EduQuote of the Week: May 14 – 20, 2018

Police Week

Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.

– Barack Obama

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 19 – Favorite Fictional Teachers

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 19

Favorite Fictional Teachers

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


During this Teacher Appreciation Week 2018, it seems appropriate that I revisit my personal list of the best fictional teachers.

Here goes!

Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda are awarded this distinction for their ability to inspire students to come to the truth, their connection to an inspirational greater power, their commitment to teaching (even if they have to sacrifice their lives for it), their wise sayings, their ability to DO and not just teach, their skill with their chosen tools, and their dedication to dealing with even the most complaining and petulant students (i.e. Anakin and Luke Skywalker!)

Ralph Hanley (the Greatest American Hero) is awarded this distinction for his ability to keep his students out of trouble while saving the world, his balancing of the life of a superhero and a teacher, his ability to walk on air, his understanding that one person can make a difference … believe it or not, it’s just him. You know you want to hear it… click HERE for the Mike Post theme song! Oh, and a quick bit of trivia… Ralph Hanley’s name was originally Ralph Hinkley, but that surname was changed after the attempt on President Reagan’s life by John Hinkley, jr.

Ms. Norbury (from Mean Girls) is awarded this distinction for her sweet sarcasm, her being the best of a bad crop of educators, her love of a well-turned phrase, her pusher-ness – she pushes people – and her incredible likeness to Liz Lemon.

Professor Charles Xavier (of The X-Men)is awarded this distinction for his intelligence, his supernatural power to know what people are thinking, his love of the marginalized, his ability to “push” people to do what is best, his living of a full life while differently abled and his beautiful dome.

Laura Roslin (of Battlestar Galatica) is awarded this distinction for her faith in adversity – a quality all good teachers possess, her courage under extreme circumstances, her ability to inspire loyalty and confidence in others, her career track (teacher to Secretary of Education to President of the Colonies – though this last step took the rest of the Cabinet being obliterated by the Cylons and her standing with a fist. So say we all..

Professor Ross Geller (one of our best Friends) is awarded this distinction for his undying commitment to his subject matter, his desire to educate all around him, no matter how much they don’t want to learn, his enthusiasm in all circumstances, his never-say-die attitude (he gets fired from positions and keeps coming back), his thumbing his nose at rules by dating his students, and, never forget that… he’ll be there for us.

Professor Henry Jones, jr. is awarded this distinction for making education exciting, his practical, real world application of his subject matter, his dislike of reptiles, his ability to survive every calamity including nuclear explosions and Shia LaBeouf, his battling evil – like the Nazis, and not his years, but his mileage.

Jane Eyre is awarded this distinction for her courage under fire, her devotion to her studies and her pupils, her overcoming impossible odds, her passionate love, and her fleeing of her relatives.

Mrs. Nelson (you heard Mrs. Nelson Is Missing, right!?!) is awarded this distinction for the fact that she knows how to illustrate to her students to be careful what they wish for… Enough. Said. I hate it when she’s missing…

My favorite is Mr. Glen Holland (from Mr. Holland’s Opus) who is awarded this distinction for surprising himself by finding a life in education, for teaching his students as much about life as about music, for making good choices even in the face of temptation, for reaching out to those in need, for inspiring his students, for finding his compass and being one of mine.

Teach & Serve III, No. 39 – Appreciation

Teach & Serve III, No. 39 – Appreciation

May 9, 2018

To my teachers, professors, colleagues and friends: THANK YOU. You have given me the gift of education and that is a blessing I can never, ever fully repay.

In the midst of Teacher Appreciation Week 2018, I am reminded, with more intentionality than I would typically apply, of the many teachers and educators who have made a difference in my life. During the course of the week, I have been tweeting my appreciation of the impact they have left on me. This post continues and expands on this theme.

The first teacher who made a mark on me was my grandmother, Lucille Kirk. She taught elementary school at Brown Elementary in Denver, Colorado, and she never, ever made teaching seem to me to be a chore. She made it seem an adventure. I have heard from so many of her former students of the life she led and the lives she changed. What a gift she must have been in the classroom. She was surely a gift to me as a grandmother.

I am more grateful than I can express to Mrs. Janet Batman, Ms. Barb Baxter, Mr. Henry Sellers and so many other teachers who took care of and inspired me when I was in kindergarten and elementary school at Parr Elementary School in Arvada, Colorado. These three educators and their colleagues nurtured in me a love of reading, of adventure and of imagination. Drawing through-lines across the map of my life, I can see the seeds they planted becoming the trees from which I now swing and in which I build makeshift houses. I wish I could time travel back to share with them my admiration and love.

At Regis Jesuit High School in Denver, Mr. Ralph Taylor and Mr. Dan Sarlo taught me about analysis and academic rigor. Mr.  John Vowells, SJ and Mrs. Anne Smith awakened a love of theater. Ms. Charlotte Read and my good, good friend, Mr. Michael Buckley introduced me to writing and photography. Mr. Tim Newton (good luck on your retirement!) challenged me to become a better artist (and to draw something – anything – that was not superheroes or Star Wars). Sister Benita Volk engendered in me an undying love of the English language. Dr. Chris Wheatley deconstructed and reconstructed everything I thought about education when I was in his classrooms at The Catholic University of America. These people set me on the course my entire life would take: the course of being an educator.

I wish I could be in a library run by Teri Brannan, my old Parr Elementary classmate. I wish I could observe Sean Gaillard, my best friend from college, as he shepherds the school at which he is principal. I wish I could more often see my sister, Janna Petersen, at work in her library. I miss Angie Mammano, the first teacher I could call “peer” who showed me in my initial years of teaching at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, MD, what this life is all about. I remember being amazed by Kim Smith, stunned by the knowledge and humor of John Staud, humbled by the gentle good will of Chris Pramuk, all of whom I worked with early in my career when I came to teach at my alma mater.

I cannot fathom the impact my best friend Jim Broderick King has had on me. He is one of the best teachers I know. I am humbled by those who came into my life as teachers when I was an administrator. Mike Meagher and Barb Bess could both put on clinics in excellent teaching. My friend Ryan Williamson is as passionate about doing right by students as teacher I have ever met. Cameron Turner, a former student of mine, is a better teacher than I will ever be. Leslie Larsen is the most empathetic teacher I have ever encountered. My son, Matthew Sheber Howard, will join this profession in the fall and I could not be any more proud. And my wife, Caroline Howard is simply an unequivocally and immensely gifted educator.

I am humbled to be joining the staff of Mullen High School in Denver in 3 short weeks. In my time there, I have already seen brilliant instruction, compassionate approaches to students, caring teachers and staff and a real commitment to this life and vocation we all share. I am already intimidated by their passion and zeal and I know their students are well cared for and loved. What a wonderful environment to join.

It is true that the work we do with students can be hard. It can be challenging. It can be heart wrenching. It is also true that appreciation for that work is, sometimes, faint and distant. We do not always hear “thank you.” We do not always feel the difference we so clearly make in people’s lives – in our students’ lives.

To my teachers, professors, colleagues and friends: THANK YOU. You have given me the gift of education and that is a blessing I can never, ever fully repay.

I will continue to try to be worthy of it.

EduQuote of the Week: May 7 – 13, 2018

Teacher Appreciation Week

If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in her or his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then she or he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.

– Donald Quinn

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EduQuote of the Week: May 2 – 6, 2018

Salvation Army Week

With the backdrop of The Salvation Army’s century and a half of service to the world’s poor, these songs and reflections are born of meaningful engagement with a living Gospel.

– Sara Groves

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Teach & Serve III, No. 38 – The Competency Trap

Teach & Serve III, No. 38 – The Competency Trap

May 2, 2018

At a minimum, professionals want to be regarded as at least competent in what they do, right? However, doing well in tasks that we do not desire, especially in roles we do not want to perpetually have, creates the conditions for the Competency Trap.

It is my strong belief that the overwhelming majority of people want to do well in their work. Even when people are assigned duties they would rather not have or take on responsibilities that are not their first choice of roles, they have a desire to excel or, at least, to perform competently in those positions. To be clear, I am not writing about the critical, “Other Duties as Assigned” roles that we all must share. These are necessary parts of the work on which we collaborate. No, I am writing about those “other” things, the extra ones. The ones we do for more money (which we need) or to complete contracts.

In the work we do in schools, we are, more often than we in administration might like to admit, are asked by higher-ups to take on work that we would not seek out on our own. Often this occurs when we are new in our positions or new to our schools.

“Hey, do you want to make a little more money? Will you coordinate the magazine sale?”

“We want to fill out your contract and parking lot supervisor is available. Can you do it?”

“Well, even though you don’t know anything about tennis, we need a JV coach. Will that work for you?”

The answer to questions like this is typically, “Of course! Bring it on!”

At a minimum, professionals want to be regarded as at least competent in what they do, right? However, doing well in tasks that we do not desire, especially in roles we do not want to perpetually have, creates the conditions for the Competency Trap.

The Competency Trap is a two-fold problem. First, those people charged with doing what they do not wish more often than not do great at those roles. Because they are valuable employees who care about the work they do, they accomplish what they are assigned. Most positions like this in schools are cyclic; they are needed each year. The person doing the work can become strongly associated with it. He is the Blood Drive person. She is the Bake Sale Coordinator. Look at what a good job she does. Once we are associated with work we do competently and well it can be difficult to change roles or to leave the work behind even if we wish to.

The second problem lies with administration. Again, the positions we are considering here are not the most desirable or prestigious in our schools. When administrators fill them, they are likely check off the box, happily. That is done. Move on to the next issue. When those doing the work do it well, why would an administrator consider a change? When people meet or exceed expectation and, at the end of the day or the term, when they have done a good job in the role, it becomes difficult to reassign the work. And if can feel unnecessary, even when the person doing the work requests a change.

This, then, is the Competency Trap, and the responsibility for getting out of it falls almost entirely on the administrator or supervisor. We want people to complete good work in the roles they take on, certainly. We do not wish to create a disincentive for good work. When we assign roles and lock people into them without periodic review in which they are the most important participants, the Competency Trap can be in play. We must allow people to express how they are connecting with what they are doing and how valuable (and valued) they feel in the work. If we do not, problems and frustrations will, inevitably, arise.

There are jobs in our schools that are not entirely appealing, but the work must be done. Some of it may feel like drudgery. Some of it may not challenge. We may get placed into positions we would not choose for ourselves for all kinds of reasons. That is the nature of our shared enterprise and that is fine. But, when administration does not pay attention to those in less desirable positions and when people feel stuck in these kinds of jobs and these duties become inextricably linked to their professional personas, the Competency Trap has sprung, and leaders must break out of it for the good of those they lead.

EduQuote of the Week: April 30 – May 1, 2018

No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.

– Joseph Addison

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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.

EduQuote of the Week: April 23 – 29, 2018

Volunteer Week

Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.

– H. Jackson Brown Jr.

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