Teach & Serve II, No. 13 – Have a Mission

Teach & Serve II, No. 13 – Have a Mission

November 2, 2016

There’s a good question for the day: why are you in education?

Let’s bracket something we (hopefully!) know: our jobs working with students, their families, our colleagues and fellow teachers in education are really wonderful. We are lucky to have them; blessed to do the work. In many instances – more often than not, I trust – our work is life supporting and life giving. Being in education is a good gig.

However, those of us in the work know that these jobs we do can also be challenging. They can be frustrating. They can be hard.

When the work gets to us and when those with whom we work drive us down (yes, it happens), where do we turn? What keeps us going? How do we recharge?

startwithwhyCertainly we can turn to colleagues. We can rely on family. We can touch base with students. We can center ourselves with friends. All of these people can be sources of great support and can help carry us through the more difficult moments in the work.

But I am not sure they are enough. I am not sure our support structures are enough to rely upon when challenges mount.

To do the work, to do it well, to weather the storms, it would be best if we believed. It would be best if we had faith. It would be best if we embraced the work as our mission.

Our support systems can help us through moments. They can explain and contextualize and assist. But can they tell us why we have chosen this work? Can they tell us why we do what we do?

There’s a good question for the day: why are you in education?

It’s a simple question. Is the answer simple?

My argument? The answer should be simple. Your answer should be direct. Concise. Simple.

Why do you teach? Why do you administrate? Why are you in education?

Can you answer it? Can you do so succinctly?

Your answer is your mission.

Simon Sinek about whom I’ve written before is an author and consultant on leadership. He has written an entire book called Start with Why. I highly recommend it. Though it’s perhaps weighted too much towards business for our purposes as educators, it does reveal a significant truth: those who know why they do what they do tend to be happier, more fulfilled and more successful.

Do you have a mission in your work? Do you have a mission as an educator? Can you state it clearly and simply?

Do you have a mission?

EduQuote of the Week: October 31 – November 6, 2016

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Albert Einstein

Office Door Quotes 2

Teach & Serve II, No. 10 – Leaders Should Hold Themselves to the Highest Standards

Teach & Serve II, No. 10 – Leaders Should Hold Themselves to the Highest Standards

October 12, 2016

… we don’t meet these standards because we are being watched. We meet them because we know that meeting them makes us better leaders, more integrated leaders, more authentic leaders.

I, like many, am fatigued by our current political season. I am fatigued by the rhetoric. I am fatigued by the tone. I am fatigued by the analysis.

I am fatigued.

I am not an historian and my experience teaching history is limited to the terrific experience I had as part of a team taught American Literature/American History class. I leaned heavily upon my co-teachers for the history portion of the curriculum. My time instructing American Studies was spent, primarily, in the literature part of the course – for good reason. However, one does not need to be an historian to recognize that, of the many things lost in the current political climate, one thing that is certainly rarely discussed in any kind of real fashion is personal responsibility.

This is a damn shame. Truly. In a presidential election, our thoughts can be inspired. We ought to consider those who strive for the office of President leaders. If they have gotten far enough in their professions and in their lives to be “in the conversation,” then they should be leaders. Whether we agree with their platforms and outlooks, those we consider for this office ought to be, at the very least, leaders. They ought to hold themselves to the highest standards of professional conduct, to be sure. Some would argue that they ought to hold themselves to the highest standards of personal conduct as well.

I know. There is much to say about that this election cycle and those embroiled in it.

That’s not the purpose of this post. Better, smarter people than I can take this on.

Instead of placing our focus on our upcoming choice, let us focus more close to home.

We are teachers, administrators, educators. We are, in a very real sense, leaders.

To what standards do we hold ourselves?

We are watched. Our roles are public. Our students and our colleagues notice us. They pay attention to what we do.

standardsDo we in timeliness to and from appointments, in our structuring of the starts and stops of our meetings, in dismissing students from our classes, in our connections with our parents and students and staff hold ourselves accountable to schedules? Do we meet deadlines in the manner we expect deadlines to be met? Do we answer emails in a timely fashion? Voicemails? Do we sign in and out of our buildings as we expect others to? Do we take attendance? Do we enforce dress codes? Do we dress as we should?

This list could go on.

The reality of our lives – our lives in the spotlight – is that we are watched. What we do and how we do it influences our ability to lead.

The “higher” on the ladder we climb, the less we are “watched.” There are fewer people sharing the rungs with each step we ascend. Therefore, there are fewer people in supervisory roles of us. And that’s as it should be. As we progress in our leadership journeys, we are trusted more fully.

Commensurately, there are fewer holding us to high standards.

Therefore, we have to pay all the more attention to holding ourselves to them.

And we should. We should hold ourselves to the highest standards. If we are administrators and our teachers have to attend an in service, so should we. If we are department chairs and members of our departments have turn in written lesson plans, we should, too. If we are coaches and we demand our players be dressed out on the field at a certain time, we should be there to meet them. If we are teachers and we demand work turned in on time with no exceptions, we must hold ourselves to that same standard in our grading of student work.

And we don’t meet these standards because we are being watched. We meet them because we know that meeting them makes us better leaders, more integrated leaders, more authentic leaders.

We meet them because it’s the right things to do.

Think of the leaders you admire. My guess is you don’t admire them because they cut corners. You admire them because they don’t.

EduQuote of the Week: October 10 – October 16, 2016

What the teacher is, is more important than what the teacher teaches.

Karl Menninger

Office Door Quotes 2

EduQuote of the Week: October 3 – October 9, 2016

The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.

B.B. King

Office Door Quotes 2

Teach & Serve II, No. 3 – One Thing at a Time, Not Everything All at Once

Teach & Serve II, No. 3 – One Thing at a Time, Not Everything All at Once

August 24, 2016

Don’t ignore. Don’t demolish.

Work the problem. Work it piece-by-piece.

No matter what subject we teach, we think it parts, not wholes. Take US History for example: when history teachers begin the year, they know where they have to end up. They know they have to get to the election of President Obama (in truth, many US History teachers will be happy if they hit the chapters on the Reagan presidency by the end of the year, but that’s neither here nor there). They know where they are going and they begin to plan how to get there. They plan units, they plan chunks, they plan blocks, they plan lessons.

Nesting DollsWe hope our students do things the same way. We preach at them to do so. Start the lab. Put on your goggles, then look for the chemicals. Learn the vocabulary in Mandarin before you attempt speaking the language. Understand the equation and then apply it. Begin the research paper with, you know, the research, then start to write. Look at homework assignment-by-assignment, not at the totality of what needs to be done on any given night.

Assess the big picture. Paint the small strokes and make it coalesce.

Why don’t we apply this same thinking to the challenges facing our schools?

All too often, especially at the beginnings or ends of school years, we look at what we perceive as being wrong with our schools and become paralyzed. We see problem linked to problem, issue feeding issue, hazard upon hazard and our reactions do not always help. Our reactions break down into two categories, neither of which is particularly constructive.

We either throw up our hands, stymied by the enormity of the trouble, by its complexities, fearful that pulling any thread on the quilt will rend the thing asunder or we leap to solutions that will tackle the entirety of the trouble, consequences, ramifications and collateral impact be damned.

The systems that exists in our schools are comprised of human beings each full of talents and commitments and agendas and weaknesses and strengths. Rarely do any of us set out to create complexity and tie Gordian Knots around our institutions. But it happens. It seems to always happen.

Some leaders believe the way to overcome these challenges is with the precision of hand grenades. Blow the problem up and start anew. Some leaders believe the way to overcome these challenges is to trust people to do good work and let the problem work itself out.

I understand both reactions. I’ve had them. I’ve lived them. I’ve turned away from the beast. I’ve challenged it head on. Not the best plans.

We can solve the issues we face if we do one thing at a time, address one problem at a time and, wherever possible, keep the pieces separate and the issues distinct. We actually can, with discipline and planning, take on each part and create a chain reaction that will solve the whole.

Don’t ignore.

Don’t demolish.

Work the problem. Work it piece-by-piece.

We don’t expect our teachers to teach everything at once. We don’t expect our students to learn everything at once. We cannot solve each issue our schools face all at once.

But if we don’t start with the first step, we’ll never solve anything.

And if we try to jump to the last step, we’ll likely solve even less.

Teach & Serve II, No. 1 – Teach Boldly

Teach & Serve II, No. 1 – Teach Boldly

August 10, 2016

…you have the opportunity, the responsibility to do more and be more. You can animate. You can inspire. You can engage.

The beginning of the beginning is ramping up in schools all over the country. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a teacher or administrator knee deep in preparation, cross checking lists of all that needs doing in these opening days and preparing for these early moments of 2016-2017 as best you can.

May I please make a suggestion? No matter what you do in these initial days, no matter the pressure you feel, the demands you take on, the time crunch you suffer, no matter what you do in these days, do it with as much positivity as you can. Go about your work with energy. Greet students and colleagues and families with smiles. Celebrate the beginning of the year. Be bold in your embrace of all the possibilities it brings.

BoldLet boldness be your home base this year.

Teach boldly. Administrate boldly. Coach and direct boldly.

Let that be your rallying cry: teach boldly.

Students respond to boldness. Colleagues are searching for it. We hear that schools should inspire. They should challenge. They should dare. How do these things happen if we ourselves are not bold in our individual rooms and days and works?

Shouldn’t we want to be bold? Wouldn’t we rather be bold than be… well, what’s the alternative? Timid? Reticent? Fearful?

Those aren’t the descriptors for which our work in education calls. None of them are even close.

Be Bold. Be resolute. Be heroic.

Teachers, your students want to be engaged. Inspire them. Be bold.

Your colleagues want to hear what you have to say. Engage them. Be bold.

Administrators, your staffs want to be led. Animate them. Be bold.

Make this year a year for boldness, for courage, for fearlessness.

Your students, colleagues and staffs need this from you. They hurry from class-to-class, assignment-to-assignment, meeting-to-meeting and running that gauntlet is both daunting and draining. When they come to you, when it’s your class, your assignment, your meeting, you can give them what they’ve come to expect, most often a kind of dull proficiency. You can give them reserved professionalism. You can give them cautious platitudes. They won’t be shocked if you do. They’ve seen this before; they know how to respond.

But you have the opportunity, the responsibility to do more and be more. You can animate. You can inspire. You can engage. While they may not know it, your students, colleagues and staffs are thirsting for this. They are thirsty for boldness.

Teach boldly. At the end of the day – at that end of the year – teaching boldly may be the only kind of teaching that truly matters.

Best Teachers in Fiction: 10 – 6

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 (10 – 6)

No. 10: Ralph Hanley

Mr. Hanley managed to keep his students out of trouble while saving the world as the Greatest American Hero (how has this property gone without a reboot?). Mr. Hanley balanced the life of a superhero, boyfriend and teacher, seemingly like he was walking on air. His most important lesson was that 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.

Ralph Hanley


No. 9: Ben Kenobi

Speaking to his students Anakin and Luke Skywalker with nuggets of wisdom so compelling and thought provoking, we can ignore the fact (can’t we?) that his first student went on to almost destroy hope and freedom in the galaxy.  Connected to an inspirational greater power, he inspired his students to discover truth, and also had the ability to do and not just teach – take that, haters!

Ben and Luke


No. 8: Gabe Kotter

Thomas Wolfe said “you can’t go home again, but former Sweathog, Gabriel Kotter broke the rules when he returned to his alma mater to teach. As someone whose career followed a similar path, I find in Mr. Kott-air’s dedication to his work fruit for the journey of being an educator. Never one to back down from a challenging situation (such as 1970s television would allow to be broadcast), Mr. Kotter endeared himself to his students and to American TV viewers.

Mr. Kotter




No. 7: Ms. Norbury

is there another teacher in fiction who can match Ms. Norbury’s sweet sarcasm? The best of a crop of questionable educators, Ms.Norbury spins her love of a well-turned phrase into timely advice for her most troubled students. She has self identified “pusher-ness” – she pushes people – and she knows (at least she thinks she knows) when to use it. She also has an incredible likeness to Liz Lemon. Anyone else notice that?

Ms. Norbury


No. 6: Professor Ross Gellher

Ross Gellher has undying commitment to his subject matter and while his desire to educate all around him, no matter how much they don’t want to learn, can annoy his… er… friends, his enthusiasm in all circumstances, never-say-die attitude (he gets fired from positions and keeps coming back), thumbing his nose at rules by dating his students all mean we should never forget that… he’ll be there for you.

Ross Gellher

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!


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