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Friday, February 27, 2015


Well fed, but malnourished.  That pretty much described me, up until about two years ago.

Here's what I believed for about 30 years:

  • If food or food-like substances were sold at the grocery store they must be healthy, or at least, not harmful.
  • If I exercised enough, I could eat anything I wanted to; the exercise would offset the bad diet.
  • "Low-fat" was the healthiest way to eat.
  • Grains were good for me, whole grains even better.
  • Sugar was OK, especially if I ate it absent from fats.
  • Fats were to be avoided, at all costs; fats eaten would turn into body fat.
Turns out I was wrong on every one of those points.  Not only wrong, but 180 degrees wrong.  I swallowed, hook-line-and-sinker, what the food marketers were telling/selling me.

I was extremely well fed, but absolutely on a death spiral of malnourishment.

Once I abandoned and began eating exactly opposite of those faulty beliefs, and treating food as medicine, my body began to manifest the effects of wholesome nourishment.

And, I'm still well fed.  Better, actually.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Epistemology is one of those high-sounding words that has a much simpler meaning than the formal definitions you can find for it.  In layman's terms it simply means ways of knowing.

Many learning theorists have crafted conceptions of the way knowledge is acquired, stored, and used by us humanoid types.  Examples are Bruner, Bloom, and Erickson.  I won't try to compete with those folks intellectually (because they're WAY smarter than I am), but I do have my own view of the way knowledge gets packaged and used by us learners.

I believe we can think of knowledge in three categories:

  1. Remembered Stuff.  This is content we remember, like the multiplication tables, our favorite dessert, and our anniversary (well, some of us remember that one).
  2. Skills.  This is procedural knowledge like how to bake a cake, or drive a car, or solve a quadratic equation.
  3. Ways of Thinking.  This is the abstract application of knowledge that occurs when we craft solutions to problems new to us, when we make nuanced choices premised on costs-benefit analyses, when we make valued-based judgments, or when we interpret a piece of music.
A real-life example:  
  • Some golfers know the game inside and out.  They know and can talk ALL the technical components. They're good at the Remembered Stuff.  
  • Some golfers can really hit nice shots, but really don't know and can't tell you how the heck they do it. They've got the Skills part down pretty well.
  • Some golfers can SCORE! - with a golf club or they can do it with a hockey stick, in fair weather or poor, on great courses or salt licks.  They may not know the rules and may not be able to replicate performance, but they've got that Ways of Thinking part down.
Ideally, we push ourselves to growth in all three areas, in a very intentional and disciplined way.  That occurs best when we're working and learning with others of similar aspiration, and under the guidance of mentors/teachers/coaches who have mastered all three categories of knowledge.

I would call those folks epistemological wizards.  Thankfully, I've been blessed to know and learn from several of those characters.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Worthy work is centered in the sacred pursuit of service.
Worthy thought stretches our mind to new levels of understanding.
Worthy intention is focused on leaving the world a better place than we found it.
Worthy worship is ever deeper communion with the God of our understanding.
Worthy learning affects greater skills and richer thought.
Worthy speech uplifts - others and ourselves.
Worthy love gives more than it takes.

Worthiness in any of those dimensions implies betterness, growth, building up.

Unworthiness in any of those dimensions lessens us, and thus, others.  

Always, ALWAYS, we get to choose.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


For several years now I have been striving to use more precise language in my communications.  I am painfully aware of how often those in leadership positions use nuanced language, abstractions, vagaries, and downright misleading language to either hoodwink others or to avoid accepting any sort of accountability for their decisions/positions. 

When we communicate with others, it is not only important that we be clear about what we are saying, we must also be diligent in using language that is understandable to the varying audiences we address.  

I once took a group of honor students on an outing, which included dinner at a nationally known chain restaurant.  One of the young men excused himself to go to the restroom.  He very quickly returned and discreetly sidled up to me, speaking quietly in my ear:  "Mr. Coulter, am I a bloke or a sheila?"

The signage on the restroom door was, in fact, simple and clear.  However, it was not easily decipherable to all of the intended receivers of the message (and this young man was very intelligent - he just didn't comprehend the language).

Being succinct, crisp, precise, and understandable to those who would give us their ear, their attention, perhaps even their time and effort, is extremely important.  

That is, if we actually want to be understood.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Having charaded as a football coach for 15 years early in my professional career, I found it amazing that thousands of young men show up for two-a-day football practices in the Texas heat each summer.  Even more perplexing is the number of those young men that do so knowing full well that the deck is stacked against them.  Many of these teams know their prospects of having a great season are nil, and even of having an average season are minimal.

Yet, show up they do.  Work they do.  Sweat, bleed, struggle, they do.

I once posed the question of why all those youngsters undertake such a daunting task, with such high risk of failure, to a large high school faculty.

After several awkward moments of pondering, the old offensive line coach signaled to me that he thought he knew the answer.  His response:  "They do it for Friday nights.  For the chance to perform under the lights."

Of course they do!  Whenever we give students the chance to somehow display their work in front of an audience, the level of engagement goes up, the level of work goes up, and the quality of work goes up.  

Same goes for us old folks.  Our game improves when we know others will be watching. 

Somebody turn on the lights.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


I recently read The Spiritual Dimension of Leadership: 8 Key Principles of Leading More Effectively by Houston and Sokolow (2006).  

In this book, the authors articulate eight principles they believe can and should drive the thinking, the talk, and the behavior of those in leadership positions.  They assert that those principles are grounded in a spiritual understanding and can only be optimally practiced from a spiritual mindset. 

Those eight principles are:

  1. Intention
  2. Attention
  3. Unique Gifts and Talents
  4. Gratitude
  5. Unique Life Lessons
  6. Holistic Perspective
  7. Openness
  8. Trust
Resonating takeaways for me from this book:
  • Our "energy" follows our attention.
  • The most powerful messages are the simplest ones.
  • Improvement is a daily undertaking.
  • Expressing genuine gratitude is both an enriching and an empowering act.
  • In life, the lesson follows the test. In school, the test follows the lesson. School should be more lifelike.
  • Leadership is about connecting dots, seeing patterns, being open to other perspectives, understanding the whole and the parts all at once, and, somehow, enabling others to do the same.
  • It's ALL personal.
  • Biases, preconceptions, prejudices, anger, and resentment disable us.
  • Build floors under others, not ceilings over them.
  • WE get to choose the level of interaction on which we engage others.
My favorite quote:
“In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” – Martin Luther King, Speech from Birmingham Jail

Saturday, February 21, 2015


I had one of those moments this week in which I got stumped.

A local newspaper reporter asked to interview me after hearing that I was leaving superintendent work to re-direct my energies in other pursuits.  He pitched the expected questions having to do with my motivations for the decision and my plans for the future.

But then, he stumped me.  He asked for me to identify three and only three accomplishments that I thought notable from my service as superintendent of Guthrie Common School District over the last six years.  Hmmm.  I was bumfuzzled because I don't at all think of OUR accomplishments as my accomplishments.  I told him I could identify some very worthy undertakings we had engaged in as a professional team and as a school community, but that I felt that I only played a small role in the process.  I view myself as only one player on a rather remarkable team.

Furthermore, I prefer to use the word undertakings because the word accomplishment suggests that something is completed or finished.  Our collective undertakings are but works in progress, nothing near completion.

With those qualifiers,  three things loom large in my mind as significant undertakings WE are engaged in at Guthrie CSD:

  1. We are deliberately fostering a Culture of Learning, that centers on students, what they know, what they can do, how they think, and how they behave.  Our culture frees teachers from the pathology of standardized madness, and gives them the autonomy to teach well, teach deeply, and teach ways of thinking/behaving (none of which can be measured by standardized tests).
  2. We developed the Guthrie Graduate Profile to codify what we value and what we aspire for our children as they spend 13 years moving through the Guthrie CSD version of "schooling."
  3. We have embarked on a journey of Holistic Wellness, for our students, for our school staff, and for our community.  That wellness-centric focus encompasses the physical, intellectual, and spiritual/emotional health of our entire community.
What a blessed man I am to have gotten to "play" on such a team and to participate in such a community!

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Clarity results when we...
  • Think often and deeply about our principles/values.
  • Come up against what are obviously life-impacting decisions.
  • Fail at something important.
  • Succeed at something important.
  • Are pressed to reflection by a valued mentor.
  • Have a scrape with death (our own or that of a loved one).
Clarity evades us when we...
  • Are too busy to THINK.
  • Forsake or forget our values.
  • Spend too much time/effort on the mundane.
  • Neglect our loved ones.
  • Lose sight of the "main thing."
Life is better when we view and live it with clarity.  And that view is completely within our control.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


I remember reading a short story as an elementary student about a person who died in a blizzard, only a few yards from their home.  There are many similar accounts of people dying in blizzards, only a short distance from safety.

I can't help but draw an analogy between these literal blizzard-deaths and the figurative ones I've seen befall leaders in organizations.  The typical scenario is that circumstances/crises (i.e., blizzards) envelope these leaders, who end up being overwhelmed in the milieu.  They end up losing their credibility and/or position as a result.

It seems to me that two conditions portend these blizzard-deaths (both the literal kind and the figurative kind):

  1. The person/leader either loses or lets go of their moorings, their bearings.  In the literal deaths, they simply cannot see how close to home/safety they are because of the storm.  In the figurative blizzard-death, the leader loses touch with his/her moral anchors, his/her principles, and becomes "blinded" by the overwhelming crisis.
  2. In almost all these blizzard-death cases (both literal and figurative), the victim was trying to go it alone.  For whatever reason, they found themselves in the midst of an overwhelming storm, without others to help, support, and guide them.
We need not allow ourselves to succumb to those two conditions.  To avoid such tragedy we must 1) constantly renew and revisit our values, as they serve as beacons that guide us in overwhelming circumstances, and 2) cling to those who love, support, and sojourn with us, as they will be the ones to help us find our way through the inevitable storms.

The sun will come out, the warmth will return, but we'll only be there to enjoy both if we insulate ourselves against blizzard-death.

Friday, February 13, 2015


In my first high school principalship  (Jayton High School in Jayton, Texas), I invested a lot of time and effort in "coaching" our student leaders on the campus.  I steadily hammered them with the concept that "to whom much is given, much is required."

As part of that leadership coaching process, I encouraged our cheerleaders to make sure that they removed and appropriately disposed of the spirit signs they would hang on the bleachers and fences at the stadiums of our opponents.  After a couple of games, I noticed that our band began cleaning up the portion the bleachers where they were seated during ballgames.

It wasn't long before I started receiving letters from principals, superintendents, even political officials from the communities we competed against, praising our students for their acts of service.

Of course, I shared those letters with our students and faculty.  Shortly thereafter, I noticed that our cheerleaders and band, of their own accord, began "sweeping" the whole visitors side of the stadium when we played elsewhere.  They combed the visitors bleachers from end to end, cleaning them of all trash and debris.  Surprisingly, even community members began joining our students in those acts of public service.

Watching that dynamic of infectious leadership centered on service to others, triggered by the student leaders in our school, is one of the highlights of my years of service as a school administrator.  The memory of watching those students sweeping the bleachers after a game (win or lose) still makes me emotional.  They were enacting one of the purest and simplest forms of servant leadership.

But then, aren't ALL acts of authentic leadership rooted in the soil of service?

Thursday, February 12, 2015


With some regularity I field interview questions.  Happened to me again today.  The exchange is below:

1) How do you advocate, nurture, and sustain a district culture and instructional program conducive to student learning through collaboration, trust, and a personalized learning environment with high expectations for students?

Communication is the vehicle by which leaders travel – either successfully or not.  The verbs in your question – advocate, nurture, and sustain – only become realities through effective communication.  Schools are organized, built, funded, and staffed for one reason and one reason only:  LEARNING.  When leaders have that understanding tattooed onto their soul, it becomes the centerpiece of their communications.  When communications along those lines become predominant and pervasive and when others perceive those communications as inherently heartfelt, then the collaboration and trust follow.  Learning is always a personal endeavor (if one believes in constructivist theory), but the richest learning environments honor the personalness of learning and strive to craft learning tasks that embody that reality.

2) How do you create and evaluate a comprehensive, rigorous, and coherent curricular and instructional district program?

Communications is the tool by which the curricular-instructional program is created.  Thousands of conversations (not mandates or directives) must occur to develop a common understanding of what the best approaches are to affect personal and customized learning for each child AND each adult.

3) How do you develop and supervise the instructional and leadership capacity across the district?

Dr. John Gardner says that the fundamental responsibility of leaders is to “manage the attention” of the organization.  Moving from that abstraction to something a bit more concrete, I believe the fundamental tasks of leaders should always be centered on developing those around them.  Specifically, helping others develop their God-given gifts to the fullest.  If those gifts lie in the domains of instruction and leadership, so be it.  If they lie in other areas, so be it.  This means that the leader must know those who work with him/her well - well enough to identify their gifts.  Then, opportunities and work assignments must be devised/revised to accentuate and accelerate those gifts.  

4) How do you promote the most effective and appropriate district technologies to support teaching and learning within the district?

Technology is nothing more than a tool.  Pencils represent technology, spiral notebooks are a technology, air conditioning is a technology, as are phones, buses, iPADs, projectors, and graphing calculators.  Those who work in schools – which exist only for the purpose of learning – must strive to use any and all technologies available to advance learning.  Some technologies are more robust than others, to be sure.  For instance, long division with pencil and paper can be used to find quotients; so can calculators.  A handsaw can be used to cut down a tree; so can a chain saw.  The trick, from the learning perspective, is to choose the technology/tool that is most aligned to the learning outcome one is trying to achieve. 

5) How do you maintain on-going and effective communication with the educational community?

I tend to talk the same talk whether I’m talking to teachers, elementary students, business leaders, secondary students, parents, graduate students, or school administrators.  The vocabulary and register may change, but the message is always the same: Our job is to take each student and adult that walks into our schools and optimize their learning – period.

6) How do you support your campus principal’s in implementing PLC’s on their campuses?

Schools have cultures.  Some have cultures centered on learning (the intent of PLCs) and some are centered on other things.  In my view, it is more important to help principals learn (there’s that development thing again) about how cultures morph and change and ebb and flow, and how the principal's words, actions, and intentions get reflected in that cultural evolution than it is to try to teach them how to build structures (e.g., PLCs) that become bogus and hollow without the underlying leadership understanding.  Another way of saying this (simpler, I hope) is that I believe it more important to help principals understand how to create the conditions that support PLC-like behavior than it is to create a PLC in structure.

7) How and what do you celebrate in your district?

Rituals are a fundamental contributor to culture.  If the culture we desire is a culture of learning, then our rituals should be built around learning successes.  Celebrating success can be as simple as a thank you note and as extravagant as a banquet.  Acknowledging and affirming learning must be the driver behind all those celebrations, whether it’s praise for a 1st grader who reads to you in your office, or to an instructional aide who earns a bachelors degree, or a teacher who gains administrative credentials, or a class of graduating seniors.  Learning has to be the common denominator of the celebrations.

8) What questions drive the work of the teams in your district?

How can we be better at making learning happen today than we were yesterday?

9) What evidence shows that your district practices are aligned with your district’s priorities?

Soft data like collaborative learning at all age levels, improved communication skills across grade levels, manifestations of service and compassion and affiliation, expressions and demonstrations of adherence to commonly adopted values (see the Guthrie Graduate Profile at
http://www.guthriejags.com/profile.html for the details) provide evidence of alignment to our priorities. Hard data like attendance rates, graduation rates, academic performance data, college and workplace success, ACT/SAT offer a different view of success, though no more or less important than the soft data.

10) What procedures are in place when you experience failures in your district?

When we fail, we reflect.  We ask why, and look for root causes for those failures.  We don’t ask why with intent to blame.  Failure is a fundamental part of the learning process.  And, yes, LEARNING is the purpose of our existence.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Service to others is the most powerful gift we can give.

Service is rendered in many forms:

  • Teaching others what we have learned.
  • Helping others accomplish worthy goals.
  • Sharing our God-given talent(s) often and in many ways.
  • Developing others to their fullness.
  • Trusting others.
  • Connecting others to enlarge their network.
  • Affording others opportunities to grow.
  • Ministering to others who have suffered or are in need.
  • Listening, without judgment.
  • Forgiving, as needed.
  • Loving, unconditionally.
Once we are the beneficiaries of such service, we are then compelled to both reciprocate and radiate the same, within our circle of influence.

The size of that circle of influence is immaterial.  The enactment of that service is immensely consequential.

To serve in that manner is to approach life in its fullness.  To withhold service is the fountainhead of decay.

As always, we get to choose.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Some folks are better at starting things and others are better at finishing them.

In building, some guys are really skillful at getting the foundation and framework of a building done.  They are often not very good at the finish work, like flooring, cabinetry, and painting.  Other guys do the finish work.  Both skill sets are absolutely essential to producing a quality building.  Both kinds of mindsets are required.  Neither is more important than the other.

In baseball, some pitchers are great at starting the game, picking off batters, throwing pitches that keep the ball "in the park" and base runners off the bases.  Other pitchers are great at finishing, throwing 100-mile-per-hour fastballs that one can barely see, much less hit.  However, they couldn't (with rare exceptions) do that for seven or eight or nine innings.  Both kinds of skills are necessary to win baseball games, and both kinds of mindsets are necessary for success.  Neither is more important than the other. 

Pick your profession, pick your endeavor.  The same sort of starters-finishers dichotomy exists.

To be sure, there are other "roles" and other "role players" that fit somewhere along the continuum between starters and finishers.  The point, however, is this:  we need each kind of "player" on a successful team.  They all bring something unique and important to the task.

And, of course, none is more important than any of the others.

Monday, February 9, 2015


There was a time when...
  • Three television networks owned the airwaves.
  • Aspiring musicians had get "discovered" and promoted.
  • Print media controlled the news.
  • A few publishers decided what got read, and who would write it.
  • Select universities cornered the "talent" market.
  • Your product had to be vetted and blessed by some cadre of "experts."
  • You couldn't access the world's marketplace or attention without someone else's permission.
  • To be successful, you almost had to have connections. 
No more.

Now we can find whatever it is we're looking for.  We can learn from whomever we want.  We can learn whatever we want.  We can produce, write, play, build, and share whatever we decide to.  We can do all those things without asking anyone's permission.

It is now a VERY FLAT WORLD.  Gone are all those gatekeepers and barriers.  Gone also is the safety of excuse making.  No one can hold you back.........but you.

Whatcha wanna be?  Whatcha wanna do?  Whatcha waiting for?