Teach & Serve IV, No. 1 | Temporal Landmarks

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1

Temporal Landmarks

August 8, 2018

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start of the school year – has power.

You cannot hold back the sea and you cannot hold back the beginning of the school year.

Those of us involved in education are ramping up, feeling the itch, sensing the inevitable. In the coming days or weeks, we will embark on the opening rituals of the 2018-2019 school year: meetings and planning, cleaning and decorating, organizing and implementing. While we may now be stealing the last few moments of summer vacation or time in our buildings without students, we know that those moments are, at this point, fleeting and running out on us.

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start of the school year – has power.

In his work When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (which was suggested to me by a wonderful friend and colleague and which  I highly recommend) sociologist and scientist Daniel H. Pink writes about when people do things, when they are most successful at doing things and when they should do things.

Particularly salient to those of us in education at this time of year are his thoughts on temporal landmarks defined as dates that have significance and that draw a line between what is past and what is to come. Building on the work of researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis, Pink says of a temporal landmark: “This new period offers a chance to start again by relegating our old selves to the past. It disconnects us from the past self’s mistakes and imperfections, and leaves us confident about our new, superior selves.”

Wow. That is a very interesting way for us to consider ourselves as we start this new school year.

Last year, and the years prior to it, are in the past. We can, as appropriate, disconnect from them. It is not that we forget them, we simply leave them behind in favor of this new year. We use the temporal landmark of the beginning of the school year to set goals, to dream, to let go of our past “mistakes and imperfections” – which we all have.

This is a good thing.

Even better is embracing the confidence that comes with starting a new. Better still is envisioning ourselves as we start this new year as superior to who we were last year.

One of my favorite things about being in education is that our time is broken up into manageable segments. I have not, until this year, however, thought about these segments as temporal landmarks. It is such a powerful way to reflect and to project.

As we start this new year, let us reflect on who we were last year and learn from those reflections. Let us take into this year all that was good in us last year. Let us be confident as we stride into 2018-2019. Let us know that we are better – we are superior – to who we were last year and let us start this year compassionately and confidently.

The temporal landmark of these last summer days leads us to wonderful possibilities of a bright, new year. Blessings as we begin!

EduQuote of the Week: May 28 – SUMMER, 2018

EduQuote Will Return This Fall!

Let’s do what we love and do a lot of it.

– Marc Jacobs

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EduQuote of the Week: May 21 – 27, 2018

Medical Services Week

I’ve never met a person who does not want a safer world, better medical care and education for their children, and peace with their neighbours. I just don’t meet those people. What I meet, over and over again, as I travel around, is that the essential human condition is optimistic – in every one of these places.

– Eric Schmidt

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Teach & Serve III, No. 40 – The Final Thank You of the Year

Teach & Serve III, No. 40 – The Final Thank You of the Year

May 16, 2018

Bottom line at this busy time of year: if you can only steal a moment to thank someone, to show your appreciation for one person on this list, make it yourself.

You deserve it. Know that in your heart. Feel it in your soul. Repeat it in your head.

Any way you look at the present situation, this much is true: there is very little time left in this academic year.

Please allow me to encourage one last practice: say “thank you.”

Find 10 minutes, just 10 for appreciation and gratitude. Go somewhere quiet. Put on your earphones or put in your earbuds. Sit alone. Reflect. Take out a piece of paper or use you iPad or phone and make a list of those to whom you might say, “thank you.”

  • Thank your family and friends, you boyfriends and girlfriends and significant others who support you in this work.
  • Thank those who put you in this school, the administrator or H.R. personnel who hired you.
  • Thank the parents who entrusted their children to you.
  • Thank the students who sat in your classrooms, who played on your fields, acted on your stages, made music in your rehearsal spaces, deliberated in your student councils and mock trials and model UNs.
  • Thank your colleagues, those with whom you’ve journeyed this year, for their guidance, support and love.
  • Finally, and critically, thank yourself.

Give yourself credit for all you have done, for the long work you have begun, for the way you have influenced your students, for the gift you have been to them. Thank yourself for getting near the finish line, for perseverance, for faith. Thank yourself for each time you went on when you thought you could not, for each step you took when you were exhausted, for each time you went the extra mile or five or ten. Thank yourself for being part of this vocation, this incredibly important work.

Bottom line at this busy time of year: if you can only steal a moment to thank someone, to show your appreciation for one person on this list, make it yourself.

You deserve it. Know that in your heart. Feel it in your soul. Repeat it in your head.

You.

Deserve.

Thanks.

Give it to yourself, please.

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.

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.