Teach & Serve III, No. 29 – The Dream Business

Teach & Serve III, No. 29 – The Dream Business

February 28, 2018

The Dream Business. That is an exciting business in which to work. That is an exciting vocation to have. And enabling dreamers around us is part of what we do.

Dreams.

It is about dreams I wish to ruminate for a few paragraphs because dreams are so critically important to the work we share as teachers and educational leaders. Dreams are the blood that should run through the veins of our schools. They should be the air our students breathe. Dreams ought to be what sustains us as we look to February and the long March toward summer.

In our schools, we as adults are surrounded by people who dream. Our students dream of their future and what they will become. They dream of who they will play with on the playground or ask to prom. They dream of their role on the volleyball team or in the next play. They dream about getting out of the class through which they are suffering.

They dream.

Part of our role as teachers is to enable them to dream, to stretch their imaginations about themselves, to exceed, first in their minds and then in reality, the obstacles they believe they cannot overcome. Part of our role as administrators is to enable our faculty and staff to do the same thing: to dream of who they want to be for their students and department and school.

We are in the dream business in education.

Yes, I know. There are practical pieces to what we do, practical things we must help our students and staffs accomplish, practicalities that are practical and must be practically done.

I understand.

But when we allow ourselves and our systems to be overcome by the practical, we neglect the impractical. When we only focus on the possible, we forget the impossible. When we hone in on what must be done, we lose sight of what can be done.

The Dream Business. That is an exciting business in which to work. That is an exciting vocation to have. And enabling dreamers around us is part of what we do.

And we need to dream, too, dream about what might be, not only for our students, but for ourselves.

EduQuote of the Week: February 26 – March 4, 2018

Peace Corps Week

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps-who works in a foreign land-will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.

– John F. Kennedy

Office Door Quotes 2

Teach & Serve III, No. 28 – Followership

Teach & Serve III, No. 28 – Followership

February 21, 2018

… how do we, as educational leaders, respond when those above us in the food chain make mistakes, missteps or errors? How do we react when they are not their best selves or when they handle us and situations in a manner we neither understand nor appreciate?

First, let us get this out of the way: our schools exist to serve our students. They – in a very real sense – are the bosses and they should be in charge. Not many of our organizational charts for our schools reflect that, however. Our org charts illustrate the adults who are “in charge.”

Okay. Fair enough.

When considering that, we can note that very few of us are actually the “Big Boss” or the “Head Cheese” or the “El Numero Uno Honcho” of our contexts. Schools are hierarchical systems. Typically, no matter our position as educational leaders, we answer to someone. Teachers answer to department chairs, department chairs to assistant principals, assistant principals to principals, principals answer to presidents, presidents to boards, and so on. This comes as little surprise to any of us working in schools.

It should also come as no surprise, then, that how we follow says very much about how we lead.

If we are good leaders, we expect that we will be followed. Whether we are consultative, collaborative or servant leaders – how ever we define our leadership – we anticipate that, if we are doing a good job as leaders, we will be followed. But even the best leadership cannot function in the real world without sometimes creating conflict or friction or unintended confusion. We know this. No process is perfect. No system is perfect. No leader is perfect. Not everything will go as we intended or planned.

If we are competent leaders leaning toward good leaders, we can navigate these waters and restore faith and trust. If we do a good job in that process, all will be well. Importantly, though, our followers must allow us to do a good job. The reservoir of faith and trust we have built up indicates much about how we will recover.

But so does our followership and here is the point: how do we, as educational leaders, respond when those above us in the food chain make mistakes, missteps or errors? How do we react when they are not their best selves or when they handle us and situations in a manner we neither understand nor appreciate? Do we presume their good will, listen to their explanations, give them the benefit of the doubt? Do we reflect on what has happened and consider our role in the issue? Do we seek to come to resolution, conclusion and positive outcomes? Or do we perseverate? Complain? Gossip? Vent?

As educational leaders, how we model followership may well be as important as how we lead.

EduQuote of the Week: February 19 – 25, 2018

Sisterhood and Brotherhood Week

It’s a commonly expressed and rather nice, romantic notion that we are all “sisters” and “brothers.” Let’s be real. Fact is, we might be better served to accept that we are all siblings. Siblings fight, pull each other’s hair, steal stuff, and accuse each other indiscriminately. But siblings also know the undeniable fact that they are the same blood, share the same origins, and are family.

– Vera Nazarian

Office Door Quotes 2

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 13 – Power and Responsibility

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 13

Power and Responsibility

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


If you have seen a Spider-Man (and, yes, the use of the hyphen is correct!) movie, then you are likely to be familiar with this mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Peter Parker’s uncle Ben shared this nugget of wisdom with his young nephew shortly before the old man met his fate – a fate (in an ironic twist of fate) Peter could have prevented.

Ben did not know his nephew was endowed with super powers. He did not know that his nephew would, eventually, become one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world. What he did know is that people have power. They have power to affect change.

His challenge to Peter is to use his power – whatever power he has – for good. He reminds him that, to do nothing when you can do something, is wrong. If one possesses the power to act for the good of others, they should.

What a message this is to all of us. Of the many, many messages that comic books and super hero movies and pop culture conveys, this is one of my favorites because it is simple and it is powerful.

If you have blessings, use them.

If you have power, exercise it for good.

If you are privileged, you have responsibilities.

Follow them.

Follow Spider-Man.

There are worse role models…

 

Teach & Serve III, No. 27 – Love the Work. LOVE IT!

Teach & Serve III, No. 27 – Love the Work. LOVE IT!

February 14, 2018

So we better love it. We better love the work. We better love the kids. We better love the hours, and the stress and the cafeteria duty and the dances and the grading, and…

This week, I am in my second week in a row of working with a group of educators from Jesuit schools across the US and Canada as they focus on what makes them great leaders and what they can do to make themselves even better. This is such a terrific blessing of my work and it challenges me to focus in on significant questions facing educational leaders today.

Today is also Valentine’s Day and, rather than focus on the commercialization of love (which might lead to a blog talking about the pitfalls of the commercialization of education – that would be a good one for a future date!), I want to write about love and education and how they ought to be integrally linked.

I have noted before what any teacher or administrator who has committed to our shared work already knows: what we do is very hard. Work in education is highly demanding. The hours are long. The pay is not always terrific. The rewards are not entirely tangible.

This is a tough job!

So we better love it. We better love the work. We better love the kids. We better love the hours, and the stress and the cafeteria duty and the dances and the grading, and… well, I could go on.

Over my 25 years in education, I have learned a few things – stolen them, really – from the many, fine people with whom I have journeyed. One thing I have learned is the best among us are happy to be here. The best among us LOVE the work.

I love the work. Do you?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

EduQuote of the Week: February 12 – 18, 2018

Take Your Family to Work Week

I actually look forward to Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I’m not great with kids, but I want to get better. Because I’m getting married. So I put on a bunch of extra candy on my desk so the kids will come talk to me. Like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” so kids will come talk to me.

– Pam Beasley, The Office

Office Door Quotes 2

Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

February 7, 2018

What happens when we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

This week, I have the great pleasure of working with a group of educators from Jesuit schools across the US and Canada as they focus on what makes them great leaders and what they can do to make themselves even better. This is such a terrific blessing of my work and it challenges me to focus in on significant questions facing educational leaders today.

Many (most?) of the blogs I have composed for Teach & Serve reflect on or reference conditions wherein good leadership is present in a school. They are written from a perspective assuming solid norms and procedures, relatively healthy environments and excellent standards for behavior.  

Let us be honest: those conditions do not always pertain.

Where does that leave individuals who wish optimal (or, at least, functional) leadership is in play? Where does that leave those who aspire to greater things for themselves and for their schools? Where does that leave people who seek perpetual improvement?

These are challenging questions, to be sure.

But there are answers.

Like the best answers, they start from within us. They start with us making honest and clear assessments of who we are in our leadership and of how we relate to the leaders and systems around us. The best answers ask us to ask ourselves hard questions.

And to answer them.

Good leaders know that one of the fundamental qualities of leadership is authenticity. I have written previously that I believe it to be the central and most important quality of a good leader. Good leaders, then, take the questions they are posing outward and turn them within.

If leadership is bad in our schools, we must ask ourselves if we are part of the issue. What role have we played to sour the milk? Have we contributed to an environment that is less than ideal? We must be willing to examine ourselves as a necessary first step.

And what happens, then, if we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

We must, then, assess what change we can make from where we are. We must consider who we can help and for what reason. If our challenge of authority and status quo and broken systems is for the good of our students (and the good of the adult community – a secondary good; students come first) then we are called to confront.

We must respectfully disagree and offer alternatives. We must exercise the authority we have as teachers and as educational leaders within the same structures our chairs and administrators occupy. We must speak truth – truth to colleagues, truth to power. We must do so offering suggestions and solutions, through-lines and conclusions and ways forward. We must be willing to suffer slings, arrows, criticisms and critiques.

When we are authentic, when we act from our true selves, all of this, though incredibly heavy to shoulder, is worth the weight.

If our systems hurt our students, if our leaders are negligent in their most important tasks, they must be examined and changed. They might even need to be set aside or torn down.

However, our seats in the school, our positions and our power along with the management and leadership styles of our superiors may make true and lasting collaboration and change so difficult as to be impossible.

This can be a bleak state of affairs and cause crises of the heart.

When leadership does not work and is unwilling to reflect and consider change, authentic leaders are in painful positions. If one has done all one can on behalf of students to confront challenges and bad actors, to affect change and to advance the institution and there is no way forward, another question comes into play: is my presence here so important for those I serve that I must stay?

If the answer is yes, it is good to remember that systems alter over time and leaders do not stay in place forever.

If the answer is no, it may well be time for an individual to change one’s circumstance. While that is easier written than done, it may be an inevitable conclusion and a legitimate alternative to continuing frustration and pain.

The best answers start from within. Knowing ourselves is a significant key.

EduQuote of the Week: February 5 – 11, 2018

African Heritage Week

Strange, is it not, my brothers, how often in America those great watchwords of human energy – ‘Be strong!’ ‘Know thyself!’ ‘Hitch your wagon to a star!’ – how often these die away into dim whispers when we face these seething millions of black men? And yet do they not belong to them? Are they not their heritage as well as yours?

– W. E. B. Du Bois

Office Door Quotes 2

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 12 – The Roots of Steel

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 12

The Roots of Steel

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


Superman is one of the most famous fictional characters of all time. I did a little research (on the internet, so it has to be true!) of the most recognizable symbols in the world and the Superman “S” was in the top five on each list I reviewed.

There is some kind of power in that, in the fact that people see that “S” and know it stands for Superman.

And what does Superman stand for?

Truth? Justice? The American way?

Superman was created by two Jewish kids in Cleveland, OH in the 1930s. Children of the Depression, sons of European immigrants and one the child of a man killed in a store robbery, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster could not conceive how their creation would change the world. That was too big from them to think about.

Rather, in Superman’s earliest adventures, they thought about what a character driven by justice would take on. What type of evil should their Superman confront?

Within the first years of his adventures, Superman battled men who abused women, white supremacists, immoral politicians and corrupt businessmen.

Not a so-called “supervillain” among these criminals.

Within those same first years of his adventures, it was established that Superman came from another world and was adopted and raised in America’s heartland.

He was not shipped back to outer space because of his lack of proper papers.

There was a controversy a few years back when Superman declared himself a citizen of the world, not simply of the United States, when he said he would fight for those in need across the globe.

I did not understand the significance of the moment.

I bet all those who have never held a comic book, who have never seen a Superman movie, who cannot read English would have understood that moment’s significance. They understand the “S” to mean something special, something heroic, something great.

It represents the story of the ultimate immigrant fighting for justice.

For me, it will always stand for hope.

I am not sure why all this came to me this week… perhaps I need a little of what Superman has offered.