On this President’s Day, 2017, I am reminded that there are those who believe people are now judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. I want to believe this too, but know that the question of race runs much deeper than this. Others would contest that racial identity still strongly influences many aspects of their lives in American society. The question that is still causing me pause is “How do we reconcile such opposing opinions?” Furthermore, I need to make sure that I constantly remember to consider that all students have tremendous potential and most, regardless of race, are school dependent, and underachievers. Additionally, I really believe that many of the staff I serve, again regardless of race, have huge potential and many times are underachievers. I have a strong belief that race does not cause achievement differences, but how we structure the education and the pedagogy we use for teaching.
The real problem is low quality instruction for classes of lower skilled, underachieving students. Differentiated teaching is very difficult and presents a challenge to mixed ability groupings. Equity for me means that we are making sure that every student has the same high quality instruction. It also means that I continue to learn and remove my own and the school’s as a system implicit biases to make sure we are not grouping students incorrectly and making sure we are meeting the student where he/she is. As a school leader I must remember the school as a workplace is the most important place for teacher training/learning/and induction.
When discussing equity in education I believe we must first address the difference between equality and equity. I believe the definitions set forth by the Center for Public Education (2016) do an adequate job of capturing what I believe and read: Equality in education is achieved when students are all treated the same and have access to similar resources. Equity is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school. It is very important to recognize that equality and equity are not the same thing. When dealing with issues of equity we need to use data driven decision making and transparency as keys to success. I also believe we need to shift school and district level foci to external benchmarks as points of comparison, instead of inter-group comparisons in the home community. One of the pieces of the Every Student Succeeds Act that I really value is the breaking out and analyzation of more sub-groups.
“One fundamental aim of our democracy is to provide an adequate education for every person. Our educational systems face a financial crisis. It is deplorable that in a Nation as rich as ours there are millions of children who do not have adequate schoolhouses or enough teachers for a good elementary or secondary education. If there are educational inadequacies in any State, the whole Nation suffers. The Federal Government has a responsibility for providing financial aid to meet this crisis.
In addition, we must make possible greater equality of opportunity to all our citizens for education. Only by so doing can we insure that our citizens will be capable of understanding and sharing the responsibilities of democracy.
The Government’s programs for health, education, and security are of such great importance to our democracy that we should now establish an executive department for their administration.” ~ President Harry S. Truman in his 1948 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 7, 1948.
I do not believe we have gotten to where President Truman wanted us to be in terms of education. It is interesting to me we have researched, written and debated about for years the problems of race, poverty, and public education. These issues have been studied by academics and fueled by talk radio, television, and politicians which serves as a place for us as citizens to argue, debate, and complain about who is right or wrong and who needs to change. All of this has caused me think about the questions of race as related to education and see that what we now call problems are simply symptoms of something deeper.
What I believe we need to be asking is about a breakdown in our communities and education, not viewing as a problem. If we think of race as a problem then we will only be looking for symptoms. Instead we need to be thinking about what is possible and what can we create together. If we continue to look at education in the context of a set of problems to be solved, we may actually limit any chance of the future being different from the past. We need to be having the courageous conversations as a community to develop ways in which all school dependent children are provided the opportunities needed in a great education.
I believe that community health, educational achievement, local economic strength, and other measures of community well-being are dependent on the level of social capital that exists in a community. We need to create communities where citizens have the experience of being connected to those around them and knows that their safety and success are dependent on the success of all others. I believe as Peter Block does that “A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and action of institutions and formal leaders” (Block, 2009, p. 31). We need to continue to find ways to bring communities of people together to work for continuous improvement of our schools and the systems with which we evaluate those schools.
Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging (p. 31). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Drawing with pencil, pen, or brush on paper isn’t just for artists. For anyone who actively exercises the brain, doodling and drawing are ideal for making ideas tangible. In order to encourage doodling in meetings, retreats, and professional development events I put white butcher paper sheets on the tables, a box of crayons, and a small container of colored markers to use for doodling. Then there other details, like getting small flower vases and the flowers. These may seem like little things, but you have to understand that creating the perfect environment is crucial to convening great conversations.
Recall a time when you had a great conversation where real learning or new insight occurred—what enabled that to happen? In this way, participants have the opportunity to participate in an environment where the emotional context and framework support innovative thinking. If you can design the physical space, the social space, and the information space together to enhance collaborative learning, then that whole system turns into a learning system.
As a side note, many of our presidents, like the rest of us, doodle. Dwight Eisenhower drew images of tables, pencils, and nuclear weapons. A Herbert Hoover doodle provided the pattern for a line of rompers. Ronald Reagan dispensed cheery cartoons to aides. John F. Kennedy reportedly doodled the word poverty at the last cabinet meeting before his assassanation.
Are you encouraging your team to doodle?
When planning big events, retreats, or task force meetings flowers should always be on the table. Flowers are every table conversation’s must-have accessory. Flowers have a place as the focal point in the middle of the table. According to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School, the right blooms may offer the perfect pick-me-up for attendees who don’t consider themselves morning people. So when you’re putting together your plans for the workshop, professional development, task force setting, be sure to include bright blooms front and center — it could have a big impact on the outcome of your meeting.
Now when you think of putting flowers on tables you may think that it is a crazy idea and no one will really pay attention to the flowers in the meeting, but it has been proven that flowers can help the mood of the meeting and add a cheerful tone to any type of meeting. Just by adding flowers to your meeting tables can help you to make a long lasting impression on your clients and anyone else that might come to a conversation hosted by you.
For a team meeting, a floral arrangement put in the middle of the table can make the atmosphere more friendly and welcoming. Choose bright colors for the flowers and types of flowers that are cheerful, such as tulips. If the arrangement is to be placed in the middle of a meeting table, keep the height of the arrangement low enough that the participants can easily see each other around the table and conversation is not hindered by the flowers.
Conversational leadership is an art, not a science. Use your own creativity when setting up the room. In addition to flowers, I like to put butcher paper on the tables and provide crayons and markers for doodling, taking notes, and graphic recording. Be sure to encourage people to write, draw, or doodle on the tablecloths in the midst of their conversations. Often these tablecloth drawings will contain remarkable notes, and they help visual learners link ideas.
The flowers on the tables creates a special ambiance. They provide a focal point. Rigid positions seem to drop away as people listen together in order to discover creative connections. The flowers give everyone at the table something in common. At a task force meeting I hosted yesterday, I asked participants to comment during our +/^ session on the flowers. Everyone had actually thought about the flowers. Thoughts like, “I wonder when the Lilly’s will bloom,” to “I’m going to match my crayon color to the flowers,” to “Im glad the flowers are not blocking my view to the person on the other side.” Bottom line is they noticed and likened the flowers and they had served as a focal point. Flowers help us focus when you’re not talking and are listening together with others focused on the ideas in the middle of the table.
I believe flowers help us focus on opportunity and fuel energy. What do your tables look like?
I continue to be amazed at how many people espouse to want to have great conversations and be a conversational leader, but really can’t help themselves from becoming a pontificator and problem solver. So many leaders leap right to answering the questions themselves. There are many reasons for this, but I believe for many it is just ego of hierarchy – he wants to be seen as the smartest or person who solved the problem. Authentic conversation that deepens a group’s thinking and evokes collaborative intelligence is less likely to occur in a climate of fear, mistrust, and hierarchical control.
I believe everyone is a leader. Everyone has the right, responsibility, and ability to be a leader. In fact, I believe everyone has the obligation to be a leader. We all need to lead from where we are. How we define leadership influences how people will participate. In my world with educators, teacher leaders yearn to be more fully who they are—purposeful, professional human beings. Leadership is an essential aspect of an educator’s professional life. This is why I spend a great deal of time working directly with our rising teacher leaders in our Focused Leader Academy.
We are building an organizational community for thinking more deeply together about key strategic questions. It has been my experience that results do come from the questions. The results lie in the personal relationships, the knowledge, and the mutual caring that gets strengthened in people’s conversations together about the questions, along with the discovery of their own answers.
What kind of conversations are you leading?
It goes without saying that “leaders are readers.” This past Saturday during our January Focused Leader Academy (FLA) we did a very cool activity. We all read a book in 45 minutes. I purchased copies of the last 16 books I have read and let our FLA participants pick a book to read and make their own. Here is the protocol we used:
How to Read a Book in 45 minutes
1. Read the introduction, carefully. A good intro will give you the book’s thesis,
clues on the methods and sources, and thumbnail synopses of each chapter.
Work quickly but take good notes. Allow fifteen minutes here.
2. Now turn directly to the conclusion and read that. The conclusion will reinforce
the thesis and have some more quotable material. In your notes write down 1-2
direct quotes suitable for using in a review. Ten minutes.
3. Turn to the table of contents and think about what each chapter likely contains.
4. Skim 1-2 of what seem to be the key chapters. Look for something clever the
author has done with her or his evidence, memorable phrases, glaring
weaknesses–Fifteen minutes, max.
5. Meet some friends and tell them the interesting things you just learned,
speaking from the author’s point of view (driving it deeper it your memory).
Here are the books that were available for selection:
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Huffer
The Five Thieves of Happiness by John B. Izzo, Ph.D.
Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele
The World Cafe`: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter by Juanito Brown and David Isaacs
It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture by Dee Ann Turner
Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman
Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems by Michael Fullan
Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work by David A. Garvin
The Hand In The Back of the Room: Connecting School Work to Real Life by Byron L. Ernest
Needless to say, this activity was one of the favorites of participants. Even those who were skeptical really appreciated having the chance to be given a book and go through the protocol. You can see in the graphic of our +s and Δs discussion at the end of the day, that this session was one of the top rated. In fact you will notice in the video that one of those skeptics became a reader while doing this activity.
You will also see a plus on our +/Δ of “Live Tweeting/Periscope.” I live tweeted out the introduction to this activity as well as the report out from all participants using the hashtag #HoosierFLA. We had a large number of people watching live and were receiving several comments during the live tweet. Therefore, I am providing you the link to both videos.
Introduction to our “Leaders Are Readers” session:
“Go-Round” report-out from participants’ reading:
As you can see, leaders are readers. Are you tending to your own professional growth by reading? Are you supporting the professional growth of those you serve by encouraging reading?
We had a great norming session today for our teacher evaluation team. This has been an important monthly retreat for making sure the team is doing all they can to help our teachers on their journey of continuous improvement. Norming helps us to unpack the nuances of teaching practices that have the greatest potential for improving student achievement.
Our norming sessions prompt teachers and administrators to engage in professional conversations that make the critical link between teaching and the supports that teachers need to improve and hone their skills. This common understanding is the basis for high-quality evaluation systems that can drive professional growth. Our goal is to help all teachers grow throughout their careers.
We believe teachers and administrators need a common language and vision about what constitutes effective practice. Being able to identify and articulate these practices allows administrators to assess teachers and provide them with feedback on their strengths and areas for growth.
Here are our graphic notes I created from our norming session today:
It is said a global citizen is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building this community’s values and practices. We are going to have to learn to be effective change agents of a global future. We will need to create our own future, rather than trying to predict the outcome of all these global forces. Today the forces of global engagement are helping some people identify themselves as global citizens, meaning that they have a sense of belonging to a world community. This growing global identity in large part is made possible by the forces of modern information, communication, and transportation technologies.
“We know this much. The world is not going to be dominated by any one great power. For Americans that’s going to be a very difficult thing to accept. Most of us still see a world – the world of 1960 – in which America was the only great power, and the only functioning economy.” ~ Peter Drucker
Global citizens are also moved by a desire to make a positive contribution through their professional and personal lives. When it comes to being a member of the global community, will you be a leader, challenger, or spectator. Furthermore, we must bring global competency skills into our schools.
- Kids need skills to navigate globally!
- Kids Need To Navigate Shrinking World!
The skills and insights students can gain from interacting with people of different nations and cultures is critical as America engages more intensely with an increasingly global marketplace and interdependent world.
We must all serve as global community leaders and engage in the dialogue, to care about the issues and become a global citizen.
“To the world you may just be one person…but to one person you might just be the world.” ~ Mark Twain
A signed copy of the promise pictured here sits in the locker of each Florida State player. After an awful start to Florida State’s season this past year, head coach Jimbo Fisher took an unprecedented step and presented his team with a promise and challenged them to sign it and live up to it.
As I read it I was struck by the simplistic way coach Fisher presented powerful points. It is really a well written combination of a mission and core values to follow. Here are the main points I take away:
- The commitment of “I promise to”
- No loafing
- Trust the process
- Effort and enthusiasm in every play, every day
- Allow myself to be corrected and coached
Just eight powerful points, but what a change in the season this battle cry brought about. The next game after the players signed the promise was a win against in-state rival Miami Hurricanes. Florida State won 20-19. “You cannot say that they did not play hard, that they did not play with fight, that they did not play with guts,” Jimbo Fisher said after the win. “We’re a work in progress but at least that heart and soul is there.” I am particularly struck by the point of “Allowing myself to be corrected and coached.” This is so important to all of us. We must continue to grow and develop each and every day.
On a day when everyone make New Year’a resolutions, I wander what would happen if we all just adjusted the promise to our own lives and then actually kept it; just like the Florida State Seminoles. Would you be willing to sign and hang in your locker?
Happy New Year!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The first thing that struck me about this book was Denis’ use of Thinking Questions at the end of every chapter to guide the reader through the learning. As we know, questions open the door to the future and are more powerful than answers in that they demand engagement. I couldn’t help but be engaged as I read this book. As a believer in the fact that context and relevance matters, this book hits the mark.
Denis shows you how he brings his life into the classroom. Whether we like it or not, our students want to get to know us – and why not? Or, why would we not want to form that relationship? As Denis said, “We have no choice but to make learning more relevant to our students, or they will learn without us.” If you want to make school work relevant and learn along with your students, you need to read this book.
~Dr. Byron L. Ernest