Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 4 – Take the Short Way Home… It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 4

Take the Short Way Home… It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


Let us put this moment in context. Indiana Jones is racing against time to find the Ark of the Covenant before it can be delivered to Hitler and the Nazis. World War II is brewing. The Allies are good. Nazis are bad. There are decidedly not “some very fine people” among them.

The stakes are life and death.

The work of being a leader is rarely life and death, though it can be. Typically, leaders can arrive at decisions in reasoned and calm fashion, weighing fact and opinions, judging options, making determinations. Leaders often have time in which to lead and space from which to do it.

And those around leaders have opinions. They have suggestions. They have plans of their own, facts and theories and recommendations.

And they should. None of that is bad.

However, there are times when what surrounds decision-making, what encompasses leadership, what slows down the process is too much information, too copious opinions, too many cooks.

Sometimes a leader must simply cut through what is unimportant and superfluous.

Sometimes a leader recognizes that what is happening is distraction and needs to be stopped so a decision can be reached and action can be taken. Being decisive is not always easy. Sometimes there are costs. But leaders know when to act.

Which brings us back to Indiana Jones. World War II. Nazis. Evil.

And a leader who knows what needs to be done.

Read the following as metaphor… and cut through the red tape. Make decisions. Take action.

Teach & Serve III, No. 8 – One-on-One

Teach & Serve III, No. 8

One-on-One

September 27, 2017

She was frustrated that I had pulled her aside in public, as-it-were, that I had not scheduled a time with her to talk, that I had set her day off in a bad direction, taking a moment from her harried morning made her day all the more complicated. She asked me why I had not put something on the calendar to speak with her one-on-one.

My first role as a young and inexperienced administrator was Dean of Students (which, in the context in which I was working was Dean of Discipline) for an all-girls high school. We were a small, start-up and we all wore many hats, as it were, during the first years of the school’s existence. Our administrative team was small, so much work was more than being Dean, it crossed over into teacher supervision and other, like tasks.

I do not remember why I felt I had to ask a teacher about an issue one morning. I do not even recall what the issue was, but I think it was disciplinary – something about a student. What I remember completely is having that teacher’s name on my mind to talk to, running into her in the hallway as she was on her way to class, taking a moment or two of her time, having the conversation and going on my merry way, satisfied that I had taken care of whatever it was I felt I had to take care of.

The teacher was in my office asking for a meeting at the end of that self-same school day.

I took the meeting.

She was frustrated that I had pulled her aside in public, as-it-were, that I had not scheduled a time with her to talk, that I had set her day off in a bad direction, taking a moment from her harried morning made her day all the more complicated. She asked me why I had not put something on the calendar to speak with her one-on-one.

As I mentioned, I do not remember what the issue was, but I know that if the issue had been of the “car-on-fire” variety – something that had to be dealt with in the moment, immediately – I would recall that.

No, this was something that I thought needed to be addressed, but I addressed it when I did and how I did simply because I ran into the teacher, not with more forethought than that.

That was a mistake and one I hold on to over a decade after it happened.

There are times that we as teachers and administrators feel we must “grab” someone as we see them – in the hallway or at lunch or the like – because our days our packed and our time is limited. But we ought to limit those types of encounters inasmuch as possible. These kind of impromptu conversations and connections may help us cross items from our lists, but they leave no time for the person with whom we are speaking to consider, to prepare, to fully participate.

Yes, our schedules are full. They might even have more ports-of-call than our colleagues’ schedules do. Yes, we have much to accomplish, but so do they. Yes, we have to get things done. Our colleagues must get things done, too. We have to take all of this into account when we wish to speak with someone.

Our default should be talking to people in scheduled, one-on-one conversations. Our default should be making our schedules work with theirs. Our default should be going to their spaces, not making them come to our.s

This is not too much to ask. It is courteous. It is helpful. It is professional. Surely, as leaders, we are up to it.

EduQuote of the Week: September 25 – October 1, 2017

Active Aging Week

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.

– James Baldwin

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Teach & Serve III, No. 7 – Intimidation

Teach & Serve III, No. 7

Intimidation

September 20, 2017

I do not want to follow a leader who thinks that the best way to engender loyalty is to intimidate those being led.

And I won’t.

I have written about this anecdote before, but I had cause to consider it anew this week.

When I first was hired as an administrator, I had a conversation with my uncle who, for years, had been Dean of the Math Department at a midwestern public university. He had well over 40 professors and adjuncts in his department and there was much to manage.

My uncle, a very bright, very tall man, said to me: “Sometimes, use the height.”

“What’s that?”

“Sometimes use your height.”

I am a tall man as well, taller than my uncle, actually, but I still did not take his meaning.

“When things get out of hand, if I am sitting in a meeting, I just stand up. That tends to quiet the room.”

“Ah,” I said. “Thanks.”

It sounded like a pretty good strategy to me. Rise up. Indicate displeasure. Control the room.

I do not, however, remember ever using this technique. I am sure I did.

15 years later, I wonder about it. I hate to overthink it, but it does seem to me like a move that is meant to intimidate. I am tall. I am taller than you. I exert my authority.

Okay, okay. No big deal. It is not like my uncle pounded on tables (I do not believe he did, anyway) and it is not like I ever did, either (if I did, I have conveniently blocked those times out of my memory).

This is not a bad strategy. It is not offensive. It is just fine especially if one does not find oneself standing up all the time to control a room or reset a meeting. See, I believe the only reason a strategy like that would work in the first place is because those being led respect the leader enough to care what he or she is doing, standing or sitting.

There are some leaders, though, who believe that their leadership originates from a place of power. Some who believe the only reason they are followed at all is because of the title on their lanyard, the name plate on their door, the position they hold. There are some leaders who believe their positions grant them all the authority they need to be leaders, to be called “boss,” to be in charge.

And those leaders, in my opinion, tend to rely on leadership techniques that intimidate, that divide, that defeat. Frankly, though initially those being led might be “defeated” by these tactics, it is my experience that, in the end, leading from intimidation is almost always self-defeating.

Is there a place in leadership to exert one’s authority? Of course there is. Often leaders need to. But if that is the primary mode of operation – if intimidation in leadership is seen as a useful tool, not a last resort – that is a problem.

I do not want to follow a leader who thinks that the best way to engender loyalty is to intimidate those being led.

And I won’t.

Nor will most others. For long.

EduQuote of the Week: September 18 – 24, 2017

Keep Kids Creative Week

Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics.

– Victor Pinchuk

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 3 – All the World’s Waiting for You

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 3

All the World’s Waiting for You

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


It is very difficult to remember that, before Wonder Woman was released this past summer, the movie was considered something of a gamble. I will not delve too deeply into the sociological impacts of these concerns, but they were clearly related to the fact that films starring women in lead roles and films directed by women simply do not draw wide audiences. Add to this the fact that superhero movies have been specifically designed to feature men and one can understand that concerns.

They were for naught.

Wonder Woman became the hit of the summer, grossing more than any other film and becoming one of the biggest hits Warner Bros has ever had.

Very cool.

But let us not lose the thread here: the character has an over 75 year publishing history, is one of the most recognizable characters in the world and, most importantly, stands for something.

Wonder Woman’s roots are in peace. She is a character designed to bring peace. And, as imagined in the movie, she also brings joy.

This was an amazing film. It presented a character – a woman – who is powerful, intelligent and strong. She is the driving force of the movie and she is devastated by her perception that humanity does not want to be better, to be joyful, to be peaceful. She is terrified by the idea that people wallow in their situations without being thankful, without being grateful, without being joyful.

And, when she is about to turn away from that society, when she is faced with the reality, she chooses instead to overcome her preconceptions and to fight for justice and peace.

What is amazing about this is that, in the hands of a lesser director than Patty Jenkins and a lesser actor than Gal Gadot, this could all seem naïve and silly.

It does not.

Wonder Woman stands as a reminder that we can see the world in a positive light. We can look up to strong, confident women. We can strive for peace.

What an inspiring message to this world at this time.

And, if you want to smile, give the below a listen!

Teach & Serve III, No. 6 – Which Hours Are Yours?

Teach & Serve III, No. 6

Which Hours Are Yours?

September 13, 2017

My wife, who is a talented, veteran teacher, posed a few weeks back. We were discussing homework and its efficacy and she said: “Which hours do we think are ours?”

If you are a teacher or administrator at any school level and you are aware of current conversations and research around homework, you are simply not paying attention. There is mounting evidence that homework needs to be rethought, now. Like immediately. Like before you do anything else.

However, we do not always have the time we would like to read and research ourselves so, rather than direct you to articles and data (though it IS out there), I will break this down for you very simply.

My wife, who is a talented, veteran teacher, posed a few weeks back. We were discussing homework and its efficacy and she said:

“Which hours do we think are ours?”

“What?” I asked.

“Which of the kids’ hours do teachers think are ours?”

What followed was a pretty damned enlightening conversation about the demands placed upon students by their schools, their extra curriculars, their jobs, their families and their lives overall. For our data set, we employed our three college-aged kids who were three very different kinds of students when they were in high school.

The questions and timelines we generated were noteworthy.

“If we say classes have a half hour of homework a night (a pretty standard but totally arbitrary measure), and the kid has 4 classes (again, arbitrary), we are talking about two hours a night.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Two hours. On a typical night. No major assignments, no long-term projects. Typical night.”

“Sure.”

“So, school gets out at let’s say, 3:00. We want the kid in bed by, what, 11:00? That’s eight hours.”

And this is where it got interesting. How would those eight hours be carved up? How would they be used?

Because, many kids have two to three-hour sports and/or extracurricular commitments. Now we are down to five or four hours. They ought to have an hour for dinner, too, yes? Four or three hours. Many students work. Many take care of family members at home. The social lives of kids connecting with each other is critically important. How much time for these things? An hour? Two? Do they get to take in any news? Do they get to relax? Do they get to spend time in reflection?

Do they get to breathe?

Our kids did their homework to varying degrees of completion and, as teachers, we assume that is the case, right? Some kids pick and choose what we assign. Some kids “never” do their homework. Some kids, however, do everything they are asked.

And they have limited time to complete their work no matter which approach they take.

Those eight after school hours (which, again, is an arbitrary number and, likely, is too high) disappear most quickly.

So, as you contemplate what is important for your students to do outside of school and what is not, as you develop your plans for homework, please ask the following question:

Which hours are yours?

EduQuote of the Week: September 11 – 17, 2017

Day of Prayer and Remembrance

Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.

– President Obama

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Teach & Serve III, No. 5 – Embrace the Expectations of Leadership

Teach & Serve III, No. 5

Embrace the Expectations of Leadership

September 6, 2017

Give me leaders who understand this, leaders who know that the buck (and everything else) does stop with them. Give me leaders who say: “I get it. I will take it.”

Let us begin this blog with a statement which, I admit, may or may not be true: It is harder now than ever to lead a school.

Again, I admit, there may have been moments in the past, long before my blip on the timeline of the educational game, when school leaders and teachers had it harder than they do currently, but it sure seems like school leaders and teachers deal with an awful lot right now.

School leaders seem to be held accountable for so much. They are held accountable for school culture, for the manner in which their students use social media, for the behavior of the people on their staffs, for the content of the textbooks (digital or otherwise) used in their curricula, for graduation rates, for college and career placements for whether no not students get invited to other students’ parties, for what kids do after dances and proms, for how students might procure alcohol and other materials at school events, for… well, you get the picture.

While some of the above issues may appear more critical than others, please note this: I did not fabricate any of them. All of the above have been issues brought to me or to my colleagues in their work. And the list could be much, much, longer. Some of these issues are, obviously, realistic. They are the things school leaders can and should address. They are things that ought to be on the leader’s proverbial plate. Some of them, however, are unrealistic to the point of being absurd. And, yet, they find their way to the teacher or school leader’s door.

All of this kind of makes you wonder why someone would choose school leadership as a vocation. I cannot answer that musing. I can say this: great teachers and great school leaders embrace the expectations of their position. It is not that they love every moment, or that they agree with the fact that all of these issues (and more) should come to their office doors. No. It is that they understand that these issues – any issues which occur that involve their staffs, their students, their families – are part and parcel to their work. Great leaders do not avoid this kind of responsibility. They take it on. They lean into it. They embrace it.

Schools are complex structures. Those structures involve hundreds (or thousands) of people. Those people, whether they know it or not, rely on great leadership.

Give me leaders who understand this, leaders who know that the buck (and everything else) does stop with them. Give me leaders who say: “I get it. I will take it.”

Give me leaders who embrace the expectations, realistic or not, of those they lead.

EduQuote of the Week: September 4 – 10, 2017

Childhood Injury Prevention Week

Children learn what they live.

– Dorothy Nolte

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