Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 18 – Avengers Forever!

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 18

Avengers Forever!

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


This past week, acclaimed director James Cameron opined about the upcoming film Avengers: Infinity War “I’m hoping we’ll start getting Avenger fatigue here pretty soon. Not that I don’t love the movies. It’s just, come on guys, there are other stories to tell.” Perhaps he is correct. Perhaps a break in the two-to-three Avengers movie a year cycle would serve the movie creating and going public well.

Perhaps. But, well, no. Sorry, Mr. Cameron. I think you are missing the point here.

If you have read even one of these Superheroic Leadership blogs, you know that I do not agree with Cameron on this count. Bring it on, I say. Give me more quality superhero films. Give me more Avengers movies. Give me more stories of people united by faith fighting for a higher cause.

I have not yet seen Avengers: Infinity War. If you are reading this blog the day it is published (Thursday, April 26), rest assured that problem will be corrected by this evening. Since the movie has not even opened at the time of this writing, I cannot say whether or not it is any good (I suspect it is). I cannot say whether or not I will like it (I suspect I will). I cannot say what it is about (but I can guess).

Avengers: Infinity War follows the story told in Captain America: Civil War which featured a fractured Avengers team, split down ideological and emotional lines, fighting with one another and broken apart. Clearly, the find a way to put their differences behind them and come together to battle a greater evil in the upcoming flick.

This trope has been a part of Avengers stories in the comic books going back decades. Conflict fuels narrative and comic writers have gone to the well of breaking up the team only to bring it back together many, many times. In fact, one of the most famous Avengers stories of the past 20 years was an arc entitled “Avengers: Disassembled,” a play on the “Avengers Assemble!” battle cry. The catch to this story along with all the others that have scattered the team to the four winds (including, I have no doubt, Avengers: Infinity War) is that the team always comes back together.

This, of course, is what good teams do. Banded together by a belief in common goals, a good team relies on those goals and their mission to unite them. They may not always agree. They may not always see eye-to-eye. They may fight among themselves. They may even break apart, for a time. But good teams come back together. They work through disagreement. They find common ground in the truths that bind them.

Perhaps the Avengers have something to teach us about disagreement and resolution…

Avengers Assemble!

Teach & Serve III, No. 37 – Fail Better

Teach & Serve III, No. 37 – Fail Better

April 25, 2018

This is what we are called to do: create conditions around us where failure is okay, where challenge is rewarded, where missing the mark is celebrated as a necessary and critical step towards making it.

There is a significant and important thread in current research around achievement and it is something that, back when I was in “teacher school” we never discussed. We would not have thought about it as a function of success and we would, likely, have attempted to create strategies to avoid it.

It is the idea that failure is as important as success in development of a growth mindset.

A few years ago, this was a revolutionary thought and the concept of linking failure to success was outside-the-box thinking. The idea that failure was anything but, well, failure was tough to grasp. Let us be honest: in our work in schools where we pin much (too much) of our opinion on of success on scaled benchmarks and grades and academic achievement and where we as professionals are all-too-often assessed on how our students do, the idea that failure is a good thing can be a difficult sell. More challenging still is the growing understanding that excellent educational leaders create conditions in which failure is planned for, is monitored and is celebrated.

This is the current, best practice research. This is what we are called to do: create conditions around us where failure is okay, where challenge is rewarded, where missing the mark is celebrated as a necessary and critical step towards making it.

Educational leaders understand that this idea applies not only to student mastery work in classrooms, but it also applies to staff work as they attempt new things. Too often we believe that teachers should be able to implement new plans, programs and technologies without a hitch and that growing pains are signs that teachers are not trying hard enough or that professional development around a given topic was lacking. Too infrequently do we build in time to fail and less frequently still do we highlight failures as good steps on the road to successes.

This is not how we have been wired.

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” said Samuel Beckett and can we give the guy a little credit for being way ahead of his time on this?

It is time to rewire. It is time to acknowledge and celebrate failure. It is time to fail better.

Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

April 18, 2018

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

When I was in the first grade, the day before school picture day, I ran into a brick wall – not a metaphor, I, literally, ran headlong into the corner of our house, smashing open my head on solid brick. My father took me to get stitches – seven of them as I recall – and, on the way home, changed my life.

My father was forever changing my life.

He bought me my first two comic books.

Thanks, Dad. Tens of thousands of issues later, I am pot-committed as a comic collector. More important than that, I have become more than an aficionado of comic book collecting and consider myself something of an expert on the study of comic books as an American literary art form.

You read that right: comic books are a form a literature.

The two comics Dad bought me that day featured two of the most famous American literary characters (in any list, they would have to be listed in the top ten): Batman and Superman. In case you’re wondering, I still have the issues – Batman Family #10 and Superman Family #181.

Superman is the longest running, continually published character in American literary history. Let that sink in for a moment. No other creation of any American writer or artist has been in continual publication as long as Superman has. That is something. That is special. That is powerful.

Superman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, any quick search will convince one of that. And, today, the comic book in which he first appeared reaches its astounding 1000th issue. That is not a typo. Superman’s Action Comics hits number 1000 today.

Superman has not simply appeared in Action Comics, of course. He has starred in his eponymous title and in many, many others. He has starred in a newspaper strip, in radio and television and movies. He has been featured in video games and music and cartoons. He is all but ubiquitous.

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

One could discuss Superman as a myth or as the genesis of the superhero or as a stand in for Moses or Jesus Christ. These reasons could be posited as causes for his longevity and I would not argue with them. But I have another.

Superman endures because what he stands for endures. Superman fights a never-ending battle. It is a battle of absolutes. There is good. There is evil. Good people resist evil. They resist temptation. They resist taking the easy way out. Superman stands for all that has been good, is good and can be good again in humanity. Superman, as he beautifully says in the majestic and (in my not-so-humble opinion) misunderstood 2013 film Man of Steel, stands for hope.

He would have made a wonderful educator, this Superman, this hero who fights a never-ending battle, who does not give up, who is a champion of truth. He would have been an amazing teacher, a role model who has endless reserves, who rallies in the face of injustice, who empowers those around him. He would have been a inspiration in a classroom.

Oh, wait. He very much is.

Superman, as I have written about before and in my accompanying blog Superheroic Leadership, inspired me. He inspired me to read. He inspired me, “in his guise as Clark Kent” to write. He inspired me to lead.

Clearly, I am not alone.

1000 issues. 80 years. A massive and recognizable presence in the world.

I guess that is why they call him Superman.

I know this: my life would be much, much different without him.

EduQuote of the Week: April 16 – 22, 2018

Superman Week

For a lot of people, Superman is and has always been America’s hero. He stands for what we believe is the best within us: limitless strength tempered by compassion, that can bear adversity and emerge stronger on the other side. He stands for what we all feel we would like to be able to stand for, when standing is hardest.

– J. Michael Straczynski

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 17 – 1000 Reasons

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 17

1000 Reasons

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


In the last installment of Superheroic Leadership, I wrote about Superman and the classic story “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Perhaps I should have waited to write about the Man of Steel for this week’s Superheroic Leadership.

Seven days from tomorrow, something fairly extraordinary will happen: DC Comics will publish the 1000th issue of Action Comics. Not many comic books (or other periodicals for that matter) reach 1000 issues. Not many superheroes have been featured in 1000 issues of the same comic (though, to be fair, Superman didn’t appear in every issue of Action Comics, but he did in the overwhelming majority of them – like 900 issues or more). Reaching 1000 issues is something of an achievement.

As a self-proclaimed expert in the American artform of comic books, I have much to say about this. I could probably go on for 1000 reasons on Superman, the reason he is the most important character in comic books and, perhaps (don’t get me started!) the most influential character in all of American literature. He must be in the top ten on any serious list.

How many other characters have been in continuous publication for over 80 years?

Think about that. I’ll wait for you.

You got it. The answer is none. A goose egg. Only Superman can claim that mantle and it must mean something, right?

For the purposes of this post, let us start and end with this lesson that Superman teaches time-and-again: one must persevere.

Perhaps Superman’s dedication to the “never ending battle” is best understood as a reflection on the dogged effort of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, his creators. Siegel and Shuster, the sons of immigrants, worked tirelessly on Superman, hoping to make some money by selling him as a daily newspaper strip. Following mountains of rejections, they, reluctantly, turned their brain-child into a comic book. Once Superman sold (his first appearance was Action Comics #1), they would see some of their dreams come true though they would never realize the riches that were, likely due them.

What their story can tell us, though, and what the overwhelming majority of the subsequent Superman stories tells us is that we should never give up, never give in, never give way when the stakes are high.

It this a simple message?

Yes.

Is Superman a simple character?

Yes.

Perhaps the elegant and inspiring simplicity is why he has been around so long.

One could do much worse …

Teach & Serve III, No. 35 – The Library

Teach & Serve III, No. 35 – The Library

April 11, 2018

This week is National Library Week and provides an excellent occasion to revisit a past blog… Our libraries may need to adapt and change. But let us be a bit careful.

Batman made me read.

This is likely a true statement. I use the word “likely” because who really remembers exactly the moment they turned on to reading. How really recalls the day and time that reading became as important as anything else in life?

I don’t recall the exact second on which my life turned – that second I decided I would be a reader – by I know Batman was the reason.

I was in first grade. I could already read – pretty well, in fact. This was the late 1970s and teachers were still dividing kids into ability groups. I was in the Dinosaurs with other good readers – amazing what we remember, is it not? I was not in the Lions. They could not read as well as we Dinosaurs could. I got it.

I could read and I liked it. But I did not love it.

I did not fall in love with reading until the day that I ran headlong into the corner of a brick wall. On the way home from the hospital following 6 stiches, my father bought for me two comic books: Batman Family and Superman Family.

I fell in love with comics on the spot and I fell in love with superheroes. I could not get enough of them.

While comic books were relatively cheap, my parents (wisely knowing the collecting hoarder I might one day become) did not always indulge my desire to buy them. Rather, we would hop in the car on many a weekend and head to the Arvada Public Library. There, as I recall, I could check out 3 items a week – whatever I wanted.

That what I wanted were more stories of superheroes was fine by my folks. I checked out comic books (which you could do back then… can you do it now?). I checked out books and records featuring stories of DC and Marvel superheroes. I checked out Little Big Books starring… wait for it… superheroes. The library fed my growing desire for comic book characters all the while powering my growing ability to read and comprehend.

I am not alone in owing libraries for this. Generation after generation learned to love language in just this fashion.

Libraries find themselves (as they ever have, by-the-way) at something of a crossroads, especially the ones in our schools. There is pressure to move them into the 21st Century (whatever that means), to make them media centers, iPad labs, moveable spaces, makers spaces and, alarmingly, to remove all books.

There are good reasons to pursue this line of thought and there are space pressures in our buildings. Our libraries may need to adapt and change. But let us be a bit careful.

I love me my iPad. I read most books and comics on it now. It is convenient to be sure, but, I have to ask, are kids falling in love with reading using their computers, phones and iPads? Is the same connection to the word developed when reading on a tablet?

Professor Andrew Dillon has done some work on the subject. He’s concerned about the tactile differences and how we are being conditioned. Professor Anne Mangen worries about the recall ability of those using e-readers rather than books. There are concerns.

My concern is much simpler: will people develop a love of reading without the physicality of the activity and without its accompanying shrines?

I am so proud of my sister. She has been a children’s librarian for almost 20 years. I’ve seen what she does for kids: she inspires them to read. Through crafts and displays and public readings and activities, she seduces kids to the word. She brings them into the library. She is part of a long tradition of educators who inspire.

We must be careful when we talk about modernizing our libraries. We must pay attention to what’s come before those thoughts. We must realize the stakes and they are high. Let us have high tech rooms, makers spaces, robotics labs and technology dens.

But, for education’s sake, let us also pay attention to libraries. Let us also have books. Let us find places for them in our buildings and in our lives even if they are no longer only housed in the space we previously called “The Library.”

Batman made me read. Libraries fed my habit. I am an educator now who reveres the word.

Is there a through line?

You better believe there is.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 16 – Who Has Everything

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 16

Who Has Everything

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


What do you give Superman for his birthday? Is he not the quintessential “man who has everything?”

This was the premise of the seminal Superman Annual #11 (“For the Man Who Has Everything”) written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons in the midst of their Watchmen fame. Batman and Wonder Woman (and Robin?) come to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to share with him the birthday gifts they have brought only to find that he is in the thrall of some kind of alien plant life that has rendered him comatose. In his mind, Superman is living a reality that places him on a not-destroyed Krypton with a wife and son and parents and a life very different from the one he is living on Earth. In order to come back to reality, Superman must give up this perfect and fulfilling fantasy and return to the real world.

The “gift,” as it turns out, was sent by an intergalactic villain named Mongul whose plan for conquering the Earth includes sidelining the Man of Steel with this hallucination.

Of course, the plan does not work. Superman gives up paradise to save the Earth, not unlike Captain Kirk saving the future by allowing Edith Keeler to die in the classic City on the Edge of Forever. It is a tragic story, but a heroic one.

What does it mean for us as leaders?

All too often we can find ourselves trapped in perfect worlds, in scenarios which are comfortable and do not challenge us, whether they are of our own making or not. We can find ourselves in echo chambers in which we only hear what we want to hear, only experience what we allow ourselves to experience, only risk what we want to risk.

This is no way to lead.

Excellent leaders, like Superman, break the bonds of contentment and complacency and sacrifice their comfort for the good of others. If we are not willing to do that, we ought not be leaders. If we are not willing to question our own comfortable lives, we cannot effectively lead.

Teach & Serve III, No. 33 – Move the Chairs

Teach & Serve III, No. 33 – Move the Chairs

March 28, 2018

I believe that if we, as leaders, are unwilling to move the chairs, if we somehow think the task beneath us or that we are more important than the work, then we are not effective leaders. I believe we are not even that good.

In a position I held a few years ago, I was walking outside across the quad of the school on my way from one building to another. On the grass, the maintenance staff was setting up for an all-school, outdoor event which was to occur within the next couple hours. The closer I got to the group setting up, the more I could sense something was wrong. The tension was noticeable.

I pulled aside the young man who was in charge of the set up just to see what was wrong.

“We set some of this up last night and it’s all wet.” He said.

He was forlorn.

I looked and, sure enough, the seats of the folding chairs had puddles of water on them and the grass below them was drenched.

Clearly, the staff had forgotten to shut off the sprinkler system.

“Okay,” I said, “what’s the plan?”

The staff had begun moving the chairs to a different part of the quad – a dry part – and had also started wiping the chairs down.

I pitched in.

They needed the help. The president of the school was very conscious of appearances. This event would have parents and board members at it and the maintenance staff – particularly the young man in charge – were more than a bit intimidated by him. I was only the principal. Not so intimidating.

We worked for about forty-five minutes and got the chairs re-arranged. I cannot guarantee that everyone had dry backsides when they sat in them, but they were out of the swamp of the wet grass and ready to go before the students, staff, parents and dignitaries hit the field.

All’s well that ends well.

“I can’t believe you did that,” the young man told me as the event started.

“It was no big deal,” I said. And it was not.

Growing up, I had watched my mother and father set up and take down many an event, those that they were speakers at or a part of and those that they were not. It was just what one did to help things come off correctly and well. That day in the wet grass, it never occurred to me to do anything but help.

I believe that if we, as leaders, are unwilling to move the chairs, if we somehow think the task beneath us or that we are more important than the work, then we are not effective leaders. I believe we are not even that good.

If you disagree, we have very different definitions of leadership.

Move the chairs, my friends.  Move the chairs.

Teach & Serve III, No. 32 – Settle In; Don’t Settle For

Teach & Serve III, No. 32 – Settle In; Don’t Settle For

March 21, 2018

One of the best parts of this work is the cyclic nature of it. We simply must guard against giving in to the troughs in that cycle. We must remember the peaks are coming.

We must never settle for.

I have found it most difficult to explain to my friends and family who work in fields other than education what the months of February, March and April can feel like in the school setting. There is a certain malaise that I have found creeps in, a feeling wrought of early mornings in darkness followed by late evenings in darkness. A concern – unrealistic and unfounded – that the school year will never end, that we are locked in a Groundhog Day of educational proportions that will never let us go.

Rationally, we know this is untrue, but there is something about these late winter, early spring weeks that make us believe it might – just might – be.

The temptation in these months is to settle for. To settle for less than the best effort our students can give us. To settle for less than what we expect from our staffs and colleagues in terms professionalism and conduct. To settle for less than what we know we of ourselves to be capable.

We can make excuses. We can find reasons – often good and legitimate ones – for our failings and for failings of those around us. We can allow ourselves to settle for.

This is not the time to settle for but it may be the time to settle in.

Recognizing that there are segments of the year, pages on the calendar that are more promising or less promising for innovation and creativity, understanding that sometimes it is all right to look ahead and conclude that moving forward in the direction we are already heading without massive course correction is more than acceptable, settling in is an excellent decision.

The energy will return as the end of the year approaches. It ever does. The promise of summer and renewal and breaks will fire the spirit and rekindle the enthusiasm. Teachers will look ahead to the promise of what is to come and students to the next steps in their lives and everything that was old will seem new again.

The key is to never settle for, but to know when to settle in, to ride out the ebb in energy, to await the coming of renewal.

One of the best parts of this work is the cyclic nature of it. We simply must guard against giving in to the troughs in that cycle. We must remember the peaks are coming.

We must never settle for.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 15 – You Will Return

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 15

You Will Return

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


Inevitably in our leadership journeys, we face setbacks. When we put our weight and our capital behind decisions or programs or choices and they – for whatever reason – do not pan out or proceed in the manner in which we expected, we can feel defeated and consider not returning to the particular field of battle in which we have just suffered defeat.

That is simply human nature.

In an arc of what is the most under-rated Star Trek incarnation of all Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the commander of the eponymous Deep Space Nine space station is forced to abandon the outpost, taking the Federation presence with him seemingly never to return. Defeated by the Cardassians, Captain Sisko leaves his office, his station and his post.

But he leaves his prize baseball behind for his successor to discover and to puzzle over.

The message is clear: I may be gone now, but I will be back.

This is a terrific message for leaders. We will fail. We will invest ourselves in situations that do not pan out. We will be defeated.

But we will be back.

If we will not, perhaps we were not great leaders in the first place