Others "just don't get it."
    • We lose touch with reality.
    • We don't understand why.
    • The tasks and the outcomes don't seem to mesh.
    • The effort/thinking/motivations are scattered all over the place.
    • Decisions make absolutely no sense.
    • Hurting others becomes the norm.
    • We can't seem to get all the pieces to "fit."
    • The workload seems all askew.
    • Complaining trumps complimenting.
    • A sense of futility pervades.
    • The work is simply undoable.
    • The boss is completely disconnected.
    Sound like some work places you've seen?  Or been a part of? Me, too.

    Craziness is both cause and effect of depression (in humans and in organizations).

    Now for the million dollar question:  How do I contribute to the craziness?
    And a second million dollar question:  How can I stop contributing to the craziness?

    Turning toward sanity (i.e., getting better) starts with me - one word, one act, one step, one thought, one decision at a time.

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    Dreamers&Doers

    Every team needs both dreamers and doers. Here's why:

    Dreamers...
    Help us see what might be.
    Cause us to think about sustainability.
    Challenge us to "get started."
    Push boundaries.
    Shake up the status quo.
    Imagine BIG futures.
    Assume that risks and failures are part of the process.

    Doers...
    Help us stay focused.
    Keep us organized.
    Are goal-oriented.
    Show us "how" to get it done.
    Make and own decisions.
    Tighten the processes.
    Take care of the customers.

    Every organization needs both, for wellness and for survival.

    Organizations that don't have both are already circling the drain.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2014

    MessCleaners

    My lovely bride of 37 years (Moe) is a retired teacher.  While teaching in the Austin, Texas, area in 2006, Moe asked one of her 2nd graders what kind of work her dad did for a living.  The youngster replied that her dad was a janitor.  The little girl said that whenever she asked her dad what he did at work, the answer was always the same: "Baby, I clean up messes all day."  

    In fact, the girl's dad did spend a great deal of his time cleaning up messes.  Just not the kinds of messes that janitors and custodians deal with.  Turns our her dad was an executive at a multi-national computer company.

    Leadership entails a healthy dose of mess cleaning.  

    Messes get made when:

    • Important messages get miscommunicated or misinterpreted.
    • The processes/protocols of an organization get misaligned with its mission and/or vision.
    • Incentives end up rewarding the least productive or those who game the system.
    • Workplaces become toxic.
    • Self preservation trumps collective endeavor.
    • Motives become divorced from the goals of the organization.
    Leaders who are diligent and consistent (even persistent) 
    about messaging, 
    about building and sustaining positive relationships, 
    about recognizing and honoring effort as well as achievement, 
    about insisting on authenticity and integrity (and model the same), 
    still have to spend time cleaning up messes.  

    But leaders who fail in those critical leadership manifestations spend a lot more time cleaning up messes. 

    Tuesday, November 4, 2014

    CircleMaker

    A parent from the school I serve (Guthrie CSD in Guthrie, Texas) passed a book along to me a couple of months ago.  The title of the book was The Circle Maker (Mark Batterson, 2011).




    In the book Batterson examines the role of prayer in the Christian life.  Through reference to scriptural stories and through anecdotal experience, he provides interesting assertions about the need, the causes, and the effects of prayer.

    Having been raised in the Christian faith, and having worshiped with those of various Christian "dialects," I have seen and experienced the act of prayer from many perspectives over the last half decade. 

    Some of my current musings about prayer:

    • Prayer is more about communion with the God of my understanding than it is about asking for or receiving tangible/intangible benefits.
    • Prayer is more about "centering" myself in the will of God than it is about God running my life.
    • Prayer heightens my awareness of both how insignificant I am in the universe and how important I am in the relational tapestry of life.
    • Prayer makes me acutely aware of how dependent I am on the God of my understanding, and on the interconnected systems God has crafted.
    • Prayer magnifies my "oneness" with others of like mind and like spirit.
    • Prayer humbles and inspires me.
    Thanks for sharing this book with me, MJ.  You pushed my learning.

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    Farmacology

    I recently read a remarkable book titled Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing (Miller, 2013).



    Dr. Daphne Miller, a physician, began to search for answers as she struggled with the reality of her patients not getting better in response to conventional medical interventions.  Her questions (and frustrations) led her on a journey of conversations with sustainable farmers around the planet.  Conversation by conversation, Dr. Miller became convinced that our health is inextricably tied to the health of the food we eat, which is inextricably tied to the health of the soil in/on which it is grown.

    Some of the big takeaways for me from this book:

    • A healthy farm is like a series of conversations - between microbes and plants, between plants and animals, between flora and humans, between animals and humans.
    • Healthy humans come from healthy foods, which come from healthy soils.  
    • Healthy food diversity itself bolsters the human autoimmune systems. 
    • Animals raised in natural, free-ranging environments are healthier and produce healthier food products.
    • The very act of raising our own food is therapeutic, in effect.  So is the act of preparing our own food.
    • Caring for the farm should be more important than caring for anything the farm can produce. (Same logic applies to our relationships with other humans, by the way).
    • Diversity, synergy, and redundancy are the critical, interconnected components of resilient ecology. 
    An excellent read.