EduQuote of the Week: May 22 – 28, 2017

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

– JK Rowling

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Teach & Serve II, No. 41 – Graduations

Teach & Serve II, No. 41 – Graduations

May 17, 2017

So, yes, our students leave us but we, in large part, do not leave them.

The sun is out with more regularity and throughout more of the day. The trees and grasses are greener. The flowers are budding. There is, if you listen closely, more melody of birds in the air. Spring is upon us and summer is not far behind.

For us in the work of education that can only mean that the end of the year approaches.


Though there are things standing between us and the end of the year, some of them pleasant, some of them hurdles, some of them variable from school-to-school, there is a universal: graduation.

Typically, and appropriately, graduation is viewed primarily as a student event, a moment (or long series of moments strung together in what can seem to be an interminable chain depending upon who your school conducts its festivities) during which the senior class is honored, their names are called and their last steps as members of our student communities are taken. It shines the spotlight on the kids as they leave us and that is a very good thing.

It signals something of an end and a speaker is likely to remind the crowd that these particular groups of students, their families and their teachers will never occupy the same space again.

I used to mention sentiments like that when I spoke at graduations. They were true words.

But, it is important to remember at these times as the names are read and the stages are crossed and the parties are thrown, that the experiences our students have had at our schools go on. These graduates are who they are because of what has happened to them and what they have done in the years at our schools.

The students leave us and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is hard to remember each of them in sharp detail. Our work is predicated on assisting groups of kids to go, it is based on mentoring them away from us and, though the best among us are excellent at recalling the majority of students they have taught (I have never been great at this in all honesty), the fact is one group graduates and another comes in.

So, yes, our students leave us but we, in large part, do not leave them.

They can point to interactions we do not remember. They can identify as critical moments incidents we might recall as insignificant. They can recall the paths we led them down when we did not even know we were pointing them in any direction at all.

That is a heady realization. There is a responsibility in the work we do. We have responsibility for every interaction we have with a student.

This is not a responsibility we should ever take lightly. If we do underestimate it, it is time to look for another vocation.

The reality is that most of those who work in education, who work as administrators and teachers, understand this responsibility and, more than that, they embrace it. They love students and that is why they are in the work.

An old and overused adage goes like this: “A teacher was asked: ‘what do you teach?’ The person inquiring wanted to know what subject the teacher instructed. ‘Students,’ the teacher replied, ‘I teach students.’” We have heard this one before and, while it is worn, it does convey a truth.

If we are in education, the students are entrusted to us are far more important than the content we convey.

Graduations should serve to remind us of the awesome responsibility we have. Graduations should be a celebration of the work that we do. In as much as they mark the accomplishment of our students, let them also mark ours as well. Let them serve as reminders of the good work we do and let them challenge us, as we look to the summer sun, to review, revive and return in the fall ready to serve once again.

EduQuote of the Week: May 15 – 21, 2017

I’m more interested in arousing enthusiasm in kids than in teaching the facts. The facts may change, but that enthusiasm for exploring the world will remain with them the rest of their lives.

– Seymour Simon

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Teach & Serve II, No. 40 – Parenting, Leadership and Ministry

Teach & Serve II, No. 40 – Parenting, Leadership and Ministry

May 10, 2017

The great educational leaders, whether they are parents or not, are great ministers. They are ministering to those with whom they journey and they believe (they know) that ministry is a great gift – to they themselves far more than it is gift to those they lead or teach.

Later this week, one of my sons turns 20 years old. My eldest son crossed this threshold a few months back. My daughter will turn 19 years old this fall. I have been in the parenting business for two decades now. If you add the ages of my kids together, that is a collective 59 years of parenting. If one has that kind of experience in a particular task, one should be pretty good at it, right?

I will leave judgements of my proficiency at parenting to my children.

I have been involved in education for the past 25 years, longer than I have been a parent. I believe I have been a good teacher and a good administrator. I think I am good in my current role as well. I also like to believe that I was fairly good at teaching in those 5 years prior to my actually becoming a parent.

I will leave judgements of my proficiency at teaching to my first students.

I do believe this: I became a better teacher the moment I had children. I have no doubt of this.

My children… not children anymore.

I do not contend that those who do not have children are not able to be wonderful teachers and administrators. That would be a ridiculous stance. Many of us can point to tremendous educators who have no children. Some would make the argument that the Venn Diagram overlap of working in education and being a parent is a very big overlap and I would not debate that conclusion, either.

Early on in my career in education, I realized that the work for me was not just work. It was vocation but it was my experience as a parent taught me that my work in education was more than even vocation, it was ministry.

I have written before that great teachers and leaders see their work in education as their vocation. The great ones always do. The extrinsic rewards to the work are not enough to keep someone coming back for me. The intrinsic ones, the ones that come from embracing one’s vocation, are.

Exceptional teachers and educational leaders regard their work as their ministry.

It was parenting that helped me realize this. There is a great line from the wonderful movie Parenthood. Jason Robards’ character, a family patriarch who was not a great father in his time comes to this realization: “it’s not like parenting ends when the kid is 18 or 21 or 41 or 61, it never, never ends… there is no end zone. You never get to spike the ball and do your touchdown dance.” I had no idea what this meant.

Until I had kids.

I had little idea what my ministry in education could be.

Until I had kids.

Again, I am not suggesting the realizations I had upon some reflection on being a parent are specific to parents. They are not. What I am saying is that, watching my children grow, feeling my love for them and my responsibility to them only expanding over time, I understand my commitment to and my ministry in education in a way I never could have when I was 22 and sitting in my first classroom.

The great educational leaders, whether they are parents or not, are great ministers. They are ministering to those with whom they journey and they believe (they know) that ministry is a great gift – to they themselves far more than it is gift to those they lead or teach.

Having children and seeing them become young adults helped me see this. How blessed I am.

EduQuote of the Week: May 8 – 14, 2017

A child who is protected from all controversial ideas is as vulnerable as a child who is protected from every germ. The infection, when it comes- and it will come- may overwhelm the system, be it the immune system or the belief system.

– Jane Smiley

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Teach & Serve II, No. 39 – Grades vs. Assessment

Teach & Serve II, No. 39 – Grades vs. Assessment

May 3, 2017

If the days of asking students to memorize and return sets of facts and figures to their teachers are not over in your school, I would suggest you have deeply rooted problems.

As we approach the end of this school year, the thoughts of many students turn even more pressingly to grades. It may well seem that some of these students are considering their final grades for the first time in fact. Regardless, the ante is upped this time of year and the pressure around grades seems to rise with each passing day.

Many in education avoid the term “grades” and substitute the word “assessment” when they discuss their students’ progress in their classes and this is not simply a turn of phrase. “Grades” is a word that suggests the result of a review of a product – an essay or project or test – while “assessment” connotes a process.

This is a very important distinction and how a school overall and a teacher individually measure student progress says very much about how both the school and the teacher function. It also indicates how the learning process is conceptualized by school leaders.

Answer sheet

A focus on grades versus a focus on assessment defines so much of what a school does and defines almost all of what a teacher does. Grading is a teacher-centered process: the teacher grades the assignment; the student is graded. Assessment is a collaborative process: the student illustrates her progress towards understanding and mastery; the teacher collaborates with the student.

If the days of asking students to memorize and return sets of facts and figures to their teachers are not over in your school, I would suggest you have deeply rooted problems. Neither do students of today truly learn this way, nor does the world of today function this way. Grades tend to value how students master series of objective facts. Assessment tends to value how students master the overall process of learning.

Schools which are focused primarily on grades – on the product and not the process – are schools preparing students for a world that is long past. This approach suggests that what students can do is more important than how they do it.

At this point of the school year, it is far too late for a school or teacher to change the approach to end marks. However, the summer approaches and the cyclic nature of our work means fall cannot be far behind.

Take a deep breath, enjoy a few moments of down time and consider the tension between assessment and grades. Consider how you value each. Consider why you ask your students to do what you ask them to do and consider the type of reality for which you are preparing them. Are you more concerned with what they can produce or how they produce? Is not how our students critically think at least as important as what they think? Is not what they think deeply influenced by how we have taught them to think? By what is your process of assigning a letter or percentage to your students more informed – by assessments or by grades?

EduQuote of the Week: May 1 – 7, 2017

When you study great teachers… you will learn much more from their caring and hard work than from their style.

– William Glasser

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Teach & Serve II, No. 38 – Intention and Purpose Rooted in “Why”

Teach & Serve II, No. 38 – Intention and Purpose Rooted in “Why”

April 26, 2017

If we know why we are doing what we are doing, we can move ahead with intention. We can move ahead with shared purpose. We can move ahead with common understanding.

I have written in past posts about knowing the “why” of our shared work in education. Simon Sinek, the motivational speaker and marketing expert writes eloquently and convincingly in his books Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last about how important knowing why we do what we do really is. He contends that many companies and leaders – for our purposes, schools and teachers and administrators – do not take the time to uncover why they do what they do. He contends that most begin with the “what,” not the “why.”

It is easy to agree with his point.

When we think about the task we face as teachers and administrators, the what is ever in our view. What do we do? We lead our staffs so our teachers can teach our students so our students can learn (skills, knowledge, critical thinking, values) so our students can master so our students can grow so our students can graduate… The what is our meat and potatoes. Being successful at the what keeps our doors open, our retention rates up, students in our desk, money in our budgets. We cannot undervalue the what.

But we can overvalue it or, perhaps, we can get the order of operations wrong.

All too often, leaders look at tasks – at the what – and do not ask the question of why they are asking their constituents to do what they are asking them to do. The what is typically obvious. It is typically tangible. The why? Not so much.

When I was a young teacher at a Jesuit high school, the staff had gathered for a faculty meeting and one of the subjects of the meeting was a discussion of the ways in which we could increase enrollment at the school. We talked and brainstormed and suggested and argued about the topic. In the back of the room, one of my colleagues quietly sat with his hand raised and the principal, who was conducting the conversation, seemed to avoid calling on him and did not for quite a while. Finally, he did.

“Um,” my friend said graciously, “should we be talking about getting smaller instead of getting larger?”

Pin. Drop.

It was such a bizarre question and so far out of left field in the context of the conversation the principal was holding that the principal did not even know how to address it. He blew right by the question and called on someone else. I am not sure I would have handled the situation any differently.

True story.

My colleague’s question dealt with why. My principal’s conversation was all about what.

If we know why we are doing what we are doing, we can move ahead with intention. We can move ahead with shared purpose. We can move ahead with common understanding.

And we can be special as we do.

You do not believe me? Take a look at comedian Michael Jr. as he discusses knowing your why. Take a look and get a sense of why you do what you do.

EduQuote of the Week: April 24 – 30, 2017

The task of teaching has never been more complex and the expectations that burden teachers are carried out in antiquated systems that offer little support—and yet, teachers are finding success every day.

– Tucker Elliott

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Teach & Serve II, No. 37 – Dissenting Opinions

Teach & Serve II, No. 37 – Dissenting Opinions

April 19, 2017

Giving voice to dissenting opinions is not a sign of weak leadership; it is a sign of great strength.

Good leaders determine what to do based on each individual case, weighing the opinions of others as appropriate, considering precedent if necessary, proceeding confidently into each new area. Good leaders make decisions because decision making is part of the work. They do not shy away from this duty even if they understand a decision may cause dissent.

With that in mind, here is the great leadership insight for today. Get ready. It is profound and powerful.

Are you sitting down as you read? We do not want anyone falling to the floor passing out from the sheer brilliance of what is about to come.

Here it is:

People disagree with their leaders.

Thank you, and good day.

Still here? Okay, a few more words, then, on this topic of disagreement and dissent.

Leaders who are just passable in their roles make determinations. Leaders who are simply proficient make decisions. Leaders who are solid and visionary lead their institutions where they may or may not want to go.

Leaders of all skill levels decide directions, accelerate agendas, pursue paths.

No matter the course chosen, there will be those led who disagree. Sometimes, they will disagree quietly. Often, they will dissent vocally.

How a leader responds to dissent defines leadership.

Be wary of leaders (perhaps of yourself as leader) if the goal of decision making is to not offend. Likewise, be aware of leaders (again, this could be you) who make decisions relishing the idea that choices will offend. Look to follow leaders who 1) understand that their decisions may cause waves, and yet they make them anyway and, 2) investigate the waves their decision-making has caused.

Leaders who cannot stand scrutiny of their decisions are not strong leaders. They are leaders who want to be praised for their wisdom without having offered those they lead rationale for that praise. Leaders who will not listen to opposing views are hamstrung in their leadership. They may be respected, they may even be feared, but they will not be truly followed.

Leaders who allow for disagreement, who engage those who disagree and who attempt to anticipate the tension decisions might cause and determine why decisions create friction are comfortable in the role. These leaders know that they cannot make everyone happy and they do not try. Rather they are aware of when their decisions create tension and they consider that tension. They work to understand it. And they do not do this alone.

Weak, arrogant leaders feel offended when you disagree with them. Strong, humble leaders explore dissent.

Giving voice to dissenting opinions is not a sign of weak leadership; it is a sign of great strength.

I want to follow a leader who is strong enough to allow me to disagree with her, confident enough to engage me on my disagreement and wise enough to explain to me when I am wrong. I want to follow a leader who knows my dissent can be a good thing. I want to follow a leader who encourages dissenting opinions.