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. 5 – Know Your Team

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 5

Know Your Team

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


Mark Waid is a terrific comic book writer. Wickedly intelligent, possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, abundantly talented, Waid has written almost every main character for both DC and Marvel of which casual fans would know. He has written some amazing storylines and he has contributed to the myth of many characters.

One of those characters is Batman.

Waid wrote Justice League in the late 1990s and early 2000s and he penned some terrific stories. One of those stories, Tower of Babel, added to Batman’s reputation in an immeasurably– defining the character to this day. It made such a lasting impression, it was adapted into the DC Animated Movie Justice League: Doom.

In the story, a group of villains break into the Batcave computers and discover Batman has been creating plans to take down each-and-every member of the Justice League should that ever become necessary. The villains use these highly effective plans against the League and, though the team eventually succeeds in defeating them, the heroes look at Batman differently from that moment forward.

Art for the story was provided by the terrific Howard Porter.

Batman respects his teammates. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. He knows that they might, someday, need to be confronted and challenged. Is it incredibly cold hearted that he has devised plans – in advance – of how to deal with them if they go rouge? Of course it is, but he is Batman, after all.

The leadership lesson here is not to keep files of those you lead and know how to defeat them. You are not Batman, after all.

No, the lesson is to know those with whom you work. Know their strengths. Know their weaknesses. Know that, even if they are close colleagues – and *gasp* perhaps even friends – there may come a time when you have to confront them, challenge them, disagree with them.  There may come a time when knowing your colleagues weaknesses is an important part of your leadership and as important as knowing their strengths.

When you are a leader, developing the leadership of those around you is a critical part of the work. Knowing how to help those around you grow and overcome their weaknesses is a significant leadership tool. Additionally, knowing how not to put people into situations that will defeat them – situations that are beyond their abilities – is just as important.

Know your team. Know their capabilities. Know how to put them in the best positions to succeed.

And know you are not Batman!

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 1 – Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. I

Superheroic Leadership

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


For as far back as my memory will take me, superheroes have been a part of the life of my imagination. I learned to read from the adventures of Batman and Spider-Man, learned to take flights of fancy with Wonder Woman and the Avengers and so many more.  And it was not just the four-color heroes I read about in the pages of comic books that were alive in my mind. The heroes of science fiction, especially characters from Star Trek and Star Wars, shared almost equal time.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I found that affection for comic books and science fiction was less cool than playing sports or collecting baseball cards and I, like many others who shared these hobbies, did not exactly broadcast my affinity for them. I know I am not alone in that feeling.

How could those of us who spoke the secret language of comics, who knew the difference between the Empire and the Klingon Empire and who debated whether Superman could lift Thor’s hammer have possibly known that these characters we embraced as kids would become culturally dominant icons? How could we have anticipated The Avengers, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Guardians of the Galaxy and Wonder Woman?

How could we have known the power these stories would have to captivate, to entertain and, dare I write, to inspire?

For there must be something inspirational about these characters and their stories. There must be something worth watching. There must be something with depth about which to think.

I believe there is and, while there are many reasons for the enduring popularity of superheroes and science fiction characters, I believe their lasting resonance has something to do with leadership.

Superheroic Leadership is, at least in title, an homage to Chris Lowney’s terrific Heroic Leadership, wherein Lowney juxtaposes lessons about leadership in business with the lives of early Jesuits. It is a clever and instructive book, Lowney’s Heroic Leadership, and one I highly recommend.

This every-other-week series of posts will not be as clever or instructive. What it will be is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I, perhaps only on reflection, have learned from their adventures.

There must be a reason I have spent so much time and money on and with these characters, right?

Welcome to Superheroic Leadership!

Teach & Serve II, No. 9 – You Don’t Get to Choose When the Crisis Hits

Teach & Serve II, No. 9 – You Don’t Get to Choose When the Crisis Hits

October 5, 2016

As teachers and administrators we exist to do many things, one of those things is to provide stability in the face of crisis.

I read comic books. I’ve read them since I was in the first grade and, though I tried to give them up my freshman year of college, the effort to “grow up” didn’t take. I have moved into the 21st century in my collecting and no longer buy physical issues, but purchase my comics electronically and access them via my iPad. Pretty cool stuff.

batmansketchOne of the major tropes in traditional, superhero comic books is villains do bad things that heroes have to address. What works out great for the heroes is that these bad things villains do normally happen in sequences. The Joker causes Batman trouble for a few issues, then Two-Face, then the Riddler. Rarely do they overlap in their assaults.

How kind of them. It gives good old Batman a chance to recover from one crisis and plan for the next.

I have found in my career that rarely are the circumstances of crisis so kind. I never got to choose when the crisis hit.

When the waters are troubled, when things challenge our institutions, when tragedy comes or bad things happen, inevitably our students, families and colleagues look around them for stability. They look around them for leadership.

They look to us.

As teachers and administrators we exist to do many things, one of those things is to provide stability in the face of crisis.

It’s not just about having crisis plans though, if you don’t have them, you’d better get them put together quickly and, if you don’t have an ongoing process of review, you’d better develop one. Crisis plans are important, without question. However, they are steps in processes. They are ladders to climb and guidelines to follow. They help center and routinize and react.

They don’t help lead.

Bracketing the debate about whether leaders are born, not made, there is little doubt that most good leaders share similar qualities and one of those is preparation. Most good leaders are prepared and they are ready.

But how can we be prepared for what we don’t know is coming?

There are ways.

Leaders anticipate events. They anticipate the good but, perhaps more importantly, they anticipate the bad, the challenging, the tragic. When good comes, it’s smiles all around. Good is an easy place from which to lead. Bad, on the other hand, is not. It is a challenging place from which to lead – perhaps the most challenging. Teachers who anticipate the cheating, the loss of their own cool, the bad behaviors in their classrooms are not surprised when these things (and others) occur. They are ready because they knew they were coming. Administrators who know they will have to dismiss employees, confront their own errors in judgement, handle difficult parents and other negative scenarios do not collapse from their shock at having to address these kinds of events because they anticipated them.

In order to be ready for crisis, excellent leaders visualize what’s coming. What will it feel like when a student directs their negative energy at me? What will it feel like when a teacher has such a terrific lapse in judgement that they have to be dismissed? What will it feel like when there is a death in our community? We can think through specific events before they happen. And we should.

Athletes and actors rehearse. They learn their parts and, through the exercise, they improve. Why do we not emphasize this sort of activity for ourselves? We can role play events before they happen. In schools, we are going to confront terrible events and we can name the scenarios: discipline issues in our classrooms, irrational staff members, irate parents, suicidal students. The list is significant. How much better might we be at handling these issues if we brought together other leaders in the schools and played out these scenes. Have someone play the role of the teacher whose lapses in judgement require probation or dismal or have them play the unhinged parent or the grieving family. Have them take on the character of a social worker coming to the school to interview a kid or of a kid who’s reporting a sexual assault. Do what you can to make it seem real. Don’t let the crisis be the first time you’ve considered what you will say and how you will be effected – how you will react. Role play the challenges of which you can think. In this way, you face the issues before they come and work through them.

I wish the crises I face were more like the Joker, Two Face and the Riddler. I wish they came on predictable schedules and were heralded by maniacal proclamations. My crises are not like this and I am not like Batman.

What I can be and hope, more often than not, I am is prepared. If we anticipate, visualize and game plan, we can lead through crisis even though we don’t get to choose when it hits.

Best Teachers in Fiction

School is (or is just about to be) back in session all across the country. As things are gearing up for the 2016-2017 school year, and in anticipation of rolling out this new blog, Teach Boldly presents THE FIFTEEN BEST TEACHERS IN FICTION.


The Best Teachers in Fiction (15 – 11)

No. 15: Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi comes in at 15 for his dedication, his care of his students, his ability to push his them beyond limits both physical and mental, his understanding that good education requires balance, his desire to only want the best for his students and his most obvious bad-assery!

miyagi

No. 14: Batman

Bracketing the fact that a Robin (Jason Todd) died on his watch (does Batman get points because Jason came back to life?), one has to admit that training teenage boys to become world class crime fighters is quite an accomplishment. Batman has taken at least seven young people under his wing and taught them almost everything he knows. At the end of the day, he even loves these students as all good teachers should.

batman and robin

No. 13: John Wheelwright

The narrator of John Irving’s classic A Prayer for Owen Meany (this bloggers favorite book), John Wheelwright learns that what he loves best in life, after his friend Owen, is to read. Wanting to share the gift with others, Wheelwright becomes a teacher and a good one at that. Irving himself was a teacher and the classroom scenes he writes ring very true.

Owen Meany Cover

No. 12: Sarah Simms

In the New Teen Titans comic book and later on the television show Teen Titans Go!, fans are introduced to Sarah Simms, a young woman who dedicates her life to working with students who have suffered some kind of amputation. Written with deep compassion and care by Marv Wolfman in the comic book, Sarah comes across as dedicated, concerned and real-world. She’s a great model for teachers everywhere.

Sarah Simms

No. 11: Lydia Davis

On Fame, the incredibly dedicated and talented Ms. Davis (played brilliantly by the brilliant Debbie Allen) told her students (every week on the opening credits voice-over) “You’ve got big dreams. You want fame. Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying.” Her students paid. And they loved her for making them work.

Lydia Davis