Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Tough Day Ahead

It is hard to imagine the grief that is going through the lives of the people of Newtown, CT this morning. It is even harder to imagine losing a child, as young as 5 years old to anything, let alone a gunman's rifle. Yet, those are the questions and the frustrations that will perplex people for a long time. For many Americans it comes on the heels of many similar, violent attacks over the past year.

People will be fighting for gun control, others are crying for mental health control, and everyone will be criticizing the news media for getting many details wrong and sensationalizing the story for viewer attention.

The one thing remains, 27 children and teachers are dead at the hand of a young man that needed help,  and used guns, owned by his mother, who became the first of his victims that Friday morning.

The toughest day for school leaders, everywhere, will be Monday, December 17. How do you walk back into your own school knowing that with the best security systems possible, it will not be enough to protect against this kind of active shooter scenario? What do you say to your faculty, students, and parent community? How do you make it through the day?

So, for those who constantly criticize schools and school leaders, how about cutting them a break for awhile, and be supportive and sympathetic for the job they have to do in not only educating your children, but protecting them, and risking their lives for them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Smartphones in the Classroom, Part IV

On my soapbox once again encouraging educators to get over the self-induced taboo of having cellphones in the classroom. This is the 21st Century, and every kid in your school has a smartphone device in their possession. Oh yes, there may be a few students that may not, but there are affordable ways to involve all children in using these tools.

In an excellent blogpost by Jennifer Carey, a list of some creative ideas are available for teachers to consider in planning to use smartphones. I expanded the list with others, but would love to hear from other colleagues about their ideas.

  1. In Class Polling and Student Surveys
  2. Backchanneling classroom conversation
  3. Reading handouts and writing short answer quizzes
  4. Doing research
  5. Text alerts and school announcements
  6. Calculator (graphic, scientific, and basic) use
  7. Note taking
  8. Assignment notebook
  9. Geography usage
  10. Astronomy 
Take a jump into the future by getting kids to use the tools of today, not yesteryear.

Carey, Jennifer. Powerful Learning Practice, "Some Ideas About Teaching With Smartphones." Last modified 2012. Accessed November 27, 2012.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ask People Who Know...the Janitor, the Clerical, Bus Driver, Kitchen Staff

There is a story that circulated around the NASA complex in the early years of the space program that a reporter was snooping around the assembly building at Cape Canaveral in the evening and saw a janitor sweeping the floor and emptying trash from the receptacles. The reporter approached the janitor and asked him what he was doing, to which he replied: "I'm helping to put a man on the moon!"

When I was an undergrad- many years ago- I remember a college professor telling us to be kind to the custodian in your school. That was probably the best advice I ever learned in college, for many times those very staff members were crucial in assisting me in the many instructional projects I presented to children; everything from helping me build props and assemble desks and chairs, to cleaning up the spills- human and otherwise- that spoiled a classroom environment.

When I became a school administrator, I took this advice to heart in understanding the school community, and learning how the system really worked. I will always cherish my first secretary, Linda Zwicklbauer, who was as adept at training administrators as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, and as compassionate as Mother Theresa in working with the school staff, kids, and families.

The operational staff- made up of custodians, cleaning matrons, kitchen staff, bus drivers, clerical staff, teacher aides, etc. are really the "heart and soul" of your learning community, not just the teachers and administrators. If you want to know the real story behind your organization, ask the staff. Chances are these stalwart members of your school, that keep the system running smoothly for the instructional program to educate children, are the true "unsung heroes" of your district. I would even assume many of these people live in your district and are taxpaying members of your community. That makes them even more important, and even more influential than you may have thought before.

So consider some "truisms" about these unsung heroes:

1)     The operational staff needs professional development, just as much as the faculty and administration. Take the time to provide safety training or participate with your staff in these sessions to understand their roles and responsibilities

2)     The operational responsibilities of staff members are important, and, in some cases, not as easy as one would expect. Custodians are not just cleaning, but maintaining the facilities for overuse. Heating and cooling operations are computerized nowadays and require an understanding of programming and inspecting high-maintenance energy systems. Food service staff have greater scrutiny today with the health laws and regulations that they must conform to. Clerical staff must be able to manage multiple computing platforms, scanners, and copiers, as well as be versed in psychology and counseling when managing the problems of children, parents- and yes- teachers on a daily basis. Teacher aides working with special education children are crucial members of the instructional team and cannot be ignored for the job they do. Bus drivers are the first, friendly face most kids see each morning, and must be trained to manage different weather conditions, transporting the precious cargo of the district.

3)     The operational staff of the school are directly responsible for student achievement. Whether it's maintaining the environment for learning, feeding hungry children and teachers, transporting children safely through perilous weather conditions, possessing a sympathetic ear when a child comes to the office and know of no other place to get help.

4)     Lastly, take time as school leaders to listen to these people. Attend meetings to listen to their concerns, and provide them with a chance to share their feelings and opinions about the school, the kids, the teachers and the community. Make them feel valued by being open to what they are seeing.

There are many members of a school community that make a difference for children. Don't forget the operational staff that make a difference in ways that are largely ignored by many, for they are the lifeblood of the school district.

NEA, "Getting Educated: Custodial and Maintenance Professionals." Accessed November 25, 2012.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Economic Suicide: Learning from the Twinkie

This Thanksgiving Day in the USA, I cannot help but be perturbed by the news from the world of organized labor that a union would kill off the company providing jobs to their union membership, holding out for more money, benefits and compensation the employer was unable to provide. Imagine the insensitivity of union leaders for leading a rampage of destruction for their membership, and destroying a company in the process. Have they not heard of compromise and negotiation?

" I have a natural sympathy for working men and women, but I can’t respect a union that would kill off the Twinkie and their own jobs due to a false sense of pride." (1)

Public sector unions that represent employees in school districts tend to be more understanding than this union that brought down the Hostess Baking Company, at least right now. My dealings with unions that represent school employees have always been constructive and supportive, surrounding the central mission of educating children. How fortunate our schools are to have dedicated people in these  organizations.

The economy is not good, but it cannot self destruct through selfish behaviors, and people need to show some retraint in their demands if it means the destruction of businesses or public institutions. Let's hope we can see better times ahead with balanced leaders in these labor movements.

(1)Hendriksen, Mark. Forbes, "Shame On The Gluttonous Bakery Union Members, Blasted Twinkies Killers." Last modified 2012. Accessed November 22, 2012.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Follow-up to Smartphones in the Classroom

What a wonderful surprise to open my local paper this morning to find this article on the front page.

"Cellphones, gadgets find a place in class"

Thank goodness there are some forward thinking people in education. Kudos to the Flagler County Schools.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Recruiting Digital Educators

I am often asked my thoughts on how teachers and staff should be hired to fulfill the mission of developing 21st Century Schools. In recent years I have considered what I would do differently, and what are the skills that are necessary for the "ideal" 21st Century faculty and staff to work in a district. My immediate reaction is that they need a strong background in their instructional speciality, thats a given. But, they also need to demonstrate, show practical application of, and actual use of digital skills and digital learning, and they must have a pronounced digital footprint on the Internet.

Here are a list of some of the things I would want to see, either in an interview or in a candidate's portfolio:

1)     Presence and use of Facebook. 
  • In this day and age, it is inexcusable for educators to avoid using Facebook. The ability to upload photos, stories, news items, and connect with not only friends, and colleagues, but students and their families builds a connection that cannot be ignored anymore for fear of violation of privacy. How wonderful that students learn their teacher has a hobby and interests that makes them human and quite inspiring.

2)     Presence and use of Twitter
  • The same holds true for Twitter, as for Facebook. Being able to post information, weblinks, homework help and other things can model for students how impactful Twitter can be for them. Besides, it is important for kids to learn how to summarize issues in 140 characters.

3)     Presence and use of Linked In
  • Anyone that calls themselves a "professional" should be registered and actively using  Linked In. It is the professional website for connecting with colleagues around the world and with professional associations, as well as looking for job opportunities in a user friendly environment.

3)     Active use of a wiki, website or blog
  •  Educators would be required to demonstrate their understanding of how to use a web format that presents their professional, and scholarly side. Parents enjoy reading these tools and students refer to them constantly.

4)     Demonstrated use of Google Advanced Search Systems
  • All educators that would work in my ideal school would need to do more with search engine then just a "" query. I would expect each teacher to know how to do a Boolean search inquiry either with Advanced Google or another browser.

5)     Working understanding and use of PC and OS computer platforms
  • We no longer live in a world that is divided by PC or Mac. All professionals need to understand both systems. It's time we become "ambidextrous" regarding platforms, tablets, smartphones, etc.

6)     Demonstrated use of presentation programs such as PowerPoint, Keynote and other software.
  • Once again, it is inexcusable for anyone teaching and not having an understanding of these presentation programs. While some lectures are "PowerPointless" to begin with, I would want teachers to have a tasteful understanding and use of these programs to support instruction, not overtake it.

7)     Active use of iMessage or other texting apps
  • Texting can be a very powerful tool for instruction or your worst nightmare, but it is an important instructional opportunity that can enhance communication. If kids are shown the right way to use texting they will be more focused on making great strides on learning to communicate respectfully, and properly.

8)     Active subscriber of electronic professional journals and organizations
  •  Even though I would not be legally able to do this, I would love to visit a candidates dwelling to figure out what they are reading and how. My ideal educators would be using an e-Reading system for their magazines, books and other materials. 

9)     A healthy digital footprint
  •  This goes without saying. Type in a candidate's name in a simple Google Search and unlock the world of who they really are. And, I would be more suspect of anyone that did not have a footprint!

10)   A well spoken individual.
  •  Lastly, I want a well-spoken person that presents well in a professional forum. 

No doubt, some will disagree with these requirements for a 21st Century educator, but that would be their opinion, since this list represents mine. If you want the status quo, then continue hiring people who have no understanding of these tools. If you want an innovator, have at it...

Friday, November 16, 2012

My Goodness! There's a Cellphone in my classroom!!

Upon becoming a high school principal many years ago, I remember being deluged with a handbook of school rules and regulations for student behavior known as the Code of Conduct. It was a necessary document to establish expectations for student behavior and actions in a school community. There was a section on illegal use of electronics by students. It covered everything from tape players, CD players, to radar installation units to detect if your teacher was planning to give a lot of homework. But, somewhere in between was nestled the thought (15 years ago) that cellphones were a bad thing, as well. Naturally, it was a holdover from before the smartphone era when cellphones made phone calls and played awkward Atari-style games.

The archaic policy was created within a "19th Century-Factory Model" philosophy of education, where  instruction is delivered via an "assembly-line" mentality where teachers believed kids were learning from their voluminous and uninspiring lectures. By preventing them from having tools such as smartphones and tablets they reinforce the belief that kids should not be distracted from their lectures.

Unfortunately, the mindless policies that were created to "harness" student energy in the heyday of 19th Century learning models (that are still prevalent today), are frustrating and turning kids off from active learning in schools today. Smartphone technology encompasses the same applications as a desktop computer with the added benefit of 3G or 4G wireless capability, meaning access to the Internet, resources, primary document searches, and the use of social media sites such as iMessenger and Twitter.

If we learned anything from the last two Presidential elections it was that the person that can master the social media world for their message will be the winner. Young people know this, and schools need to defer to this understanding if they are focused on preparing children for a future that is unfolding before them. As Richard Parker stated in the New York Times today: "...younger voters make decisions differently. They are constantly informed, messaged and reinforced by their deluge of text and Twitter messages- all coming from their friends, families and co-workers- hundreds if not thousands of times a day." (Parker, 2012).

We need to take advantage of the learning tool called the "smartphone", and soon before others figure out that schools are unable to keep kids interested in learning.

1.    Parker, Richard. "Social and Anti-Social Media." New York Times, November 16, 2012. (accessed November 16, 2012).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tech Shifts Changing the Direction of Eduction

In an excellent article by Katya Andresen (2012) on the "shifts" occurring due to the use of social media, I find there is much we should be developing in schools to accommodate this thinking. 

1. The messenger shift

"The idea: Technology has enabled people’s most trusted sources - those they perceive to be their peers - to become the most influential and amplified messengers in their lives. We are no longer the messengers in chief of our causes." (Andresen, 2012)
For Education: we need to reinforce what and how messaging can be used constructively by faculty, staff and students, and among those groups. Understanding the peril that can be construed by faculty and staff messaging students, consider the implications for homework assistance, posting changes to homework detail, sending a positive comment to reinforce a student's positive behavior, and reassuring staff members. For those who question this, be comforted to know it is happening already on iMessenger and Facebook.
2. The social action shift
"The idea: Technology has made it easy for people to take small, easy actions in support of a cause.  This has been dubbed slacktivism by some, which sounds dismissive.  But so-called slacktivists often have large circles of influence and are more likely to spread the word, volunteer and donate down the road." (Andresen, 2012)
For Education: During the deluge of Hurricane Sandy that plagued and devastated the northeast US, it was also apparent how important social action messaging assisted in getting the word out to create supportive mechanisms for assisting people. Schools should be taking advantage of this medium to advocate support for social causes and school issues as well.
3. The message shift
"The idea: The wealth of information and insights we have about people online is driving an increasing expectation of personalization of our outreach - and participation in our messages and cause.  We want to speak to our supporters based on their interests - without crossing the spooky line."
For Schools: harnessing information about members of a school community is doable and much easier to manage than the old paper-pencil filing system. Maintaining a communication link with parents and students through the medium will enhance support for many needs and opportunities.
4. The medium shift 
"The idea: Just this week, we learned there are 1 BILLION smartphones on the planet.  One in seven people on the earth have the ability to do so many things at their fingertips.  This could be an unprecedented opportunity to unleash generosity through technology." (Andresen, 20120
For Schools: The smartphone phenomenon is an important shift in how we access information for trivia, if not homework assistance. Schools should be directing efforts to harness this tool and not finding ways to restrict it in their learning community.
5. The mind shift
"The idea: Thanks to advances in technology and brain science, we know more than ever about what motivates people to give.  What you say and how you say it matters more than the technology itself."(Andresen, 2012)
For Schools: Motivation is an important requirement to keep students on task and focused. What a boon for learning when students can interact with learning through tablets, smartphones and other tech tools. 
Paradigm Shifts in education are valuable and greatly needed.

Andresen, Katya. Linked In, "5 Tech Shifts Changing Our World, Work, and Potential." Accessed November 15, 2012.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Big Boom or Big Fizzle?

Recently, while walking on the beach in Florida I overheard an enlightened conversation about the “big boom theory”, where a cataclysmic event of some type was needed to shake up the conversation of what is going on in life. It made no sense to me, because if there were, in fact, a “big boom” or cataclysmic event there wouldn’t be any life on earth to have a conversation?!

But, it left me thinking seriously about the need for a change in thinking and direction in the world regarding certain things, such as leadership for education, society, our nations financial woes and other potential things. Since my expertise revolves around a 38 years in education, I would stress the leadership component of this discussion is critical for me. 

We need a “big boom”, a “shake up” - or my favorite- "a paradigm shift" in our schools to bring them into a true 21st Century vehicle of success for our students. Not the kind being legislated by our political honchos. And, how do we accomplish such an endeavor? By, doing some of the following:

  1. A Challenge. Create an overwhelmingly challenging goal to move student achievement ahead, exponentially.
  2. Hire and fire. Find the right people to drive the agenda. First, look within the school community for talented, driven teachers and supervisors willing to work a challenge. Second, place them in a position to move the agenda forward, even if you need to violate a contractual agreement with a bargaining unit that is protecting apathy in the ranks. Third, if there are no willing participants to move the agenda, find people outside of the school organization. There are many people looking for work nowadays, and some are hungry for a challenge.
  3. Advocacy. Convince the parents and the greater school community of the need for this challenge, and keep them periodically informed of your progress.
  4. Be present, and everywhere throughout the school organization as a mentor and coach to move the agenda.
  5. Mandate that all faculty, regardless of certification, are responsible for teaching literacy, including reading and writing. Synergy matters.
  6. Celebrate, commiserate, and provide feedback, but don’t relent on the mission, no matter how difficult the critiques, the grievances and controversies are. 
  7. Results, results, results will change the world, and better prepare students for the future.

Creating a big boom in education requires dynamic people who are not interested in maintaining the status quo. These are difficult times in education, and they require dynamic leaders willing to make a difference. 

Don’t let your “big boom” be a “whimper of smoke”.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Remarkably Successful, School Leader

The first school leader I worked for, some 38 years ago, ran a very tight ship, so to speak. He was reluctant to do anything different, and felt those that "rocked the boat" were not a good fit for his organization. Suggest anything new, and you heard from him. Years later I discovered he acted out more in fear than in a defined vision of educational values. This has lead me to analyze all of the people that have had a significant impact in my career on their learning communities.
In the world of school leaders there are only two kinds of people: the "mediocre/status quo leader" and the "remarkably successful leader". Which one do you want to be for your school learning community?
We have all seen what the "status quo/mediocre leader" is like, for there are many like him/her in official positions of schools and other organizations. They follow through with the motions of being an administrator or leader, lacking the unique vision or drive to initiate impactful change. Their operational mode is to not cause controversy- don’t rock the boat-  and to exist from one school year to the next. After a long tenure in the role they retire, or move on to some other career. But, the state of the school community is left to idle and become a passive place for change that neglects a proper and challenging education for children. 
The “remarkably successful leader” is a uniquely different kind of person. And this type of leader is needed now, more than ever to make the learning community a vital and exciting place for change and student achievement. In reading an excellent article by Jeff Haden of, I note his recommendations for truly remarkable and successful people in an organization. Here are his recommendations:
Remarkably successful people:
...don’t create back-up plans.
They do the work...
...and they work a lot more.
They avoid crowds
They start at the end
...and they don’t stop there.
They sell
And they are never proud (Haden, 2012)

So, how does this apply to school leaders that seek to become inspiring leaders for their  learning communities?
  1. A school leader needs to have a bold, and daring plan that challenges their learning community to change. Leaders with back-up plans are creating an “easy out” for the organization and themselves. Recommendation: create a bold vision and don’t create a back-up plan. “If somehow the worst does happen (and the "worst" is never as bad as you think) trust that you will find a way to rebound. As long as you keep working hard and keep learning from your mistakes, you always will.” (Haden, 2012).
  2. The work of the school leader is never ending, and to be effective in the role he/she needs to do the work, the hard work, and nothing but the work to be better than average. Recommendation: do your homework, and study your profession carefully. “Scratch the surface of any person with rare skills and you'll find a person who has put thousands of hours of effort into developing those skills.” (Haden, 2012)
  3. The successful school leader works the long hours of the job. Whether it’s coming in early, leaving late, attending all of the meetings, concerts, athletic events, and what have you, they work harder and longer than most other people in the learning community. Recommendation: to be an impactful school leader, be there, and be everywhere. “Every extremely successful entrepreneur I know (personally) works more hours than the average person--a lot more. They have long lists of things they want to get done. So they have to put in lots of time.” (Haden, 2012)
  4. Most successful school leaders lead a lonely existence. If they are treated as outcasts in their organizations, they are also treated that way in the professional networks and communities. Recommendation: don’t sacrifice your commitment to success for a social professional life, and don’t defer to those mediocre leaders around you that talk a good game but have no idea where they are going. “Remarkably successful people habitually do what other people won't do. They go where others won't go because there's a lot less competition and a much greater chance for success.” (Haden, 2012)
  5. Goal setting is not something a successful leader engages in, or at least they don’t call it that. For the successful leader “beginning with the end in mind” (Covey, 1990) or “starting at the end” (Haden, 2012) is how these leaders establish the direction for the learning community. Recommendation: begin by asking where you want the learning community to be in the future, and what will that future look like. “Decide what you really want: to be the best, the fastest, the cheapest, the biggest, whatever. Aim for the ultimate. Decide where you want to end up. That is your goal.” (Haden, 2012).
  6. Self-limiting goals are not the end point but the beginning for successful leaders. Recommendation: keep a log book or journal listing what future projects will look like. “Remarkably successful people don't try to win just one race. They expect and plan to win a number of subsequent races.” (Haden, 2012)
  7. The successful school leader is constantly motivating, dialoging and selling his/her plan to the learning community. Selling is the craft of the successful leader that believes in their mission. Recommendation: keep communicating with the learning community to let them know where they are headed as a group. “Selling is convincing other people to work with you. Selling is overcoming objections and roadblocks.” (Haden, 2012)
  8. Finally, pride is the Achilles Heel of a successful leader. When it is all about the leader and not the organization, arrogance, hubris, and attitude will destroy the future of the learning community. “To admit they made a mistake. To say they are sorry. To have big dreams. To admit they owe their success to others. To poke fun at themselves. To ask for help. To fail. To try again.” (Haden, 2012)

I have had the honor of knowing and working for a few 
outstanding leaders in my career. They were people that 
fulfilled the preceding eight habits to a positive and
constructive outcome for their schools and their communities. 
Their example is what ignited others to succeed, and 
complete the work of their schools. It is possible for you 
as well.

 (1) Haden, Jeff. "8 Habits of Remarkably Successful People.", November 07, 2012. (accessed November 8, 2012).

We the People...

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”1.
The election season now comes to an end, thank goodness. The American people have spoken- or at least the electoral college has!  There will be no more annoying advertisements that are demeaning, debilitating, coercive, libelous, or insulting to some one, some group, etc. And, more importantly, we will stop listening to that awful comment that signifies someone has approved the damn message advocated in the ad. 

What will television and radio be like for this period of respite?

Life will go on, and the world did not come to a crashing halt because one person or party or political platform won over an opposing position, person, or party. Life goes on, and the same issues that created this political atmosphere will fester for a few more years until the next round of leadership elections. Thus, the fate of living in a democratic society, and I love it that way. 

There may have been a dead heat, too close to call mentality prior to election day in the US, but the voice of the people won in the end, not the voice of the media, or others. The American people enjoy the right to vote for their leaders, and despite the verbosity, and dialogue, no one was executed for their beliefs. The government of the United States is on firm footing, all dependent on a piece of paper that was written some 225 years ago.

I love to remind myself of the preamble to the constitution regularly, since it encourages us to be a wholesome and supportive people that works together for the good of our nation and our people. That’s what the essence of 21st Century School Leadership is all about; working for the betterment of the future of our society by teaching the children of our communities. 

Hail to the Chief who won the election, but hail to the nation that voted freely, and openly. 

Long live the United States of America.

1.  (1789) The Constitution of the United States of America. Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved on the Internet from

Friday, November 2, 2012

Superintendents and Generals

One of the most interesting jobs that I had over the 38 years of my career in public education was being a superintendent of a school district. I loved the job, very much, but it was certainly a stressful, challenging role to fulfill in spite of being one of the most rewarding jobs I ever had. 

My son is a member of the United States Air Force, and when I was promoted to the job of superintendent he called me a “general”. I never thought of the job in that manner, but I suppose the literature could equate my role as a commander of a division, or an army, so to speak. And, being in command situations as a “superintendent” , it is conceivable that in many ways, there were many similarities to the role of being a general (although, instead of stars being on my shoulder, there were usually stars circling around my confused head!).

I have been reading a compelling book recently released by reporter and historian Thomas Ricks, entitled The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today (2012)1. This read has been very interesting and quite compelling since the author reviews how the US Army had a stringent practice of relieving their generals in World War II for command failure and incompetence on a regular basis, but as the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, the removal of incompetent leaders has been slow to occur, if at all. The thesis of his book is how did this level of accountability of senior command officers change, and why.

In many ways, school superintendents are in the same leadership mode as command generals in war time. They are answerable to civilian authorities (Board of Education), and have a challenging mission to accomplish (the education and preparation of children for the future). 

From Tom Ricks book: 
Being a general usually involves being able to impose one’s will on a large organization engaged in the most stressful of human activities. It is almost always driven by the twofold ability first to anticipate problems and devise solutions and then to get people to execute the resulting plans. (Ricks, 2012, 19).

One could very well superimpose the word [superintendent] for [general] and the meaning of the job would be quite clear. War and education are very stressful human endeavors. The job of a school leader/general is to design a plan, decide on potential solutions and move an organization of people in the direction of fulfilling that mission. 

The job performance of a school leader/general is assessed by achievement of the very goals, as stated above. If the goals are not met, someone is to be held responsible by a higher authority. Accountability plays a large part in the practice of continued employment, so to speak, or as it should. 

Generals [superintendents] are born, and generals [superintendents] are made. The promotion from colonel [teacher/[principal] to general [superintendent] is one of the largest psychological leaps an officer [educator] can take. ...they are expected to control  and coordinate different branches [departments], such as artillery, cavalry, and engineers [curriculum, budget and finance, operations and maintenance, transportation, food service]- that is to become generalist.(Ricks, 2012,17).

Invariably, questions of competence and succeeding at the mission, will always be prevalent. But, the superintendency is a noble profession, and the people that fulfill these roles have great responsibilities that matter most importantly to each student attending school, each day.

1. Ricks, T.E. (2012). The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: The Penguin Press.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All leaders should read this letter

Ann Coulter and her conspiring attack dogs that label themselves caring human beings should really learn something from this letter.

An Open Letter to Ann Coulter
Posted on October 23, 2012 by Tim Shriver

John Franklin Stephens

The following is a guest post in the form of an open letter from Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter after this tweet during last night’s Presidential debate.

Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.

A friend you haven’t made yet,
John Franklin Stephens
Global Messenger
Special Olympics Virginia

Monday, October 22, 2012

Systems Thinking = Shared Supportive Thinking

Schools are people organizations. From the children entering the school each day, their parents that pack them off to be entrusted to the school environment, to the maintenance grounds/custodial workers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff to the faculty and administrators. Schools revolve around children, but are powered by the imagination and creative juices of adults that support the "system" of the school district. So, how does this idea of systems thinking (which is a domain of the learning organization) play out in the world of the learning community (the domain of a shared and supportive environment)? Thus, today's post.

Systems thinking has been described as a the continuous improvement level of the learning model. It is that feedback loop or quality circle, that is required for everyone to be on track with each other and for the good of the organization. It is the arena that takes an issue effecting the output of the organization, and frames it within a problem-solving mode for solutions that will enhance and grow the positive outcome of the issue.
Scenario A: A few years ago, I had the honor of visiting the Steinway Piano Factory in Steinway, Queens, NY. In this historic building of 5 floors, is an assembly line of great, historic significance, since the greatest pianos in musical history were made here. Each floor of the plant had different divisions or departments where a different aspect of the piano was addressed, and made. From the creation of the soundboard, to the stringing of the piano, to the installation of the hammers to the wood carpentry and veneer. This was an involved and focused operation whose sole purpose is to make the best sounding piano possible, each and every time.
While strolling around the plant on a guided tour, I noticed that in each area there was a wall chart with the company motto, and a chart for workers to write concerns for continuous improvement meetings. I inquired about what this meant, and one of shop stewards said each division of the plant/assembly line meets in continuous improvement meetings once a month for the purpose of discussing concerns and issues that are affecting the output quality. This is an example of systems thinking.

Scenario B: A new middle school principal took over a school that had poor ELA writing scores on statewide tests. He made it his goal to get the building focused on how to address this weakness and to get everyone on board with a major issue of concern for the sake of promoting a positive student achievement. At the first faculty meeting of the school year he outlined how important this was, and his expectation that everyone in the school, not just the ELA teachers, would be involved in this effort. He informed the parents of his mission for the school, and assured parents that this was a mandatory mission to move their children forward in their educational achievement. Throughout the school year, building-wide assessments were used to pre-test the situation, and periodically check on efforts across the board. Next, all teachers, regardless of subject area were responsible for teaching writing, and they had to get on board with all teaching from the same play book. Long story short, the scores improved, synergy and focused teaching were established, and systems thinking prevailing across the board.

What prevents systems thinking or shared supportive thinking are the few individuals that resent this kind of team work. In the words of Jim Collins from Good to Great, move them off the bus. These organizational learning models need strong leaders, willing to work at a great and noble task. Putting up with the self-centered teacher that will not cooperate with this purpose will stress and negate the effort. Leaders need to be bold and move them away from positive outcomes. 

In the words of Lao Tzu: "When Simplicity is broken up, It is made into instruments. Evolved individuals who employ them, Are made into leaders. In this way, the Great System is United."

The Tao Te Ching (Verse 28)

Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization "healthy" or "unhealthy".
Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices[2] within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

You say to-may-toe, and I say to-mah-toe...

The song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” was a big hit in 1937 when the Gershwin brothers wrote it for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the movie, “Shall We Dance”. But, for the purpose of my blogpost this week, it suits my topic. Read on and you will see.

There are two types of learning models for organizations, both having gained much publicity and attention in the last 20 years. Each model has a variety of strengths and weaknesses, and have been used successfully in different types of organizations. They are “professional learning organizations” and “professional learning communities”. The latter predominantly refers to school organizations, and is espoused by a number of people, such as Shirley Hord, Thomas Sergiovanni, the DuFours, and others. The former was developed for business organizations by well-known management specialist and MIT professor, Peter Senge in 1992. The purpose of this blog is to begin a series of articles on what these organizations mean for our present day efforts to promote accountability and increase student achievement.

The model of the learning organization is a well-known framework for redefining and revitalizing organizations. Peter Senge developed it under the assumption that organizations derive their ability to adapt, learn, and assimilate from new information and issues much like a biological organism adapts to its environment. The model is made up of five components, when shown here will articulate the kind renewing of process advocated for these organizations.

Components of the Learning Organization

  • Systems Thinking: a conceptual framework that allows organizational members to assess their organization and measure the performance output as a whole and its various components.
  • Personal Mastery: commitments made by organization members to continually learn and develop proficiency within the organization’s efforts.
  • Mental Models: assumptions held by individuals and organizations. To become a learning organization these models must by challenged. The catch phrase “but this is how we always did this” must be removed from the culture for more risk taking, and effective vision.
  • Shared Vision: a key to team effort and motivation for members to learn from each situation.
  • Team Learning: the accumulation of individual learning into teams that continue processing issues, changes, and challenges. It engages members in open and frank discussions about how to do things more efficiently and better.

In comparison to this model, here are the components of the Learning Community, a model developed concurrently to the learning organization literature through the 1990’s and beyond, and advocated by Shirley Hord.

Components of the Learning Community

  • Supportive and Shared Leadership: a collegial environment of administrators, and teachers in working together to improve student learning. It is a decentralized organization where everyone works together on a team.
  • Collective Creativity:  where people from different parts of the organization can work effectively in creating the results and the future they desire, together.
  • Shared Values and Vision: is the collective commitment to work for the future and the results the community desires.
  • Supportive Conditions: the physical needs and people capacities required for members to work together for organizational learning, decision-making, problem solving, and creative work.
  • Shared Personal Practice: peers helping peers where teacher evaluation is renewing experience for professional development.

So, there you have the comparison of the two models. Both have the ability to do great things in education. Both, have proven effective for 21st Century School Leaders to adapt in their organizations. Many districts have begun the process of becoming learning organizations or communities. And still, there are obstinate systems waiting for a cataclysm to force the issue. Since the end result is to develop prepared, skilled members of the future, then schools need to reorganize their thinking and their processes to get students across the line of accountable progress. 

No matter what you call it, Learning Organization (To-may-to) or Learning Community (To-mah-to), find a way to learn more about these models and advocate for change in your schools.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Malala Yousufza, Another Windmill Chaser?

Nothing has been more frustrating with world events than the senseless horror of harassment and physical battering a young girl received at the hands of Islamic extremists. All because she wanted an education. A chance at a better life, to read, write, to reason, and be a contributing member of society...her society. This young child from Pakistan has a story for everyone in the world to remember. Education is a right for all human beings. She was not scared to be bullied by extremists, and stood her small frame for all she believed in her giant heart.

What example does Malala provide us?

In my previous blog I wrote about the "greater fool", the quixotic hero figure that stands for something against the powers that be. Are we willing to stand up against them, as this young girl did, all for an education?

Malala Yousufzai, a beautiful girl from Pakistan, should be a hero for all of us, across the world.

Please keep her in your thoughts.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Greater Fool, Quixote, and the Tea Party

Don Quixote: I mean to engage in battle...
 for this is righteous warfare,

I have long been enamored of, and described to be a “romantic”, the great fanatic, that sees life as a series of quixotic episodes to right the wrong of society and pave the way for a better world of educating children to take the reigns of an unknown future. I’ll never forget someone saying that to me many years ago in an attempt to deflate my ego, and possibly to detract my ambitions. Painful though it was to hear, I persisted in my beliefs and hopes that one day, maybe I could make a difference as a teacher, and eventually as a school administrator.

I suppose in a real way I would like to be described instead as the “greater fool”. Used to describe a person that believes in a long term investment, despite short term failures, the “Greater Fool Theory” describes “buying something not because you believe that it is worth the price, but rather because you believe that you will be able to sell it to someone else at an even higher price.”1

Thankfully, there is an alternative definition that sounds something like this: "The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools."2

 I much prefer the latter description. 

For over the past year and a half, through some 150 blog posts, I have sought to encourage a greater commitment to a vivid educational society, than what we have become. To rise beyond the criticism of Tea Party politicians and hacks posing as  political leaders that denounce our educational system as being faulty and in decline because they enjoy riling the public for an issue that is easy to destroy. So, to illustrate their arguments, they hire private companies, sponsored by conservative political movements to create exams, tests, and evaluation systems that assert our educational system is in decline, and to support their agenda. 

According to, the connection between Pearson, McGraw Hill, and other testing and assessment developers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),  is quite clear. “Some of Pearson's associations with ALEC and/or parallel corporate-model approach to privatizing education at a profit” is the backbone of the reform agenda being advocated by dubious politicians, who also claim our current system is dysfunctional. 3

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) describes itself as the largest “membership association of state legislators,” but over 98% of its revenue comes from sources other than legislative dues, primarily from corporations and corporate foundations.

"Look, your worship," said Sancho; 
"what we see there are not giants but windmills,
 and what seem to be their arms 
are the sails that turn by the wind 
and make the millstone go."

Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization.

Organizations like ALEC circumvent the democratic process in favor of corporations. Financial resources are used to influence public officials and provide model legislation meant to easily pass through state houses of governance. Recent examples include infamous "Stand Your Ground" laws [Florida] and others that seek to limit the voting rights of marginalized populations. Education reform legislation is also part of ALEC's agenda, with substantial sponsorship from corporate funds to divert the flow of valuable taxpayer dollars away from public schools.”4

From this melee of criticism and argument, the very educational system of our instruction and curriculum is in upheaval with a mentality of testing the begeebies out of everything, and anything, just to support this agenda. The question that keeps surfacing for me, is how will this culture of testing prepare children for the future? 

My answer, it will not. Instead it will frustrate the creative process and innovative spirit of well-meaning teachers, administrators and parents who support quality schools for all children. 

"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, 
"that thou art not used to this business of adventures; 
those are giants; and if thou art afraid, 
away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer 
while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat."

Make your voice and your vote count. They are not just "windmills".

1.    The greater fool. In Wikipedia.Retrieved from http://en/
2.    Sorkin, A. (Writer) (2012). The greater fool. [Television series episode]. In Sorkin, A. (Executive Producer), The Newsroom. New York: HBO. Retrieved at
3.    (2012) Boycott Pearson and McGraw-Hill and hold everyone accountable. ED Notes Online. Retrieved from

Friday, October 12, 2012

Risky is the New Safe

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about the "fear of failure" that prevents organizations and schools from changing and adapting to the current issues and problems facing education and student achievement. (  I would like to expand on this theme today and comment on a piece I read by leadership writer, Steve Keating (2012). It's entitled:  "It isn't safe to play it safe"1. While his blog is directed toward business and organizational change, there is much to learn that we can apply to our schools.

 "The only way to be safe today is to take a risk! I'm not talking crazy, thoughtless risk; I'm talking about thoughtful, considered risk. Doing the same thing next year that you did last year will not get you the same results. The people that thrive in the coming years will be the first who realize that just because something was the right thing to do yesterday doesn't mean it's still the right thing to do today (Keating, 2012)."

What a powerful message for 21st Century School Leaders!! To assume previous practice is just fine does not make it an effective strategy for today or  tomorrow.

How many times do we hear from the status quo types the disinterested phrase: "But, that's how we always did it."These are the people in schools- and in organizations in general- that frustrate the progress of dynamic change in schools. They are comfortable in their classroom and unwilling to confront the possibility of change because it is too "risky"! As Cindy Ventrice writes: "That's the way we’ve always done it," a phrase that cripples our imaginations and limits our potential 2.

My next door neighbor just retired from his place of employment after 30 years. As he was cleaning out his desk and his office he came across a notebook given to him by his predecessor in the job. He told my friend, this is the notebook that explains everything there is to know and do about the job he was inheriting. My neighbor, Doug, said he never looked at it once in the 30 years he was with GE, since he did not wish to be influenced by routine, but wanted to place his own spin on the job. Thirty years later he took it out of his desk and threw it away.

A few years ago, my predecessor as Superintendent in our school district announced at the opening day of the new school year that "Bethlehem was a good school district, not great! Good was the enemy of great." In one simple phrase he disarmed the comfort level of an entire faculty and community, and shook the inner recesses of the organization to begin rethinking how our school district needs to take a good look at how we have done things, reflect on these practices and change things up for the future. 

Naturally, this presentation met with controversy, frustration, bickering, ridicule, and commentary that slowed the pace of the change effort desired by the superintendent. But, he wasn't scared to stand in front of the organization of 800 people and light a fuse of risk, change, challenge and redirection. He didn't play it safe that day, but created a risk opportunity for himself that had the best intentions of the students in his thinking and his mindset.

 "No matter what you do and no matter how you do it, it's highly unlikely that you can maintain your success by just continuing to do it indefinitely. The world is changing everyday and everyday it changes a little faster than the day before. There is no more 'safe', you either accept the challenge of risk or you accept your fate. The choice is yours (Keating, 2012)"

Remember, in education "risky" is the new safe. 

1.     Keating, S. (2012, October 12). It isn't safe to play it safe. [BLOG]. Retrieved from October 12, 2012 at

2.     Ventrice, C. (1998).That's the way we've always done it. [BLOG] Potential Unlimited.  Retrieved October 12, 2012 from