EduQuote of the Week: February 12 – 18, 2018

Take Your Family to Work Week

I actually look forward to Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I’m not great with kids, but I want to get better. Because I’m getting married. So I put on a bunch of extra candy on my desk so the kids will come talk to me. Like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” so kids will come talk to me.

– Pam Beasley, The Office

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Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

February 7, 2018

What happens when we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

This week, I have the great pleasure of working with a group of educators from Jesuit schools across the US and Canada as they focus on what makes them great leaders and what they can do to make themselves even better. This is such a terrific blessing of my work and it challenges me to focus in on significant questions facing educational leaders today.

Many (most?) of the blogs I have composed for Teach & Serve reflect on or reference conditions wherein good leadership is present in a school. They are written from a perspective assuming solid norms and procedures, relatively healthy environments and excellent standards for behavior.  

Let us be honest: those conditions do not always pertain.

Where does that leave individuals who wish optimal (or, at least, functional) leadership is in play? Where does that leave those who aspire to greater things for themselves and for their schools? Where does that leave people who seek perpetual improvement?

These are challenging questions, to be sure.

But there are answers.

Like the best answers, they start from within us. They start with us making honest and clear assessments of who we are in our leadership and of how we relate to the leaders and systems around us. The best answers ask us to ask ourselves hard questions.

And to answer them.

Good leaders know that one of the fundamental qualities of leadership is authenticity. I have written previously that I believe it to be the central and most important quality of a good leader. Good leaders, then, take the questions they are posing outward and turn them within.

If leadership is bad in our schools, we must ask ourselves if we are part of the issue. What role have we played to sour the milk? Have we contributed to an environment that is less than ideal? We must be willing to examine ourselves as a necessary first step.

And what happens, then, if we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

We must, then, assess what change we can make from where we are. We must consider who we can help and for what reason. If our challenge of authority and status quo and broken systems is for the good of our students (and the good of the adult community – a secondary good; students come first) then we are called to confront.

We must respectfully disagree and offer alternatives. We must exercise the authority we have as teachers and as educational leaders within the same structures our chairs and administrators occupy. We must speak truth – truth to colleagues, truth to power. We must do so offering suggestions and solutions, through-lines and conclusions and ways forward. We must be willing to suffer slings, arrows, criticisms and critiques.

When we are authentic, when we act from our true selves, all of this, though incredibly heavy to shoulder, is worth the weight.

If our systems hurt our students, if our leaders are negligent in their most important tasks, they must be examined and changed. They might even need to be set aside or torn down.

However, our seats in the school, our positions and our power along with the management and leadership styles of our superiors may make true and lasting collaboration and change so difficult as to be impossible.

This can be a bleak state of affairs and cause crises of the heart.

When leadership does not work and is unwilling to reflect and consider change, authentic leaders are in painful positions. If one has done all one can on behalf of students to confront challenges and bad actors, to affect change and to advance the institution and there is no way forward, another question comes into play: is my presence here so important for those I serve that I must stay?

If the answer is yes, it is good to remember that systems alter over time and leaders do not stay in place forever.

If the answer is no, it may well be time for an individual to change one’s circumstance. While that is easier written than done, it may be an inevitable conclusion and a legitimate alternative to continuing frustration and pain.

The best answers start from within. Knowing ourselves is a significant key.

EduQuote of the Week: February 5 – 11, 2018

African Heritage Week

Strange, is it not, my brothers, how often in America those great watchwords of human energy – ‘Be strong!’ ‘Know thyself!’ ‘Hitch your wagon to a star!’ – how often these die away into dim whispers when we face these seething millions of black men? And yet do they not belong to them? Are they not their heritage as well as yours?

– W. E. B. Du Bois

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 12 – The Roots of Steel

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 12

The Roots of Steel

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

Superman is one of the most famous fictional characters of all time. I did a little research (on the internet, so it has to be true!) of the most recognizable symbols in the world and the Superman “S” was in the top five on each list I reviewed.

There is some kind of power in that, in the fact that people see that “S” and know it stands for Superman.

And what does Superman stand for?

Truth? Justice? The American way?

Superman was created by two Jewish kids in Cleveland, OH in the 1930s. Children of the Depression, sons of European immigrants and one the child of a man killed in a store robbery, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster could not conceive how their creation would change the world. That was too big from them to think about.

Rather, in Superman’s earliest adventures, they thought about what a character driven by justice would take on. What type of evil should their Superman confront?

Within the first years of his adventures, Superman battled men who abused women, white supremacists, immoral politicians and corrupt businessmen.

Not a so-called “supervillain” among these criminals.

Within those same first years of his adventures, it was established that Superman came from another world and was adopted and raised in America’s heartland.

He was not shipped back to outer space because of his lack of proper papers.

There was a controversy a few years back when Superman declared himself a citizen of the world, not simply of the United States, when he said he would fight for those in need across the globe.

I did not understand the significance of the moment.

I bet all those who have never held a comic book, who have never seen a Superman movie, who cannot read English would have understood that moment’s significance. They understand the “S” to mean something special, something heroic, something great.

It represents the story of the ultimate immigrant fighting for justice.

For me, it will always stand for hope.

I am not sure why all this came to me this week… perhaps I need a little of what Superman has offered.

Teach & Serve III, No. 25 – Education: Our Family Business

Teach & Serve III, No. 25 – Education: Our Family Business

January 31, 2018

If you ask me what our family business is, I would have to say “teaching.”

And what a wonderful business it is.

Today is my younger sister’s birthday. In the past, I have called her my “little sister” but, as we are both *ahem* over forty, that seems a bit ridiculous now. I wish her the happiest of birthdays and a wonderful year ahead. I wish that all her dreams come true.

My sister is a child librarian and has been one for over twenty years. I have written about her and libraries in a previous Teach & Serve. She is a model for me about commitment and vocation and service. And she is thinking about altering her service from the library setting to the school setting.

She will be terrific and this is a natural progression for her.

My sister and me long before either of us were… forty.

As I was thinking about her and her potential change in career, I began to consider the other teachers in our family.

My mother’s mother was an elementary school teacher for years. One of my earliest memories about schools is being with Grandma in her classroom putting up decorations in the fall. What a lovely memory to have. One of my uncles was a math professor and dean of his department at a major university for decades. His daughter, one of my cousins is a professor at a major university teaching … math. One of my aunts was an English professor and dean of her department at a community college for years. Her daughter, one of my cousins, has directed preschools for years. One of my brothers-in-law taught for almost five years. My wife has been a teacher for almost twenty years. One of my sons is applying to graduate schools in education to become a teacher.

I taught English for over twenty years and am headed back this fall back towards teaching and into direct school leadership.

Other members of the family do critical work in other fields – for the church, for their communities, for the public health – are engineers and business leaders and are studying to be lawyers and nurses and so many more valuable things. I honor each and every one of them.

But, if you ask me what our family business is, I would have to say “teaching.”

And what a wonderful business it is.

I cannot wait to fully welcome my little… er… younger sister to it.

EduQuote of the Week: January 29 – February 4, 2018

Catholic Schools Week

Catholic schools prepare every student to meet the challenges of their future by developing their mind, yes, but also their body and their soul and spirit.

David Vitter

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Teach & Serve III, No. 24 – Support

Teach & Serve III, No. 24 – Support

January 24, 2018

And, from that point on, all he did was support his understudy. He did not sulk. He did not pout. He did not complain.

I am not a college football fan. Growing up, I was (and remain) a devoted follower of the Denver Broncos and, though the University of Colorado was a top ten program from much of my childhood and even won a share of the National Championship in 1988, the year I graduated high school, my affinity was for the NFL in general and the Broncos in particular.

I paid little attention to the college football playoffs this year and would have likely not watched a snap of the title game had my son not been home from college watching it himself. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to be with any of my wife and my college-aged kids, I sat and watched almost the full second half with my son.

And I got to see something that can be great about sports that entirely resonates with our profession as educational leaders.

I saw unconditional and unwavering support.

Allow me to tell you the story, a story that you have probably already heard. The University of Alabama football team, having suffered through a brutal first half on offense, pulled Jalen Hurts, their starting quarterback who had, going into this game, posted an amazing 25 – 2 record. Unhappy with offense production, they sat him, replacing him with backup (and true freshman!) Tua Tagovailoa who went on to win the game and the title for Alabama.

There is much to be written about the boldness of being a leader, about head coach Nick Saban making such a startling and brave choice to change quarterbacks, but this blog is about Hurts.

Jalen Hurts, a sophomore who had done very little but win for Alabama, must have been stunned by his demotion to the sidelines. He must have been in turmoil. Surely, he thought he would lead his team to victory. Certainly, he believed some glory was due him if the team won.

Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa

But the night did not play out the way he must have imagined. He went from starter to cheerleader in the space of a halftime speech.

And, from that point on, all he did was support his understudy. He did not sulk. He did not pout. He did not complain.

Rather, Hurts was the first person to congratulate Tagovailoa. He was at Tagovailoa’s side during timeouts, coaching him up, helping him out, working with him. He cheered him on, encouraged him after a bad interception, patted him on the back, yelled his support.

If the actions of this kid are not prime examples of servant leadership, then I have never seen it.

Sports can and does teach lessons – lessons that improve lives.

And kids can teach us, too.

What an incredible lesson in how to support a teammate. It is a lesson leaders should learn.

EduQuote of the Week: January 22 – 28, 2018

Clean Your Inbox Week

You should hit inbox zero every week. Every day is even better.


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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 11 – Spock Knows His Ship

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 11

Spock Know His Ship

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

Today would have been my father’s birthday. He was not a huge science fiction fan, but, much like the Spock I write about below, Dad knew his systems and how to fix them!

People can (and do!) argue about which of the 12 Star Trek movies is the best.

For my credits (there’s no money in Star Trek), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan leads the list. It has everything a movie could want: engaging action, compelling themes, wonderful humor, desperate circumstances, traumatic deaths, promises of resurrection. The Wrath of Khan is a great movie.

Beyond those things, it does something amazing for a character audiences have known for over 50 years: it makes him all the more impressive and inspiring.

Here is the deal: as the villain Khan stands on the precipice of his final revenge on Admiral (“Admiral?!? Admiral? Admiral.”) Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, Captain Spock springs into action, repairs the ship and sacrifices himself in the process.

What I note about this scene (and about the re-visioned version in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness which places Kirk in Spock situation of Wrath of Khan) is that Spock (and Kirk) know the Enterprise inside-and-out. They know which systems are broken and how to fix them. They can feel the ship dropping out of warp. They understand when something is wrong with her.

These are leadership qualities those of us who identify as leaders should aspire to have: that we know our systems so well we can attend to those that are misfiring or not in alignment or not working well, that we understand our surroundings to such an extent that we are not intimidated by issues or problems, that we can confidently look at the totality of our work and say, “yes, I can handle that.”

Spock’s sacrifice is, perhaps, the most powerful Star Trek scene ever filmed.

It is also a powerful example of what it takes to lead.

Teach & Serve III, No. 23 – I Hear You

Teach & Serve III, No. 23 – I Hear You

January 17, 2018

Anyone with a well-developed auditory sense can listen. Leaders who want to serve the people with whom they work must hear.

In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss myself and my leadership in detailed and reflective ways, asked questions by groups of dedicated educators who were most interested in my answers. I was both lucky and blessed to have been part of three separate search processes – processes looking to identify qualities in applicants for instructional leaders of schools. The conversations were long, intense, exciting and exhilarating one-and-all.

As I moved from conversation-to-conversation, process-to-process, I found myself listening to myself and reflecting on what I was saying in medias res which was a very interesting experience. After all, there are questions that good interview committees will be sure to ask and questions for which I very much needed to be prepared, prepared to give my most honest and authentic responses.

Inevitably, the question of how I would, as the instructional leader, listen to the staffs and the teachers and the students of each respective institution – was raised.

I replied that listening is a critical component of educational leadership, but not the most critical one. And, in fact, I found myself saying, on more than one occasion and working quickly to explain myself, how important it is that people feel as though they are heard.

Hang on, now… “feeling” as though one is heard does not actually indicate that someone has been heard.

Good leaders listen, sure. Good educational leaders are good at listening.

Exceptional educational leaders are exceptionally good at hearing.

Anyone with a well-developed auditory sense can listen. Leaders who want to serve the people with whom they work must hear. The must work at it and hone the skill. They must realize that hearing is so much more important than simply listening.

Hearing implies a desire to connect. Hearing implies wanting to comprehend. Hearing implies action.

Listening is passive. Someone who is listening is just there, in the room or the office, nodding, smiling, listening.

Hearing is active. Someone who is hearing is engaged, asking questions, offering support, giving suggestions.

Leaders who valuing hearing put away all distractions, close their laptops and shut down their tablets. They silence and set aside their phones and they hear.

When a true leader says “I hear you” the person to whom they say it does not just feel heard, she or he knows without a doubt she or he has been heard.

A leader does not just listen, a leader hears.

(oh, and a follow up on those conversations about formal educational leadership is coming…)