For someone in front of them each teacher is the most interesting educator alive. It’s an as awesome a responsibility as it is awesome.
The “news” that Dos Equis is retiring their “Most Interesting Man in the World” advertising campaign after over a decade of success (I guess they are sending him to Mars for his last commercial) got me thinking about how engaging that campaign was and how many times it made me laugh. A thought that commonly occurs to me followed – what would it be like if society celebrated educators the way it celebrates entertainers or sports figures or subjects of ad campaigns.
It would be kind of cool, wouldn’t it?
So, at the end of last week and into this one, I’ve been tweeting using the hashtag #TheMostInterestingEducatorAlive, commenting about friends of mine I’ve known in my years in education and making some remarks (remarks I found both funny and true) concerning how they affect their students or how they have affected me in their vocations.
I am unsure of just how many teachers and administrators I’ve worked with over the course of my quarter century in education. The total must be over 500, of that much I am certain. Do I remember all of them? No. Certainly not. I wish I did, but my personal data banks are so filled with comic book and Star Trek and Denver Bronco trivia that the important stuff is sometimes forced to the outskirts of my numb skull. No, I don’t remember all of the people with whom I’ve worked.
But this much I do know. I know that to some student they taught, to some athlete they coached or musician they inspired, to some kid in a classroom or some teenager in the cafeteria, they were the Most Interesting Educator Alive.
This is true and it’s also an awesome responsibility. Educators make differences in people’s lives with each moment and in each circumstance. Their actions are remembered. Their word echo.
This is why I wrote “@UrCinnamonGirl knows stories about Traveler that Robert E. Lee himself never did” because her students leave her class with minds filled with the stories of history that make history worth knowing.
This is why I wrote of the talented @Sean_M_O’Dea “he wrote 94 of the 95 Theses.” Of course he didn’t, but to his students, it seems he did. That’s the level of command he brings to his subject.
This is why I wrote “@KellyQuigs knows the real UN could learn a thing or two from her Model UN Club” because she inspires a love of the real world in her kids and they get it.
This is why I wrote “Ice cubes wish they were as chill as @JoeLags.” His students know that @JoeLags always approaches them calmly and with compassion. They trust him long after they leave his classroom.
This is why I wrote that “When Parker Palmer needs leadership advice, he asks @bhobbs63” – he teaches adults what it means to lead.
I’ve tweeted about almost 20 of my colleagues. I’ll continue tweeting about them and I encourage you to do so, too. Choose a teacher, compose a #TheMostInterestingEducatorAlive tweet and remind a teacher of what they meant to you. Remind an administrator of what they did for you. Remind an educator of what they do for eternity.
For someone in front of them each teacher is the most interesting educator alive. It’s an as awesome a responsibility as it is awesome.
When we are at the end of our tenures in our roles in our schools – we’re all going to come to the end of our tenures, sooner or later, I assure you – it is interesting to think about how we will be remembered
Take a moment, if you will, to consider the day after your retirement party. Your faculty and staff, the teachers with whom you’ve worked and struggled, with whom you’ve laughed and cried, have given you the sendoff, the card and the gold watch. They’ve said nice things about you at the retirement party, told great stories and jokes, shared their reminiscences. It’s all over but the cleanup and they head back to work the next day.
But not you.
You’re not back to work the next day; you’re retired, remember? You’ve moved on, but your colleagues have stayed behind.
For a moment, just consider: what are they saying about you? What are their memories, fond and otherwise? What did you leave behind?
When we are at the end of our tenures in our roles in our schools – we’re all going to come to the end of our tenures, sooner or later, I assure you – it is interesting to think about how we will be remembered. It’s an intellectual exercise we might want to take part in regularly.
Because, if we are successful in reviewing our time at our schools in its totality and our work with our students dispassionately, if we are successful in considering our interactions with our colleagues from a distance and our place in our institutions without bias, we might gain valuable insights about how we go about our work, where we put our energy and what we might leave behind.
I know that some of us would want to be remembered as challenging but fair – both as teachers and as administrators. Some of us would want equanimity to be our lasting impression. Some of us would hope for people to recall us as joyful.
Allow me to suggest we consider this question as we look back: did we raise all boats or did we scuttle some?
NFL quarterback Peyton Manning retired this week following an 18 year career during which he set almost every individual record a quarterback could ever hope to achieve. From touchdowns thrown to yards passed to wins accumulated, Manning holds almost every record imaginable. That’s an impressive feat, to be sure, and it deserves to be celebrated if you think that sports figures ought to be celebrated.
More impressive than these records to me, however (and this is coming from a dyed-orange-and-blue-in-the-wool Denver Broncos fan), is a concept that I have heard associated with Manning from the moment four years ago when he came to Denver. Former Bronco coach John Fox said, the day Manning was signed in Denver, that Manning was a player who raised all boats.
Raises all boats. Makes everyone better. Be the most valuable player who makes other players most valuable.
I really resonate with this idea. I like it. A lot.
Peyton Manning’s knowledge and skills made his teammates look better than they were. In his case, raising all boats meant making players around him who were good look great.
In the case of our work as educational professionals, raising all boats is a goal to strive for – a goal for which we ought to be known.
For too long, education has been viewed in terms of competition, competition for grades, for instructing the best classes, for getting the biggest promotion. All too often, we can look at those around us and think they are in our way. We can see those around us as obstacles to navigate and ships to scuttle.
If only these students tried harder, my job would be easier. If only my department wrote better curriculum, I would look better as a department chair. If only these teachers did what they were told, I would have a smoother time as an administrator.
Wouldn’t it be better if we saw ourselves as trying to raise all boats, trying to help everyone around us be better, trying to make others most valuable? Wouldn’t it be nice if we saw ourselves as servants of others and shifted the focus of all we do to that perspective?
Hey, it couldn’t hurt.
And, at the end of the day, what would people say about us if that’s the way we worked and taught and lead.
They might say we raised all boats.
There would be worse things to say about us, wouldn’t there?
… there is no profession that re-writes its jargon with such wild abandon as education.
Though I don’t know how one accurately quantifies such things, I am fairly certain I am on the top of any scale for measurement of a person’s fanaticism for Star Trek. Seriously, I am a huge fan and trivia and facts about the show are deeply rooted in my mind. One wonders what thoughts I could think if my brain weren’t populated with episode titles and quotes and guest stars and alternate reality theories about the crew of the Enterprise and their comrades. I love the show in all of its incarnations (the Original Series and Deep Space Nine being tied in my mind as the best televised versions) but I came into adulthood watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is not overstatement to say I never missed an episode.
When you watch something that carefully and think about it is as much as I did (and still do), you begin to notice certain cracks in the veneer. Great episodes of the show are great. Good ones are good and bad ones tend to suffer from the same problems which repeated themselves over the course of the show’s seven year run. I won’t enumerate them all here (that’s a subject for a different column in my blogosphere) but I will note that I was thinking of one repeated flaws just this week when my wife – a terrific and talented high school teacher who has been wowing her students for over 15 years – and I were talking about professional development opportunities.
“All professions have their jargon” she said. She really said this. She’s smart and throws out words like “jargon” all the time. “All professions have their jargon but can you think of any profession that changes theirs as much as teaching does? Every time you turn around, it’s some new edu-babble.”
“Edu-babble.” I love it. That word should trend.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, when it got in trouble would often get in trouble because of what the cast came to call “techno-babble.” Techno-babble was made up words and concepts that became more central to shows than plots and characters. Techno-babble was hard to say. Techno-babble contradicted itself. Techno-babble became boring and use of it illustrated a lack of creativity. If the Next Generation characters could just “techno-babble” their way out of a problem, where’s the dramatic tension?
See? I know way too much about Star Trek.
I have a degree in secondary education. I was directly involved in high school teaching for almost a quarter century and taught hundreds of classes and thousands of students. I attended all manner and variety of professional development opportunities – some great, some not, most somewhere in between. I have read hundreds of thousands of words on the subject of teaching, given talks and lectures and written articles about it, thought about it with passion. And, of education and the jargon we teachers and administrators use within it, I can safely say this: my wife is right.
(I can always safely say that)
My wife is absolutely right. In terms of the “professional” world, there is no profession that re-writes its jargon with such wild abandon as education. I don’t mean adds to its jargon, by-the-way. I mean changes it, reformulates it, restructures it.
Look, I don’t mean to knock the shared language of education. I truly don’t. I do mean to simply point out that our profession changes its language far too readily. Education inspires great thinkers to think great thoughts. Education knows it should change and adapt. Education understands that it has to be studied, evaluated, written about. Thing is, it seems that every few years, the newest innovation in education (and YAY! for innovating! Keep the innovations coming, big thinkers!) is all too often accompanied by words and language that must be decoded and unpacked (cumbersome, friends, cumbersome). If one is not willing to adopt the language – and now! – one may feel on the outside looking in. When one experiences enough of these cycles, and is told often enough that they are saying it wrong, one stops engaging.
Why do we put the jargon in the way? Why is the edu-babble so important? It’s not that there aren’t excellent new ways of proceeding in education – great practices supported by new research that should be shared and tried and refined; there are wonderful new things to do as educators. It’s just that our profession all too often gets tied up in the words, in the edu-babble.
When the edu-babble doesn’t make sense, teachers – short on time, long on work – resent the time it takes to parse it out. When edu-babble begins to creep into their performance reports and teacher evaluation tools, those very reports and tools can be weakened.
It’s not about the words, friends, it’s about the concepts the words represent, it’s about the ways to help educate kids better. When we get hung up on the language, on getting the words just right, we surely lose the forest for the trees.
I don’t want to know the secret code to be considered a competent educator. I want to be one.
Beware jargon that doesn’t make sense. Beware edu-babble.
People who have spent a significant amount of time studying leadership look to their supervisors, their bosses, their superiors and note a disconnect between the principles of good leadership and what is going on in some of their schools.
I have spent the last three weeks of my professional life with groups of educational professionals who have been sent by their administrations to take part in workshops that are about, on one level or another, leadership. Some have formal leadership roles in their schools – principals, assistant principals, deans of students, department chairs, program directors, coaches – and some have informal leadership in their schools, wielding influence at their institutions in various manners both subtle and overt.
There weeks have been terrific and the overwhelming majority of the people with whom I’ve spent time reassures me that the future of school leadership is in very, very good hands. Committed, conscientious and compassionate, most of the people with whom I’ve worked these last weeks have affected me, have made me think back with great fondness to my years in schools and have inspired me to think what great institutions could be constructed if these people were the building blocks.
Yet, at some point these weeks it occurred to me that back in the “real world,” back at their schools when they are plying their trade in the trenches – as it were – many of these very people who have spent a significant amount of time studying leadership look to their supervisors, their bosses, their superiors and note a disconnect between the principles of good leadership and what is going on in some of their schools.
I have read Simon Sinek (and, if you’re interested in leadership, you should, too – Start with Why is particularly good) and watched his TED talks and one of the maxims I have heard him say is simply true: there is a difference between leaders and those who lead.
Take a look at a school organizational chart. Schools are lousy with formal leaders. From presidents to principals and on down the diagram, there is no shortage of “leaders” in schools. In fact, some schools are shockingly top heavy with leadership.
What there might be a shortage of is people who actually lead.
Show me a school with people in leadership positions who actually lead and I will show you a schools that is unafraid, that is humble, that is ready to innovate, collaborate and change, that is positioned to charge into an unknown future safe in the knowledge that it knows why it does what it does. Show me a school with people who lead and I will show you a school with more fulfilled and empowered employees than not, more teachers energized by their work, more students sharing responsibility their learning, more successful outcomes. Show me a school with leaders who lead and I will show you a school that I would support, a school to which I would send my children, a school in which I would want to serve.
I’ve been thrice blessed over the course of the last 30 days to reconnect with old friends.
We tend to be overly nostalgic about our college years. I had a great time in college, to be sure, but, again, the best years of my life were not concluded when I turned 22. Likewise, we wax poetic about our early years in our first jobs. No, they weren’t really as great as we remember them. I never believed the high school years were the best years of my students’ lives. I cringe when I hear that sentiment voiced at orientations or graduations. I mean the high school years are, literally, spent between the ages of 14 and 18. Am I supposed to believe that my best years were over almost 30 years ago? That would be a depressing thought, indeed.
However, there is something very special about these periods of our lives and about the people with whom we share them, and it’s a platitude I’ve shared with many a student in many a class at many an occasion over the years that I’ve only recently come to know as true.
I’ve been thrice blessed over the course of the last 30 days to reconnect with old friends. I literally almost typed “old, old friends,” but I feared that might imply that the people I am talking about are elderly. They are not. They are my contemporaries which means, by any definition by which I view myself, that they are not old at all!
Interesting to me is that all three of these companions came to me through my educational life. These relationships all spun out of my connection to schools and schooling and the bonds forged over those experiences seem to be stronger than I had previously imagined.
I was treated to an amazing day in Los Angeles by the first of these old friends. It was such an incredible experience of generosity on his part that the whole thing is frankly hard to explain. Suffice it to say that he allowed me to see and touch my own personal Disneyland. Incredible. We reconnected over Facebook a few years ago and hadn’t seen each other for over 25 years before he hosted me (and The Magister) at his home and place of work for 24 indelible hours.
He and I had known each other in high school. I was Schroeder to his Charlie Brown in a production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown when I was a junior and he was a senior. We were on the yearbook staff together. We spent many a night at rehearsals or working on deadlines or at cast parties talking, dreaming about girls, our futures, our place in the world – you know, like high school kids do.
The second old friend was stranded in Colorado when a snowstorm shuttered airports all over his home state of North Carolina. He’d been in Denver for a fact-finding trip, studying exemplary schools on three precise days that I was actually away from my home city! We weren’t going to get to see one another but, as fate would have it, he was stuck in Colorado and I was able to return home before he left. The breakfast we shared on an early Saturday morning was the best meal I’d had in a long, long time.
He had been the Best Man in my first wedding, but we had met years earlier in college. We were selected to be Resident Assistants the same year. We were both English majors. We were both into music, though he was always (and remains) far more talented than I. I was Diamond to his Jade and when we lobbied for and were assigned to be RAs of the same dorm, we wreaked havoc as the greatest tandem ever… at least that’s what we thought.
Traveling to Xavier University on a work trip, I connected with my third old friend, primarily because the organization for which I work had asked him to be the keynote speaker at a major event we hold every third summer. Walking across the Xavier campus on a crisp January morning I could feel my exciting building to see him. Coming into his office – seeing the manner in which it was decorated and feeling the vibe my friend had created, I felt immediately welcomed and sank into comfortable repartee.
He and I were hired the same year at Regis Jesuit High School and he was part-and-parcel to my experience of my early years in education. We spent our work hours together. We spent our off hours together. We had a tight group of friends that shared life, day-in-and-day-out. I was Downbound to his Train, rhythm guitar to his lead piano, melody to his harmony.
Three friends in 30 days. I got to reconnect with three friends in 30 days. Each of the encounters were, in their own way, unexpected. It was something of a lark to see my first friend in Los Angeles. It was incredible luck to see my second friend at home. It was shocking when my boss told me “I have a great idea for a speaker for us…” and suggested my third friend. I got to see three old friends in 30 days. Three friends who had incredible impacts on my life when I was younger. Three friends who came to me through my schooling as a high schooler, a college student and as a teacher.
Seeing them now, as a man in my later 40s, made me realize something I’ve often said to students that I don’t know that I’d ever really experienced and it’s a truth I don’t think it’s just true for me. The connections we make in schools matter. They count. They influence us in how we think, what we believe and who we are.
It’s not that I didn’t know that. It’s not that I needed to learn that lesson. I just don’t know that I had ever experienced it like I did last month.
My high school friend is living his life in the precise manner he wants to. I so admired him in high school because he always seemed so at home in his own skin and comfortable with himself is clearly what he is. Comfortable, warm, generous. If I have any of those qualities, I learned them from him when we were high schoolers.
My college friend is a deeply thoughtful, talented educator. He is driven to make the world around him a better place for his students and his teachers. A devoted family man with a resonant and contagious laugh, he inspired me in college and inspires me now. I wanted to be more like him when we were in college and I want to be more like him now.
My teacher friend is a true contemplative in action, just like he was when we signed our teaching contracts together. Even tempered and spiritual, I was forever in awe of his manner and his grace. His faith guided his life when we were young and still does. I often wondered how to model myself on his example and I still do.
Being in the presence of each of these men was something of a time warp. The intervening years from the last time we’d seen one another to the day we reconnected vanished. With each of them, I felt I was picking up where I’d left off, stepping into a well read and much loved chapter of my favorite novel and reading it all over again.
The friends we make in our youth have great influence on us. They help us conceptualize the world – help us make sense when nothing makes sense. Their example imprints on us. Their approval moves us. Their friendship makes us. Those words we offer as educational professionals about how our school friends will be at our weddings, the births of our children, our funerals, these are true words. I’ve preached them many times and preach them here, again, today.
The connections we make in school matter. There is wonder in them. There is grace.
And I was lucky enough to revisit three such connections in the last month to drive that point home.
Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. – Abraham Lincoln