Teach & Serve No. 19 – Your All-Star Cast

Teach & Serve 

No. 19 * December 8, 2015


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YOUR ALL-STAR CAST

We’ve experienced groups clashing painfully and failing. What’s the difference? How does a cast go from a cast to an all-star cast?

As I sat at my computer this weekend wrapping up a few work projects that had spilled over into Saturday, my Facebook Messenger chime went off and I was delighted to spend a few moments in virtual conversation with my old friend Sean Gaillard who is the talented and well respected principal of John F. Kennedy High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Blog post after blog post have been written extoling the importance and potential of robust Professional Learning Networks that can be built online and I am very happy to say that Sean has led the way for me getting my head around this concept. He leads by example here, connecting himself with teachers and administrators all over the country. He’s had played a significant role in pioneering Twitter movements such as #Read4Fun and #CelebrateMonday along with moderating online chats and professional development. He’s absolutely a guru of this stuff and I am always happy to have a chance to learn from him.

Given that, do you know what we talked about?

The cast of the 1970s miniseries Centennial, of course.

CentennialPeople of a certain age remember miniseries. If you’re too young, think of them as Netflix or Amazon dropping 10 – 13 episodes of a complete season of a show and you moderating your binge watching to three episodes a night. Does that ring bells for anyone out there? Do you remember Centennial?

We got on the topic because we were exchanging addresses for our Christmas card lists and I informed my old friend that I live in Centennial, Colorado. From there, it was rapid-fire word association playing on the author (James Michener), the miniseries and the novel. Sean even dug up and sent me a picture of his tattered copy!

As we talked about the miniseries, we began to run down the actors we remembered from the cast. As you may recall (again, if you of a certain age), it was a pretty amazing cast. Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad, Sally Kellerman, Raymond Burr, Timothy Dalton, Richard Crenna… need I go on? One could say it was an all-star cast.

As Sean and I wrapped up our chat, it occurred to me that what good leaders – like Sean – do is create all-star casts around them. Good leaders put people in positions to work together in cooperation. Good leaders empower people to combine their strengths, to deemphasize their weaknesses and to work towards shared and clearly articulated goals.

I don’t want to open up an extended sports metaphor here (though it might be apt to do so) and I don’t need to because sports teams are not the only teams many of us have experience of in our lives. Whether we played a sport in school or not, we’ve been put on teams: teams to do projects, teams to choose textbooks, learning teams to plan curriculum. Teams. Teams. Teams. (Okay, yes, you could read the last three words as a Hoosiers paraphrase, but that’s as far down the sports road as I plan to go).

We’ve been on the team, a part of the committee, in the cast. We’ve experienced groups working well and succeeding. We’ve experienced groups clashing painfully and failing.

What’s the difference? How does a cast go from a cast to an all-star cast?

I am not sure it always comes down to the composition of the group. Frankly, I think that’s lazy thinking and lazy leading. I’ve ever been wary of the leaders who come newly into a situation and say “when I get my people in place, things are really going to work.” What about making things work with the people already there, with the cast already on its marks?

I believe good leaders work with casts to take them from being different individuals vying for the spotlight and shouting their lines over one another to being casts that work together, supporting each other and moving towards a standing ovation.

Is the metaphor too strained? How about this, then: I believe good leaders put people in positions for success, places where that play to strengths and deemphasize weakness. I believe good leaders structure the roles, responsibilities and tasks of their committees, advisory groups, departments and tasks forces cognizant of the makeup of the groups and understanding that one of the primary roles of the leader is to help people succeed. I believe good leaders create organizations of people within their communities who work together not only because they have to but sometimes because they want to.

In order to do this, good leaders know their people; they know their makeup and their personalities. They understand their strengths and their weaknesses. They’ve taken the time to communicate, to meet and talk and learn.

They know their actresses and actors.

Good leaders know how to assemble people into all-star casts.

Would Centennial have been as good without Robert Conrad’s Pasquinel or Richard Chamberlain’s McKeag? I think we all know the answer to that question.

Teach & Serve No. 18 – Do the Undone

Teach & Serve 

No. 18 * December 1, 2015


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DO THE UNDONE

There is more lingering out there as we approach Christmas Break than grading papers, exams and projects. There are other things that may require our attention.

December 1.

How did it get this late in the semester? I suspect teachers all over the Western world have a similar reaction to the calendar page turn to the first of December. Where did this semester go? How did I get so behind in my curricular plan? How can I finish everything I need to finish, grade everything I need to grade, get done all that I need to get done?

These questions are certainly timely. These questions are certainly real.

Checklist 2And these issues are likely to be resolved by teachers. They have to be. Finals have to be written. Papers have to be graded. Work has to be done. Though it’s difficult, sometimes, to look at the calendar and see how all the work will get done, it does get done. We create the time. We figure out a way.

Dare I say these are the easy things to address, easy because we know what they are? The truth is there are other things that need tending to as we approach the end of the semester – other things that, too, need to be done. Some of these are not obvious. They are not stacked on our desk or circled on our calendars. They are not tangible, but they are important.

Consider this: are there students in our classrooms with whom we’ve been at odds? Are there students who’ve managed to rub us the wrong way, about whom we are justified (in our minds, at least) to feel great frustration toward, those kids that we sometimes don’t feel deserve our time?

Are there calls we ought to make; emails we ought to write? Are there parents we know are stewing that we are content to let simmer in their own juices? Are we willing to simply write these things off and hope that they go away?

Are there faculty members we have avoided, those with whom we have conflicts – large or small – that we’d rather not speak with. Are these people in the faculty room that cause us to spin around in our tracks?

What does avoiding these things gain us? Much like we have “work” to do with grades and exams and closing out the minutia of the semester, these things, too, are “work.” The question is why do we often resist the notion that this kind of work is as important as all the other kinds of work?

Hopefully you don’t have many of these things in your life, professional or otherwise. Hopefully you tend to these issue as they come up and, because we work with people – with students, their parents and our colleagues – they will come up. Hopefully you don’t leave these things undone.

As we look to the semester’s end, though, maybe we can set our sights on doing those things that are undone. Perhaps we can wrap up some loose ends that are not tangible. Perhaps these final weeks allow us a moment to reflect on what needs to be addressed and give us the space to actually address it.

Perhaps we can do the undone.

That would be a great gift to share.

 

Teach & Serve No. 17 – Giving Thanks for Our Own Gifts

Teach & Serve 

No. 17 * November 24, 2015


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GIVING THANKS FOR OUR OWN GIFTS

Turn away from false humility and embrace what makes you special

It’s Thanksgiving Week, a short week for our schools and a time to be with friends and family and step back to be grateful for all that we have – for all with which we are blessed.

Every Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the famous quote by Meister Eckhardt, the German theologian, philosopher and mystic: “If the only prayer you ever said was ‘thank you,’ it would be enough.” Powerful thought.

I could write paragraph after paragraph about all of the things in my life for which I am thankful. I will do that sometime this week leading up to Thanksgiving, because I am thankful for so very, very much. I have a wonderful wife, incredible children, a home over my head, a job I love, a family that cares about me. I have leisure time to do things like write this blog. I have all that I could ever need. More than I really need, truly.

quotes-prayer-thank-meister-eckhart-480x480I will write about those things, as I said.

But I’d like to challenge all of us who work in education to do something else this week. As we think about all those things for which we are thankful, let’s take a moment to give thanks for our own gifts.

I don’t mean the external gifts we’ve been given like health or those things I listed above. No, I mean those internal gifts we’ve been given. Those things in us that are good and powerful. Those things in us that help us to be excellent educators and administrators. Those things in us that other people point out about us.

Let’s take a few moments to give thanks for ourselves.

There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, there is everything right with this. We can and should allow ourselves the space and time to be thankful for who we are and what we are. If you cannot identify those things about yourself for which we should be thankful, if you cannot readily list those things, I would suggest this: what would you say to build up a colleague, a student, a person in your charge? Say that to yourself. There is a difference between humbleness and false humility. Embrace being humble, for certainly that itself may be a quality for which you are thankful, but turn away from false humility and embrace, in equal measure, all that makes you special.

Because you are. You are an educator and a good one. Be thankful for you.

What better time to do so than this week?

Thank you for who I am. Thank you for what I can do. Thank you for the gifts I have to teach, to lead, to inspire.

Thank you for me.

That’s enough.

Teach & Serve No. 16 – The Networked Reality

Teach & Serve 

No. 16 * November 17, 2015


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THE NETWORKED REALITY

We are not encumbered by any walls, much less the four walls of our schools…

In the course of my work, I have the opportunity to spend time with large groups of educators who periodically come together for cohort meetings at locations across the country. The organization for which I serve helps put these events on for professionals in our network to bring them together so they can share with one another, learn from one another and simply be together with one another. In Chicago, Illinois last week, I was with over 65 principals from schools in our network. This week, the technology directors and folks with similar jobs in our schools will be gathering in Omaha, Nebraska.

As a participant in prior gatherings like this, I found them to be engaging and refreshing – chances to be with like-minded people discussing topics of the day that could make a difference in the lives of students back at my school. As a coordinator of said events, it’s very interesting to stand back and watch these gatherings unfold. Because the conferences in our network feature folks from a maximum of 90 schools, the people who come to them frequently know one another. Certainly they are familiar with each other’s schools. They have a shared bond beyond the jobs they do, so settling in and getting comfortable with each other doesn’t take very long and then the gatherings can really take off.

What I’ve found most intriguing (and, some might say, most obvious given that what I am about to write isn’t any great insight) is how connected these people remain between our periodic get-togethers. Though most of the schools in our network are spread across North America with miles-and-miles in between them, these people have been in contact in “off” years. They’ve been collaborating and working together, advising one another and staying abreast of developments in each other’s schools.

NetworkThe reality of our work today is that we are not encumbered by the “four walls” of our schools. We can be connected to wherever we’d like, whenever we’d like to be. We can reach out for expertise beyond ourselves, find wisdom in other contexts, look to people who are not us to tell us who we are and who we can be.

This is not just something we ought to do for fun. This is not just some opportunity we might consider taking advantage of when everything else at our school is going well and in place. This is not simply an option in the 21st century. It’s an imperative.

The reality of being able to be networked with other educators around our cities, our states, our country and our world is a reality that matters. It matters to our students, for their worlds are not our worlds. Their worlds are not the worlds in which we grew up or in which we learned to teach. Their worlds are interconnected and immediate. And we have to push into those worlds with force.

The networked reality calls us to do this. We don’t need to wait to read monthly journal articles about best practices being implemented in inventive schools half a country away from us. We can be connected to that progress, right here, right now in real time. We can bring experts to us. We can be experts for one another. The networked reality challenges us to be current, to build online Professional Learning Networks and to access them. To follow trends on Twitter. To fill our news feed with articles to parse, stories to read, strategies to attempt. The network reality makes our professional world so much larger while simultaneously rendering it so small we can grasp it, access it and use it to the benefit of our students.

After all, isn’t that what we’re all about? Aren’t we about benefitting the kids? The best way to do that, in real time, is to get comfortable in the networked reality.

Get comfortable in it and get to work.