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It’s Easy Being Green

30 Jun

Being a professional educator offers unlimited opportunity to  learn and  grow while inspiring others to do the same. The key to doing this well comes from staying true to one’s colors. In today’s world,  it’s easier said than done. We live in a culture of influence. Forces abound, and there’s always a bandwagon, fad, or gimmick to follow. Living in integrity and working purposefully, requires true knowledge of one’s self, values, and core beliefs.  It’s a matter of knowing  who you are, your home base, and your bottom line. So, how exactly do we figure this out?

When I  seek answers to questions like these,  I look for role models. I seek out those who  exemplify the spirit, and integrity of which I hope to follow.  I turn to the sources which will offer a lesson to challenge, improve, or even inspire  my current practice.  I find inspiration in text.  One such text that’s inspiring and fun  to read is the following:

  • Before You Leap: A Frog’s-Eye View of Life’s Greatest Lessons, by Kermit the Frog

Now, before you begin to wonder why this title, written by a pig-loving Muppet, made it’s way to my professional educator’s blog, let me explain. Jim Henson was a genius, a role model, and an artist. Jim Henson Fraggle Rocked.  Now, I admit, I may be a bit biased since I was a kid of the 70’s, and I’m of  the Muppet generation. I grew up on everything Henson and  proudly toted a Muppet Show lunchbox and matching thermos.  But seriously, the message that this puppeteering master left us, via his amphibious alter-ego, was his unwavering commitment to his mission. Jim Henson never strayed. His true colors shone brightly, and always a swampy  green, of course! The truth is, the world could never accuse him of being anything but himself.  Mr. Henson marched to beat of his own drum, albeit oddly with many friends, down a Street named Sesame.

As I reflect on the life of Mr. Henson,  I find inspiration in his work, and his Muppets. You see, Jim Henson’s success wasn’t accidental. It was a byproduct of living his dream and living in integrity. He knew who he was.   So, what’s the take away? What’s the lesson for us as educators, parents, and students?  How do we stay true to ourselves and work in integrity?  I think the answer lies in a  wonderful quote by Kermit, in which he offers the advice: “Innovate, don’t imitate.” As we listen to the words of Kermit the Frog, we know the true, resonant voice of the master behind those words. So now that we know, let’s go for innovation. Let’s march to the beat of our own drums, down a street of our own choosing.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

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Intended Shades of Gray

28 Jun

During my years as an undergraduate, I remember a story told to me by an art professor of mine. He was a tad esoteric, wildly passionate about painting, and adored color. The story  stuck with me all these years,  and I’ve never ceased to apply the lesson learned.  He told of a time when he needed a large quantity of gray to do some painting around the house.  The project started with a gallon of white and gallon of black. He proceeded to dump the entire can of black into a large 5 gallon bucket, and then dumped the entire can of white into the same bucket.  Guess what happened?

Drum roll please….

He was left with pure black paint–two gallons of it to be exact. Get it? 1 Gallon of Black + 1 Gallon of White = Black.  Now, if he had started with the bucket of white, and only added a few drops of black….well then, we wouldn’t have  a colorful analogy to be  shared here.   That gallon of black paint literally consumed the entire gallon of white.   It’s kind of funny how this basic kindergarten paint mixing lesson seems so obvious now, doesn’t it?

Think of the application this simple paint mishap offers our work, professional lives, and business. Are we inadvertently dumping all our white into the black and not getting the results we’d anticipated? Are we losing valuable resources because we’re investing in the wrong locales?  Do we need to reconsider better use of our people power, energy, and learning? Are we continually allowing our buckets of white  to be consumed by pots of black? So now that we know, let’s make the better use of our paint. Go forth with purpose, in using your time and resources, to masterfully create your intended shades of gray.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

Make Learning the Bottom Line

23 Jun

Today’s world of education is dynamic, challenging, and ever-changing. Every day we serve millions of children in hopes of meeting social, academic, and learning needs.  Individuals in today’s educational system often feel driven by legislation, state mandates, authoritative boards, and the all-mighty greenback. Any educator, who’s been out of (teacher) college more than a mere nanosecond, understands this powerful concept. As we strive to do so much with so little, it’s tempting to feel the pressure, the crunch, and the squeeze. All this can leave us asking, what’s our bottom line?

In the traditional business sense, the standard bottom line is money.  This model is a familiar to us, as it’s a model in which our systems of business, government, and education have been based upon for centuries. The interesting thing is, despite this system which drives our engines, I know money really isn’t everything. I believe our true bottom line is what we value, what we believe in, and the decisions we make which impact children—despite having the fiscal resources. In short, I know our future of education depends on our ability to make a series of good decision which results in student success.  This success will be determined by our ability to keep student, and adult learning,  at the center of all that we do.

As I strive to hold on to learning as my bottom line, I  crack open a well-worn, dog-eared,  “go-to” professional text:

  • Leading Learning Communities (2nd edition 2008), published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

In this text you will find an in-depth description of Principal Standards,  and descriptors for self-assessing your current implementation level of these standards.  The following 5 key elements (and my translation)  break down just this one primary learning standard into actionable items. Each element describes principal practice which supports the learning process for our children, and the adults who educate them:

  1. Stay informed of the continually changing context for teaching and learning. Translation: Keep up with the current. Swim, paddle the rapids, and know what’s going on in education.
  2. Embody learner-centered leadership. Translation: Make no excuses. Support a community in which everybody learns. Period.
  3. Capitalize on the leadership of others. Translation:  Surround yourself by knowledgeable, professional “rock-stars,” and let them be leaders. Believe in your teachers, and let them shine!
  4. Align operations to support student, adult, and school learning needs. Translation: Have the courage to challenge status-quo, and align resources toward high-impact behaviors which ensure student learning every day.
  5. Advocate for efforts to ensure that policies are aligned to effective teaching and learning. Translation: Know your community, know your stakeholders and engage in dialogue, advocacy, and action which matters to student, families, and educators.

So, now that we know the experts attest to the benefits of keeping student and adult learning front and center, what are we to do?  Knowing the research is only the first step. The real impact is realized only when we put the learning, or knowing, into action.  Be courageous in using these 5 key points in your work as a school leader. May you journey well on the path of student success, and be unwavering in your commitment toward leading as if learning is your bottom line.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

Why Another Staff Meeting?

19 Jun

Author Scott Snair describes  the one-on-one  meeting as a “powerful personal vehicle of influence.” This is brilliant, and really a no-brainer in my book. We know that personal interaction is far more meaningful than the whole group-time-sucking-wheel-spinning-stuck-in-the-mud staff meeting. So, why do we continually insist on a culture of traditional staff meetings in the world of K-12 education?

One book I’ve turned to for inspiration, gems of wisdom, and just no-nonsense goodness is the following:

  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motivational Leadership, by Scott Snair

In this text Mr. Snair, a West Point Naval Academy alum, gulf war veteran, and among other things, a leader in the business world, shares the following guidelines for staff meeting criteria. He references an earlier text of his: Stop the Meeting, I Want to Get Off! in which he proposes  a list of questions to answer to help determine  if, a meeting is necessary, or unavoidable. Here’s the punchline:

  1. Are you holding the meeting because that’s the way it’s always been done? Are you giving in to  status quo?
  2. Could the dynamics of the group actually derail the overall  progress?
  3. Can this information be replaced by walking around and talking to folks, on-on-one?
  4. Can this meeting  be replaced by mentoring of individuals?
  5. Can this meeting be replaced by strong leadership?
  6. Can this meeting be replaced by better utilizing organization resources?
  7. Can this meeting be replaced by delegating?
  8. Can this meeting be replaced by better use of information  technology or communication?
  9. Is the meeting being asked by another higher up? Can you deny the request appropriately?

So, after reviewing these questions, you ask if the meeting is 100% percent necessary. If so, then you make it happen.  The next steps include ensuring that you actually follow through with an effective meeting–and clearly understand why most meetings fail, but that’s another post. Keep rolling these questions around in your rock tumbler. I wish you well on you efforts toward planning, executing, and following through with  efficient and effective staff  meetings.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

Chaos Theory, Tension, and Lincoln

17 Jun

Chaos, tension, and strife. These are three things that,  if given the option, we’d attempt to eliminate  from everyday life. There are those exceptional individuals, however, who  find ways to not only cope, but thrive in the midst of chaos. One such individual who comes to mind is Lincoln. Yep, good ‘ol Honest Abe.

Abraham Lincoln, during his tenure as our nation’s leader exemplified expert  management of chaos, tension, and among other things, a war. Lincoln has been described by some as  a Master of Paradox. This point is beautifully illustrated in  of my favorite professional titles:

  • Lincoln on Leadership, by D. Phillips

In this text, Phillips paints a picture of Lincoln in which he mastered the art of paradoxical leadership. Lincoln led his constituents, his troops, and a nation by being unyielding yet flexible. Demanding yet compassionate. A risk-taker yet calculated. Authoritative yet collaborative.  So how was it that Lincoln managed… the chaos, the tension, and strife?  How should we deal with the chaos and tension in our professional lives? Why does is take us so many college degrees, text books, and seminars to figure this out, when Lincoln had this under control way back in the day?

I believe the answer is simple. It’s  because of one thing Lincoln did  better than the rest of us. He  understood people. Did you get that? Lincoln really got it.  Lincoln listened. Lincoln walked with the troops. Lincoln had compassion.  Lincoln just plain rocked.

So, what’s the lesson for us? What are we as educators, school administrators, and  parents to do? First, be like Abe. You  must know who you’re leading. Walk with the troops now and then. Lend them your ear. Listen to what’s important. Know your audience, and perhaps someday, you too with be a master of paradox.  But then again, at the very least,  let’s just hope that chaos, tension, and strive won’t throw you for a loop.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.

The Infinite Probability of Success

16 Jun

The infinite monkey theorem[1] states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

In this context, “almost surely” is a mathematical term with a precise meaning, and the “monkey” is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters ad infinitum. The theorem illustrates the perils of reasoning about infinity by imagining a vast but finite number, and vice versa.

This  leads me to roll the following thoughts around in my rock tumbler…

This infinite monkey theorem demonstrates how we could theoretically experience success if we kept up an attempt, forever. Now if success is possible when given infinite opportunity, it begs the question, who has that much time?  I don’t know about you, but as a school administrator, I must rely on a more practical measure.  It’s imperative we look for shorter term gains, rather than hoping  for success via the theoretical and probable accident. The truth is, we don’t have unlimited time to hunt and peck, one unsuccessful keystroke at a time.  We busy educators need results, sooner than later.

When I need results, I turn to research. I turn to the folks in white lab coats who have more theories, time, and money than me. I turn to experts who study and publish work straight from the think tanks.  A great deal of this research tells us that targeted goal setting, coupled with specific, manageable, and tangible action moves us toward success.

So, what’s this mean for us as professionals? We need practical strategy. Some of my favorite goal-setting tips come from the following books:

  • Strategic Acceleration, by Tony Jeary
  • The Power of Focus, by J. Canfield, M. Hansen, and L. Hewitt

In these texts, we glean these strategies:

  1. Clearly articulate one professional goal. Give it a timeline and purpose.  Make sure  the goal aligns with your core values. If not, chuck it, and start over.
  2. Determine why this professional goal matters. Remember, it only has to matter to you. Don’t be swayed by the next best thing. Bandwagons come and go. March to your own professional drum (even when off-beat).
  3. Determine what needs to be accomplished this month,  this week, and tomorrow. Write it down.
  4. Write a daily behavior which will move you one step closer to this goal. Write it in your daily agenda, calendar, or write it in Sharpie marker on your hand. Do whatever it takes to follow through with the behavior. Think about how you will hold yourself accountable for completing this goal.

These simple steps won’t require you to break a sweat, but will require a bit of brain power, which is a good thing in my book. Let’s be purposeful and not rely on the statistical probability that we could create a masterpiece when given an infinite amount of time. We don’t need a theoretical accident, nor typewriting primate, we just need good strategy–one keystroke at a time. Begin by planning, and acting upon, a daily strategy which will  ensure success, sooner than later.  Here’s to making each keystroke count.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.


[1] Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. (2004, July 22). FL: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved June 16, 2010, from http://www.wikipedia.org

But I Don’t Have Time to Read

15 Jun

This is a common lament of busy professionals everywhere. It’s the frustration felt when urgent demands of  day-to-day work trump everything else…especially reading for professional practice.  So, what’s one to do?

Keep it simple.

Simplicity starts by choosing the right books. Focus on interesting, practical, non-fiction text which won’t require cover-to-cover reading, or in which chapters must only be read in sequence.  Educational journals, and  short, narrative vignettes shine just for this purpose. Start with just 5 minutes a day. Think about fitting reading into your every day life.  Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth, or checking email. Imagine the time it takes  to eat half a bagel, swig down a cup of espresso, or download 3  favorite NPR podcasts.  Now imagine changing your educational practice by purposefully reading professional text in this same time-frame.

Here are 3 examples of non-fiction books suitable for those interested in beginning a practice of professional reading on 5 minutes a day:

  • The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Telling Ain’t Training, by H. Stolovitch & E. Keeps
  • Brain Rules, by John Medina

So now that you know, in only  5 minutes a day, you’ll quickly add  a new title to your professional repertoire every 6-10 weeks. This roughly translates to 5-7 professional texts a year. Chances are, that’s probably a few more texts than you’re currently consuming. There’s no time like the present to get started. Get reading. Time is ticking.

I wish you the best in excellence and instruction.