The Struts – They Get Me

 

I love rock music. The good old fashioned kind. Electric guitars, bass guitars, drums and some dude wailing. Real, new rock is hard to come by. When I am in Pittsburgh I listen to WDVE and when I am in Philly it’s WMMR. These two along with WMMS in Cleveland are consistently the top rock stations in the east. I’m not talking alternative, acid, death metal, or punk just straight up rock and roll. There is one reason that I love rock music; It makes me feel good. It is fun and allows you to scream lyrics and rattle the dashboard with bass. I like all kinds of music: my playlists have something from just about every genre. But to feel good, I can’t wait until I get to those points on the PA Turnpike where i can begin to hear DVE or WMMS.

There is a point to this that relates to education. Just keep reading.

As I think I mentioned before, my number one professional goal for the year is to bring the fun. I’m trying hard to bring the joy with me to work every day. The goal is to improve the culture in a positive way. To do everything in my power to suppress the negative and accentuate the positive.

The video that I posted above is by a band called The Struts. The Struts get it. They embodied my beliefs in this song. The point of bringing the joy is to get the most you possibly can out of life. Embrace the struggle because it is part of living. My expectation isn’t that everyone will be happy everyday; my expectation is that we will try to find fun in our work. My expectation is that when we fall, we will learn together to get up. When we feel shame we learn from it and when we fell pride we celebrate it. When we taste pain we grow from it and when we fell love we shout it from the rooftops. When we look back on our lives we don’t want to have regrets, we all want to live better lives and we don’t want to say, “Damn, that could’ve been me!”

Let’s be honest, working in public education isn’t something that we chose to do for the glory, the paycheck or the constant positives from the public. We got in to education to impact lives. Little lives or big lives, at some point we all wanted to make a positive impact. We can’t do that with a negative attitude. We need to be All In Every Day! All in for our kids and all in for ourselves. We have a very finite window in which to complete our life’s work. Like The Struts say: Don’t let your life be an untold story; Don’t live as an unsung melody.

I’m probably driving the staff nuts (and my family) but I am committing to writing my story everyday and I am committed to Bringing the Fun; Bringing the Joy!

More Cowbell – The Education Edition

MoreCowbell

I Got A Fever

Saw this meme on Facebook a week or so ago and since then have heard “more cowbell” at least three times. The meme is meaningless if you never saw the SNL skit. Hilarious! We were at a field hockey game last week toting our Temple University cowbells when a university administrator standing beside us said, “There’s no such thing as too much cowbell!”

Of course, like most things, I thought about thus statement in the context of education. I know, I’m a nerd. But think about what the cowbell signifies. Cowbells are the joy! When you here a heavy, clapping cowbell you know there is a celebration. A hero in our midst. A fan trying to muster the last bit of energy for his or her team.

Education needs more cowbell!

I have made it one of my goals this school year to bring the joy; bring the fun everyday. When I am having fun and enjoying my work I fell like I am better at my job. People tend to connect more with people who are bringing the enthusiasm to work. It has benefited me to relax the facade of the expected principal and take ‘selfies’ with the kids, interrupt their class to get them a little wound up. The staff seems more at ease when they see the real me and know that when its serious we will be serious. Making connections and building relationships makes it easier when you have to have the unpleasant conversations.

So in education, what is the cowbell?

In my reflection, the cowbell is the times that you relax a little and not only enjoy your job but genuinely enjoy your students.The cowbell is the times that you celebrate the achievements of your staff and your kids. The cowbell is the times that you remember to ask your staff about their families or things you know that are going on in their lives. The cowbell is the sincere, straightforward ‘thank you’ to staff and students for making this place a great place to work. The cowbell is calling parents to tell them their kid didn’t something wonderful.

Cowbells cannot be disingenuous

If you have ever heard a cowbell, you know when you’ve heard it. You know what instrument makes that sound and it is clear and unmistakable. It’s important to keep that in mind no matter what your cowbell is. Everyone knows when they are not hearing a cowbell. They know when you are blowing wind up their skirt.

Does Education Have a Fever?

I don’t know if I have that answer but if it does, I know the prescription!

Let’s Get Gritty

On my summer reading list for 2015 was Mindset by Caroline Dweck. Dweck’s research looked at ‘growth mindset’ vs.‘fixed mindset.’ The book is intriguing and I was disappointed that I had let it sit on my shelf for so long. A colleague had lent it to me and at first blush it seemed rather dry. I was pleasantly surprised from page 1. I would describe the book as ‘easy to put down’ or more appropriately ‘necessary to put down.’ I don’t mean that negatively but it is a book that will cause you to be introspective. When you start reading a passage that you identify as your own personal fixed mind set it startles and frustrates you and you need to put it down to reflect on that trait in your psyche.

The reason for me writing this is that in conversations that I have had I believe many people confuse the growth mindset with grit. Or maybe they don’t and I have a different connotation of grit. Angela Duckworth out of the University of Pennsylvania studies grit at the Duckworth Lab at UPenn. She defines grit as the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. The assumption is that grit is more important in determining success than talent or IQ.

In that definition, grit and the growth mindset are definitely comparable. The growth mindset as defined by Dweck is when people believe that their basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Both imply that success, in any pursuit, requires practice and resiliency. The ability to see one’s mistakes and begin to do the work it takes to remedy those mistakes. The desire to work hard at your craft and to stand up every time you fall.

In Dweck’s book, she mentions General James Stockdale. Stockdale is also a player in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great where he writes about the Stockdale Paradox. Collins described the paradox as accepting the brutal facts of your present reality but maintaining faith that you will prevail in the end. Stephen Covey’s ‘Sharpen the Saw’ draws on a similar mentality: Stay active in physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental self-renewal. All of these writers/psychologists have hit upon the same notion, becoming an overnight success takes a long time and a lot of work. Malcolm Gladwell attempted to quantify becoming an overnight success in his book Outliers. By his estimate it takes about 10,000 hours of work to become incredibly successful at anything.

That is the background of where I am coming from today. The notion that hard work is important and, despite your limitations, with a little talent or at least average intelligence, anyone can be a success. I love the idea but this is where our roads diverge. One characteristic that isn’t mentioned is that all people don’t come from the same socioeconomic condition. I know there are plenty of examples of people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps but the reality is that many more don’t even have bootstraps. In Dweck’s book she compares the fixed mindset of Sergio Garcia to the growth mindset of Tiger Woods. A great comparison but both of them were born into opportunity. Can we even imagine the amount of talent, creativity, intelligence that never gets the opportunity to work hard? Those whose long term goals are to survive. Those whose brutal facts of reality have crushed their faith and optimism. How many talented, intelligent, athletic people use up there 10,000 hours caring for sick children or parents, working extra jobs to feed their family, searching for a place to spend the night? I agree with Dweck and Duckworth and Stockdale and Covey but some people use up their resiliency just trying to survive.

This is where I believe that public education is exceptionally important. I believe that schools are one of the only mechanisms that are readily available to break the chain of lost opportunity. Schools need to be the places where talents are recognized. Schools need to be the places where students’ experiences are broadened. Schools need to be passionate about helping to break the chain. We have to be able to be a place of respite for the weary. A place for empathy and a place for caring.

As we begin a new school year please remember that hard work, resiliency, optimism are important. We should be careful though to not assume that everyone comes to the table with the same experiences and the same opportunities. While mindset and grit, resiliency and practice lead many to be successful, many need to have their basic needs met first.

I’ll end with this Tweet for the Blunt Educator:

Summer School?

summer-school-dave-chainsaw

That picture is what I thing of when I think of summer school. The kids who didn’t get it done in the previous nine months got to spend some quality time over the summer to gain credits. If you are of a certain age, and have questionable taste, you probably saw the movie. A bunch of slackers taking English from an equally slackerish teacher.

The new trend that I have seen in the last couple of years is summer school for the bright. Not really school but assignments to get them ready to take ‘advanced’ or AP courses in the fall. My niece and a friend of my daughter’s both participated in this activity this summer and their schools are 200 miles apart. It must be a trend.

While at the shore this summer my niece broke out a book and some worksheets to complete her assignments so that she would be allowed to participate in the advanced English course during her sophomore year. I don’t have a problem with that necessarily. I do have a problem with the assignments. Read these three books; answer the questions on these worksheets and write a report on this book using this theme.

This is a good example of one of the things that is wrong with education in this country. I’m sure that the school that this teacher works at thinks she is the greatest teacher they have. They would have to because we know that only the best teachers get to teach the top kids. Don’t get me started on that. And the students in these classes have to be the best and brightest in order to get through the door. So, our ‘best’ teachers are telling our ‘best’ students how to grow academically over the summer. These are the book that will make you smarter; these are the questions that will prove you are smarter; this is the theme that smart people write about. The books were the typical high quality literature that you see in high school classrooms. We all probably read them. The theme was based on material that the typical high school would understand. The worksheets on the other hand were mostly low level recall questions. The kind of questions that a teacher asks just to make sure you read the book. No desire for students to analyze the text or make judgments.

The problem is this: If our gifted and talented and otherwise smart kids can’t decide for themselves how to self direct their learning, who can? What if the assignment were to read three books of your choosing. Three books that  spoke to them. Three books that they were passionate about. Three books that they felt would help them develop into better students or better human being. Wouldn’t that be a better use of their time? Instead of saying write this essay about this book on this theme, couldn’t the students read the materials that they selected and write about how the books impacted them positively or negatively. What did you learn about yourself by reading these books? And, in my opinion, chuck the worksheets into the trash. Trust is important in building a culture of learning. Asking students to answer simple recall and comprehension questions serves one purpose: to make sure that the kid read the book. I don’t trust you so tell me what happened to Tom on page 136. We are in dire need of people who can solve critical problems in our society. We need adults who are thinkers. Brendon Burchard’s second rule in his 5 Rules of Life is: Believe in your ability to figure things out. That ability may come naturally for some but for others it needs to be nurtured. You nurture that, I believe, by providing kids opportunities to figure things out. We don’t do it by spoon feeding content .

I read or am reading five books over the summer. Everyone has taught me something that I will use this year in my job. Not one of those books is on the list of 500 books everyone should read before they die. Not one. But I grew this summer because of each one. When more teachers start focusing on cultivating growth, allowing choice, and building trust with students, education will be  moving in a better direction.

Passion Driven Schools

Recently a colleague shared a video with me from Brendon Burchard. If you’re not familiar with Burchard, he is a motivational speaker. If you are anything like me, the thought of a motivational speaker makes you cringe a little and be more than a touch suspicious. This guy, though, is very engaging and seems to be a down-to-earth kind of guy. Anyway, the video pokes fun at SMART goals. Everyone in education knows about SMARTgoals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and trackable. They are a great way to set goals for many things. Burchard, though, introduces the idea of DUMB goals. His assertion is that our goals have to be created on a larger scale. Our goals should be about our Dreams; our destiny, they should be uplifting, they should be method friendly – they should have practices that lead to mastery, they should be behavior triggered. If you want to know more about that, hit the link.

This video got me thinking in terms of education. Every school now talks about being data driven. But weren’t we always data driven? Didn’t we always look at where kids were and try to move them forward? Maybe not. But dumb goals got me thinking about more grandiose goals, which got me thinking about passion. Passion, in my opinion, is what makes good schools great and bad schools better. If we somehow could measure the passion of all the players in a district could we find a correlation with achievement? A correlation with success ten years after graduation? A connection to the number of alumni who feel joy on a daily basis?

I had the pleasure of hearing George Couros speak at ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia. In a huge building full of people talking about being technology oriented and data driven, Couros talked about being a leader and being present for students and teachers. This is a passionate guy. He is passionate about not only students but about what we do to better reach our students. On more than one occasion he was practically moved to tears as was the audience. And he made us laugh and think. As Jimmy Valvano said in that famous speech, “that’s a good day!” And talk about passion, you probably won’t find a more impassioned than Valvano’s.

Another leader that I respect a lot is Todd Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker wrote, among other thing, What Great Principals Do Differently. He is another guy who is passionate in making schools great places for kids. In his books he talks about connecting with kids, with teachers, and with parents. This is his answer to being a great principal. Although he doesn’t use those words, he talks about making it cool to care. He also speaks about always doing what is best for kids. That is an old and tired saying among administrators but I love this quote: As a leader, it’s essential that you develop a clear vision and focus…if two people both make decisions based on what is best for students, they never disagree, even when they disagree.

So here is where I am: Passion. That is what makes us great or takes us from good to great. Or it at least makes us better. It seems odd in this day and age but we need to love more. We need to love our kids, our peers, our leaders, our parents. We need to be passionate about what we do. We need to bring the joy everyday as Mr. Burchard would say. And we have to do it methodically. My daughters like to say, “I do _____ like it’s my job.” We need to love and care, bring joy and passion like it is our job. Because it is our job. I can go on and on about specific cases where kids don’t get the love they need, they never feel that they are good enough, they are deprived of their basic needs, they never have a chance to use their voice. Remember Maslow: The need to feel secure and cared for trumps all other needs except the basics of food, air, water and shelter. We need to be more passionate and with that comes compassion. Love those on the journey with you. You have no idea what baggage they are carrying, what struggles they have, the road that they are travelling. Most of us would never dare to attempt to walk a mile in the shoes of some of our charges.

In this vein, I propose a Passion driven school or a passion focused school. We have data by the bushel. More data than most of us can sift through. What we need more of is passion. We need to love what we do and we need to bring the joy every day. That is a challenge, not only to you but to myself. Bring the joy; bring the passion. Everyday, methodically, purposefully like it’s your job. Because it is.

This is the Real Me

I’ve considered shutting down my Facebook page recently. The negative energy on the site some days makes me crazy. I have this personality that takes peoples opinions very personally and to heart. I’m not the type of guy who can be your ‘friend’ and not agree with who you are. I wrote a post awhile ago about branding. The post dealt with how the perception that people have of us or our organization based on what we put out there for the world to see. Our Facebook posts, photos on Instagram, tweets, and our blog entries. All of those speak volumes about who we are. The real us. I’m discovering that in a lot of cases I don’t like the real you! But that’s OK if that’s who you are. People who I have known for years I am finding out that I really never knew. Both in a good way and a bad way. People who I have held in some level of esteem disappoint me on a regular basis with the things that they ‘put out there.’ And people but some pretty shameful things out there. With every new controversy I am more and more inclined to hit the ‘unfriend’ button. But I don’t because then my social networks would only be people who believed like I do and that would be close minded. Only rarely do I engage and then only when I have a valid opinion that I have researched and can support. I also struggle because of what I do and how I am perceived in the community. Being confrontational online is not part of the brand that I want for myself. I know, this is my hang up. I’m trying to be more understanding about how other people think. It is just difficult based on a 10 word meme whether that is really who you want me to think you are or if you didn’t really put a whole lot of thought into it.

I guess this post really comes down to a few simple things:

1. Research – In the age where everyone has a computer in their pocket and at least one other device to access the interweb, take a few minutes to look into the facts of a story that you are going to share. It really isn’t hard in the world of Google at your fingertips. At least take the time to determine if the information comes from a reliable source. (Yes, the large majority of kids in school say the Pledge of Allegiance everyday. No, nobody in public schools is stopping your child from praying before he eats his lunch. No, Ted Cruz, Michelle Bachman and Mike Huckabee did not defend Josh Duggar.)

2. In the same vein, take time before posting, sharing, commenting, retweeting, etc. The world sees this stuff! It is worth a few minutes of contemplation to determine the value of what you are sharing, how your posts reflect on who you are, and the pros/cons of your online activity. Remember: This is the real you; this is your brand!

3. Do your best to add value to the feeds of your followers. The world needs creators and if your means of creation is social media then use it for good and not evil. I know that everyone wants to post a gag or a funny picture every once in a while but for every cartoon or funny meme that you post, share at least one good article or picture, add at least one thoughtful comment, write at least one post that helps define who you are.

This is my attempt. I can assure you that this is the real me.

‘Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse” Exam

If you are in to pop culture, you know that the apocalypse is imminent. The only controversy is how to defend yourself against (kill) the undead. Does it take a headshot a la The Walking Dead or the Double Tap via Zombieland. Whatever it is, make sure you know the rules.

Ok, so maybe there’s not going to be a zombie apocalypse. But one thing is sure: The theories behind surviving the Cataclysm of the Undead have some things in common; The competence to think creatively, the ability to think on your feet, an expertise in collaboration and the desire to survive.

My college aged daughter is a The Walking Dead fan but definitely not a survivor. She never learned good communication or creative thinking skills. I chalk this up to poor parenting and a school system that admires skill in Math and Reading above all else.

The point of this post is that the skills needed to survive the Return of the Zombies are very similar to the 4c’s of 21st Century learning: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking. I know, there’s no ‘Communication’ in the Zombie Survival Guide but there’s also know ‘desire to survive’ in the 4 c’s. We’ll just call that a fair trade but 75% of what 21st Century learner’s need to be adept at will help them survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

Being a little older than the Walking Dead crowd, I am more in tune with the Zombieland rules. Although they aren’t all mentioned in the movie, tell me that these rules aren’t relative to 21st Century learning:

Well, maybe that’s a stretch but I hope you see my point, The skills that we need to survive the rebirth of the undead are the skills (or at least related to the skills) that we need to be teaching our students. We are a decade and a half in and we probably shouldn’t be talking about the need to teach these skills. We should be talking about how successful we are being at ingraining this knowledge base in our students. We should be talking about how we are assessing student abilities in the 4 c’s or the Zombie Survival Skills.

Since I’ve broached the idea of assessment, can anyone imagine testing these skills. Quality based assessments that would tell educators where students need to improve to be successful IN THE WORLD. Yes, I yelled that! I’ve mentioned this before and I will debate this forever: The only reason we test what we do (Math and ELA) is because it is easily quantifiable. Unfortunately the skills that students need to be successful are not always quantifiable.

Woody Harrelson would have been terrible at the PSSAs but I would definitely want him as my zombie killing partner. Think about what kind of student you want next to you when the living dead visits your neighborhood. Do you want the kid who knows all the answers on the test or the one who can fold up the test and make a weapon out of it? I know which one I will pick.

In the meantime, remember the first rule of Zombieland: Cardio – the faster you run, the further you are away from a Zombie. Wait, should that be the first rule of the PSSA?