EduQuote of the Week: April 18 – 24, 2016

door quotes

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.

– C. S. Lewis

 

Teach & Serve No. 35 – We Should Be Aware of Confidentiality, But Not in the Way One Might Think

Teach & Serve 

No. 35 * April 13, 2016


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We Should Be Aware of Confidentiality,

But Not in the Way One Might Think

Beware of the word “confidential.” Use it sparingly. Use it wisely. Use it only when you have to use it.  If you say or write the word “confidential” without asking, each-and-every-time, “whose interest am I protecting by walling off this knowledge?” you’re doing it wrong.

There is some kind of deep power in knowing something other people don’t. There is some kind of magic in holding onto a secret, in deciding when to tell, and who. There is some kind of pull to being in the know, in the loop, in the inner circle.

We’ve all felt it, right? At one point or another, we’ve had those moments when we found something out before most others did or when we heard the story prior to it getting out. What is it about being in on the secret that is so enticing?

In school settings, there are hundreds of examples – daily – of things that not everyone needs to know. There are situations with students that should not be revealed. There are personnel issues that should not be broadly discussed. There are decisions that should not be shared too soon. In school settings, there are good reasons to maintain confidentiality – some of them legal, some of them moral and some of them valid.

But not all.

Beware of the word “confidential.” Use it sparingly. Use it wisely. Use it only when you have to use it.  If you say or write the word “confidential” without asking, each-and-every-time, “whose interest am I protecting by walling off this knowledge?” you’re doing it wrong.

Schools work best when knowledge is shared. That’s kind of what they are there for, right? Schools work best when everyone knows as much as they possibly can know. How many times are we going to have to be confronted by stories of school personnel that had knowledge of warning signs about students that they didn’t share until tragedy struck? How many times are we going to see reports of colleagues suspecting something wasn’t quite right with a co-worker and they didn’t tell anyway until it was too late? How many times before we get it?

When I was a dean of students and, later, an assistant principal and a principal, there were many things I didn’t broadly share. Further, there were things that I was constrained to not share at all, by law and true concerns about confidentiality. There were things I didn’t share because they would be damaging or hurtful or illegal to share. There are things that should not and cannot be shared.

But these things are few. And these things are far between.

When the default position of a teacher or administrator when confronted by sensitive information is to hold all those cards as closely to the vest as possible, to prize secrets and horde them, to equate knowledge of what is going on in people’s lives with power, something is very, very wrong.

The work of an educational professional is not to work to keep things secret, it’s to work to bring things to light and understanding.

Those teachers and administrators that get a charge from knowing more than everyone else have forgotten that and they are doing something foolish and potentially dangerous – foolish because, at some point, keeping secrets for no reason undercuts rather than strengthens moral authority and dangerous because, inevitably, things go wrong and things get out. Those teachers and administrators that repeat – as a mantra – “I can’t tell you that. It’s confidential.” are not doing themselves or anyone else any favors.

Teachers and administrators, here’s the thing: what must be, by law, confidential, must be confidential. Period. If it’s illegal to share, don’t share. If you don’t know the law, learn it.

When you know what actually must be kept confidential, file it and share everything else.

Liberally.

Share as much knowledge about students as possible. Share as much about staff as appropriate. Share as much about the state of the school as you can. Create an environment where sharing is the default position.

Beware the word “confidential” and only use it when you must.

EduQuote of the Week: April 11 – 19, 2016

door quotes

If someone is going down the wrong road, they don’t need motivation to speed up. What they needs is education to turn around.

– Jim Rohn

 

Teach & Serve No. 34 – Good and Great; Life and Death

Teach & Serve 

No. 34 * April 6, 2016


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Good and Great; Life and Death

Good Schools often have good facilities, good teachers, good kids, good grades, good enrollment, good, good, good… what they don’t have is life.

 

Since the first day a grizzled, experienced and very, very veteran high school administrator shared with me his Good School/Great School Paradigm I have been fascinated by it, taken with it and convinced of its pure truth. Pulling me aside during an accreditation visit on which we were both visiting team members, this wise administrator for whom I didn’t work told me he believed that Good Schools are destined to remain Good Schools because they think they are great. He said that Great Schools are great because they ask themselves: “what can we do to be better?”

I am in love with this conclusion and I think it is absolutely spot on. The idea that Great Schools are consistently, constantly and consciously about improvement, about getting better, about changing is such a challenging, life renewing and exciting concept. I imagine Great Schools that passionately posit hard questions. I imagine Great Schools that redefine themselves as a matter of course. I imagine Great Schools that encourage creative dissent.

I imagine because I have to.

I worked in high schools for almost 25 years, man and boy, and that doesn’t count my degree work as an undergrad – those hours upon hours of observations – nor does it count my full time student teaching. It does count the five schools in which I’ve spent significant time. And, in all those years and all of that time, I can say that I can point to moments where I saw potential for greatness at the places where I worked, but it was rarely sustained.

Here’s the problem with being Great. It takes work. It takes bravery. It takes consistent drive from leadership that isn’t afraid to have questions asked – and answered – about the health and life of the school.

Great requires energy and dynamism.

No school sets out to be Good. Likewise no school sets out to be lifeless. Rather, leadership build staffs primarily upon very good hires. Leadership institutes solid programs fostering good curriculum, good teaching and good discipline. Markers of success (enrollment, retention, standardized test scores, etc.) are met. The conclusion, then, is this all works. We know what we’re doing. Why change? And then ways of doing things become locked in because we’ve had success doing things this way and, really, isn’t this the way we’ve always done things? Shouldn’t we keep doing them this way? Why mess with success? Good hires become tenured. Good hires become tired. Good hires become mediocre when they are not challenged. Leadership becomes insular when it isn’t pressed. Energy wanes.

Good Schools are like the teacher you had when you were in high school. While she was engaging and energetic when you were in her classroom 15 or 20 years ago, she’s still doing the exact same things and still being praised for doing so. “Everyone loves her class!” people say. “She really knows her stuff!” people rave. But is anyone asking why she’s still using the overheads she made during her first year of teaching instead of her digital projector? Is anyone asking why she hasn’t gone to any significant professional development in years? Is anyone asking why she insists on keeping the traditional text she’s always used instead of moving to an electronic one?

No. She’s good. She’s all good.

Good Schools are like that and unless they start missing those markers of success, what is the motivation to change?

Good Schools often have good facilities, good teachers, good kids, good grades, good enrollment, good, good, good… what they don’t have is life.

desertGood Schools don’t change. They don’t want to. Because they don’t change, they are locked into what they are, locked into what they do, locked in. They are stuck in a place and a time and cannot even see the rest of the world passing them by because, of course, they are good. How do they know? They’ve told themselves they are. They’ve convinced themselves (because they have the high numbers and the nice facilities and the good kids and the credentialed teachers) that they are great.

But they are not great. They are dead and they don’t look to come back to life.

And they can stay dead and stagnant for a very, very long time. They can – and will – stay dead and stagnant until they are forced to change. They will actively protect their stagnation because their leadership has let them down. Their leadership has discouraged hard questions, resisted redefinition, and shut out creative dissent.

They are Good. And they are dead. Until there is a sea change, they will never, ever be Great.

I wish that I could say I’ve encountered as many Great Schools as Good Schools. I wish I could say that most of the Good Schools I’ve seen have found their way out of the desert and are on their way to becoming Great Schools.

But I cannot say that. I believe there are many, many Good Schools but there are few Great ones.

“Good Schools think they’re great. Great Schools ask ‘what can we do to be better?’”

What can we do, indeed?

EduQuote of the Week: April 4 – 10, 2016

door quotesCelebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed.

– Mia Hamm

Link’n’Blogs – 3.25.16 – Should These 10 Educational Words Be Banished?

LincolnLogsDetail


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I loved Lincoln Logs when I was a kid. Though I never entertained the idea that I would be a designer, engineer or architect, something about putting together these wooden and plastic pieces was simply simple fun. Connecting to ideas through the blogosphere seems similar to this pursuit, hence the title of this weekly post. Each Friday, I intend to post something interesting I’ve read out there on the internets. Hopefully others will find these posts as thought provoking as I have.

There is an entire dictionary of words, idioms and catch phrases that teachers, administrators and parents use when discussing education. The educational field has its own jargon – a collection of terms vast and deep. Many of the words are perfectly fine and completely suited to the field. Some, however, are used in ways that help neither teacher nor student and, in this insightful piece by Peter DeWitt, an author, presenter and former public school principal, an argument is made to drop more these 10 from use. Good ideas here.

Should These 10 Educational Words Be Banished?

– Peter DeWitt

Teach & Serve No. 32 – Emboldened by the Homilies, Embarrassed in the Hallways

Teach & Serve 

No. 32 * March 23, 2016


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Emboldened by the Homilies, Embarrassed in the Hallways

… when we’re challenged to alter our course, we’re not talking about the simple things… we’re talking about significant changes, sea changes.

… starting soft and slow, like a small earthquake and when he lets go, half the valley shakes …

Neil Diamond, Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show

There’s little like the feeling of hearing a good homily or listening intently to a sermon or sharing that touches the heart and the mind. There’s a certain energy I feel when I’ve heard a terrific reflection – an energy that enlivens and emboldens. Like many people, I have been touched by homilies when I am at mass and other religious services be these homilies given by priests or deacons or lay women or men. I have heard words that have inspired, challenged and moved me and have left liturgies inspired to talk, to change and to do.

Likewise, I have gone to thousands of hours of workshops on teaching and administration, have heard from educators at professional development opportunities –  conferences and the like – and have embraced the messages they’ve given. Leaving these PD opportunities I have walked away ready to change my teaching or my leadership. I have been motivated to be a better educator by what I have seen, what I have heard and the passion with which the message was delivered.

Brother LoveInevitably, following these experiences, I head back to my life – to my desk or to my classroom – considering implementation of what I have heard, of what I have learned. And, without always being conscious of this fact, I begin a certain calculus: if the changes I have been inspired to envision deal with me and me alone and if they don’t represent much risk, they have a pretty good chance of happening. If they involve my relationships with others or require me bringing others on board for whatever change I am envisioning, they may well happen, but will take some work. If the changes are significant and will necessitate shifts in myself and others from ways we’re comfortable proceeding to ways we are not – ways that are new and different – then they chances they will occur fall. Tremendously.

So, personal easy changes I am willing to make. More challenging changes that involve others, I would like to make. Vast paradigm shifts for me and those around me, I am afraid to make.

Inspiration, where have you gone? Where was the boldness of the moment after the homily, during the applause at the conference, when I was writing my notes about a speech?

Let’s be honest: when were touched by someone’s words, when we’re challenged to alter our course, we’re not talking about the simple things, those things we can easily change in ourselves or ways in which we can quickly improve our environments at work, we’re talking about significant changes, sea changes.

It’s so much easier to smile about the homily and let it go. So many fewer feathers get ruffled when we say “yeah, I heard some really wonderful ideas at that conference last week” but we don’t really try to implement them. Our situations, personal and professional, seem somehow more secure when we’re not leading the call to action, the call to change.

I often feel emboldened by the homilies, but embarrassed in the hallways, as though my excitement over some message I’ve heard and want to share is somehow something of which to be ashamed, as if my interest in improvement and my desire to engage others on it is somehow silly.

For people who seek continual self-reflection and for institutions that are about perpetual self-renewal, embracing and preaching the message, singing the good news of who we are and what we can be is critically important.

Listen for what emboldens you, reach for what can improve you, search for that which will change your culture for the better. Don’t turn away from it. Don’t be embarrassed.

Be happy you heard the call.

It’s love, love Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show. Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes, ‘cause everyone knows about Brother Love’s show…

Neil Diamond, Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show

EduQuote of the Week: March 21 – 27, 2016

door quotesWhat makes Superman a hero, in fact this makes anyone a hero, is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.

– Christopher Reeve 

Teach & Serve No. 31 – The Most Interesting Educator

Teach & Serve 

No. 31 * March 16, 2016


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The Most Interesting Educator

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.

Most InterestingI 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.

Teach & Serve No. 30 – Raise All Boats

Teach & Serve 

No. 30 * March 9, 2016


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Raise All Boats

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?

Gold WatchWhen 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.

Why?

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.

Sound familiar?

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?