Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Have you ever played "Pickleball"?

This morning I had a wonderful experience. I played "pickleball" with my wife and our neighbors. I had no idea what to expect when I accepted the invite to attend this match, and after an hour and a half, I came away convinced that this was fun, energizing, and educationally relevant for people to learn to play.

According to the grand oracle, 'pickleball" is a racquet sport which combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. The sport is played on a court with the same dimensions as a doubles badminton court. The net is similar to a tennis net, but is mounted two inches lower. The game is played with a hard paddle and a polymer wiffle ball.

The game started during the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island at the home of Congressman Joel Pritchard, US House of Representatives for the State of Washington. He and two of his friends, returned from golf and found their families bored one Saturday afternoon. They attempted to set up badminton but no one could find the shuttlecock. They improvised with a whiffle ball, lowered the badminton net, and fabricated paddles of plywood from a nearby shed.

The unusual name of the game originated with Joan Pritchard, who said it reminded her of the "Pickle Boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats." The popular story told today is that it was named after the family dog. Joan corrected this story in interviews but the story persists. As the story is told, the whiffle ball belonged to the dog. Whenever an errant shot happened, Pickles would run and try to get the ball and hide it. They named the game for their dog’s ball, “Pickles’ Ball”, then it became Pickleball. It's a good story, but the truth is the Pritchard family didn't get the dog until 1967. Actually, the dog was named after the sport.

Whatever the truth of the story, I bring this game to my readers attention because it is an example of something that was created from what was lying around for the purpose of getting people involved, active, and learning. Isn't that what true education is all about in the end? Are people learning, contributing, active within their environment? There was no state exam to test conceptual and perceptual understanding, just a few people playing a simple game with simple rules,and enjoying themselves.

We need more inventive, and creative people to do the same thing with education. We need people willing to create and be creative with children, and not succumb to the belief testing is the only way to learn.

By the way, my team won 3 out of the 4 matches this morning. I love to learn.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cults ...

Blog Post 7/24/2011

Much has happened this weekend. Friday morning, a crazy individual breaks into a packed theater to disrupt, and kill people that came to watch the premiere of another cult movie of Batman. Sunday morning the wrecking crews at Penn State took down the revered statue of another cult-like personna to remove any reverence for a man that"turned the other way" while children were being harmed. And this morning we have the verdict delivered by the athletic consortium of the NCAA that controls to some degree educational offerings as well as sports programs in higher education, another cult that has become a big business in the US.

The key word that resonates in my thinking throughout these events is the word "cult". The dictionary defines the term as "a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure of object." Cults draw people who are in need of a relationship with something or someone. Whether it is watching a Batman movie, or cheering for a big time college football team, cults are like magnets that draw people to their cause, hero, or various personna. In many similarities, religious cults are equally magnetic and quite persuasive. But, regardless of the intent, it points out to me the desire that people wish to belong to something, greater than themselves.

Education has a job to make people aware, and informed of reality, and to teach people to make appropriate decisions about their desire to seek relationships with such things. Unfortunately, we do not win that battle very well when the interests of children are in competition with each other, from family religious extremes to private sector advertising media drawing people to themselves, or schools of higher education promising the world to student athletes, only to find that college athletics are a threshing of talent from desire, leaving many individuals to be discarded when they are no longer useful.

For all the good intentions in the world, music and athletic programs offer great benefits to children in their educational development, but are we teaching kids to become professional musicians or athletes? The desire to compete or to perfect a talent is an excellent discipline to develop in all people, but do we go too far in promising the world? How many Division I hopefuls are there and how many students are let down when the world comes crashing in on these dreams and hopes?

My heart goes out to the victims and families from the heinous acts committed by one deranged individual at a movie theater in Colorado. But, then I am confronted by the persistent thought of what type of a person goes to see a movie at 12:00am with young children? How many crazies or questionable individuals are out at that time that might create the kind of chaos that we saw on Friday?

Then again, what type of parents allow their children to attend a sports camp with a known pedophile working in a position of influence? Don't people ask questions first, or are they blinded by the hope that their child is being groomed for a scholarship to the notable college? But, what is there to worry about, right? St. Joe Paterno will keep an eye on this!

There are major lessons to be learned from all of these events, but will people truly ever learn? The desire to belong to something is a real psychological need, whether it is going to a late night Batman movie, or getting into an elite school of higher education, or going to church on Sunday.

Kudos to the NCAA for hammering Penn State. Hopefully someone will learn from this tragedy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

End of Week Notes July 20, 2012

Quotes of the Week
Inspirational: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.

* The hypothalamus is one of the most important parts of the brain,
involved in many kinds of motivation, among other functions. The
hypothalamus controls the "Four F's":
1. fighting
2. fleeing
3. feeding
4. mating
-- Psychology professor in neuropsychology intro course

Events and Happenings
1) Education Week Webinars. Register at
- Transitioning to a Weighted Student-Funding Formula
July 24, 2012 @ 2 p.m. ET
- Math Practices and the Common Core
July 26, 2012 @ 2 p.m. ET
- Changing Mindsets
Aug. 11, 2012 @ 2:00pm ET

Notes and Jokes

1) The needs of suburban school districts are as challenging as any other seen in urban and rural school districts. A consortium of large suburban school districts have formed an official network to address these needs and issues particular to the suburban schools and students. In an excellent article by Christina Samuels in Ed. Week the details on this network.

2) Summer educator humor: Do teachers work in the summer!?

3) A report by PBS's Frontline examines the work of Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Robert Balfanz, who suggests there is a key period in middle school that determines whether a student will eventually drop out.

4) Summer educator humor: I would say it is hot as hell, but I don't believe in heat.

5) Wonderful article on why school leaders need to be connected, and using social media such as Twitter and Facebook could be a positive force for creating change and modeling leadership.

6) Summer educator humor: It might look like I am doing nothing, but on a cellular level I'm quite busy.

7) My blogs from this past week:
Meaningful activities for professional development July 18
Creating animosity not accountability July 17
Begin with the end in mind. July 16
Turn the statue around...make him look the other way July 13

8) Thus ends another week in the summer of 2012. Hope you find these items interesting and useful for your future work as a 21st Century School Leader.

Thank you forall you do for the students of your schools.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meaningful Activities for Professional Development

Each year administrative teams and professional development committees at school districts around the world attempt to develop meaningful experiences for their faculty. The summer is an excellent time to begin planning such activities or hosting the activities, but nonetheless, some useful pointers by professional development experts might be a useful place to start in planning for a new school year.

One thing to keep in mind is that faculty members- who I assume are adults(!)- really have the attention span of children, especially after a long day of teaching and other sundry activities that stress an individual's mind. It might be beneficial to keep that in mind while considering optimal activities for their professional development time. From my own seat time experience as a teacher, lecture presentations do not work, especially after a long day and just before dinner.

Instead, use the following guidelines developed by Sally Zepeda from her book on professional development as a starting point in creating meaningful professional learning.

Eight Strategies to Engage Adult Learners

1. Make learning both an active and an interactive process.
2. Provide hands-on, concrete experiences and real-life experiences.
3. Employ novelty, but also connect to the adult learner's prior experiences and knowledge.
4. Give them opportunities to apply the new knowledge to what they already know or have experienced.
5. Be aware of the diversity in an adult group. Use a variety of approaches to accommodate different learning styles and experiences and use examples that reflect the diversity in the group composition.
6. Use small-group activities through which learners have the opportunity to reflect, analyze, and practice what they have learned.
7. Provide coaching, technical assistance, feedback, or other followup support as part of the training.
8. Give adult learners as much control as possible over what they learn, how they learn, and other aspects of the learning experience.

Zepeda, S. (2012). Professional Development: What Works. (2nd Edition). Eye on Education.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Creating animosity not accountability

A good friend of mine, a wonderful music educator, composer and arranger wrote a disturbing post on Facebook the other day where he was attacking the NYS teacher evaluation system, and in so doing made a troubling remark that administrators should be teaching everyday and evaluated the same manner teachers will be evaluated to know what it will feel like to be put under the microscope. He states:
"Poor evaluations could/should/ would result in demotion/ losing an administrative position or being fired from a district."

What my esteemed friend misses the point on is that this very thing is happening to a much greater degree than what he realizes already, but in a different context.

Before addressing this, allow me to explain that many school administrators, including department supervisors, building principals, district administrators come from the ranks of teachers before assuming managerial responsibilities and supervision of children and faculty. On many occasions as a supervisor, principal or superintendent, I found myself teaching kids in a variety of classes by invitation, subbing for a teacher, instructing faculty on myriad numbers of issues, and helping departments and programs whenever it was needed. I had many administrative friends who felt the same way, since there is nothing more rewarding working with kids, and how I wished there were more opportunities to do more of that.

But, back to the issue of accountability. The NYS teacher evaluation system requires teachers to be evaluated on a number of different points, including classroom observations, test scores, professional development and other negotiated items. The administrators of buildings and districts are responsible to complete these evaluations in conjunction with bargaining units creating an appropriate appeals process. The bottom line of suitable accountability means teachers can be removed from their assignment if things are not working out well, but only after an improvement plan process has been established to rehabilitate the teacher's weaknesses. What some people fail to understand is that the administrator is also being evaluated and being held accountable if the building does not show adequate improvement, meaning my friend's assertion that they could be demoted or lose their job could be a reality, as well.

The problem here is that the cry for better accountability is being sounded as an election day tool to rouse public furor over something that appears to be broken, if you really think that is the case. But, as I have stated often in this blog, politicians love to scapegoat education and schools because it is easy to bully an institution that cannot fight back. Furthermore, it masks more important issues that are in need of attention, such as the economy, jobs, the environment. Nonetheless, here we have an example of what politicians love and that is the infighting between teachers that think the administrators are incompetent and unable to fulfill this charge effectively.

The truth is that anyone involved in education is victimized by this approach, and especially the children. There are better ways to prove accountability in education, and I hope that reality will be discovered someday.

"Begin with the end in mind..."

Stephen Covey was a man of incredible integrity and essence. He created a philosophy that so many people followed based on the idea of Principle-Centered Leadership. His dedication to propelling that idea through his highly renowned book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Persons" will always be a mainstay on the bookshelves of extraordinary leaders. But, the amazing thing about this whole approach to leadership is that the philosophy behind the approach is nothing more than common sense.

1. Be proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think “win-win.”
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
6. Synergize
7. Sharpen the saw; that is, undergo frequent self-renewal.

Students of many different beliefs recognize the inherent philosophy from these seven guidelines. One can recognize Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic ideas emanating from these precepts that have inspired so many people since Dr. Covey created them for his approach to successful, common-sense leadership.

As the world is still reeling from the Joe Paterno issue at Penn State and the news is caught up in the efficacy of the report that questioned motives and intent, remembering these seven precepts of leadership may place these events in perspective. Potentially, they could guide behaviors of leaders in responsible and ethical directions where another event of the nature could be prevented.

Stephen Covey told people that when practicing the second habit of "begin with the end in mind" to envision your funeral and imagine what you would want people to say about you as they eulogized your life. In his case, the eulogy will be a testament to all the people that his life's work inspired over the years, and the good these people are doing because of it. Instead of a statue, his work and philosophy will be his legacy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Turn the statue around...make him look the other way.

This has been an interesting week in the news. Students of leadership,such as myself, saw two monumental presentations come forward to awaken and reawaken emerging issues prevalent in our educational institutions and organizations. The first is the legislation signed into law by NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding cyberbullying and what schools will be mandated to do in following through with an investigation and punishment of perpetrators. The second was the release of the Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of the Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse of Gerald Sandusky (also known as the Freeh Report, 7/12/2012).

The legislation in NYS is newsworthy because it finally brings to bear the guidelines necessary to hopefully hold people accountable for bullying behaviors that occur online. Unfortunately, the irony of this event is dulled when the NYS Governor Cuomo is also known as the "bully-in-chief" for the manner he has attacked, cajoled, used the authority of his office to belittle, bully, and intimidate public education in NYS, once renowned as an exemplar throughout the country for accountability, and student achievement.

The Freeh Report, which was completed in an objective, investigatory manner that should be modeled through our organizations for its style and directness, summarily found that the four most important people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. Unfortunately, the most attention that has risen from this report is that the legendary, God-like figure of Joe Paterno is one of the people referenced as being responsible for not reporting and investigating this matter when it was brought to his attention 10 years ago. But, after a closer read, the primary cause of this crisis was the lack of oversight, accountability, and discipline needed to supervise these Penn State "leaders" by the Board of Trustees. When the money coffers were filled to support the football program, all heads were turned the other way.

Apparently, even Joe Paterno -- as well as the top administrators at Penn State -- couldn't keep their priorities straight. They received a credible eyewitness report describing the rape of a young boy in a Penn State locker room shower -- a report from a then-graduate assistant on the football staff. The obvious response is to go to the authorities and seek a thorough investigation. But Paterno and Penn State administrators didn't do that.

According to the Freeh report, Paterno listened to the eyewitness account of his grad assistant and said, "You did what you had to do. It is my job now to figure out what we want to do."

Freeh asked: "Why would anyone have to figure out what had to be done in these circumstances?" The explanation may well be that Paterno was trying to figure out how to minimize the damage -- to himself and Penn State. In any event, the report says the coach talked to then-Athletic Director Tim Curley, and a decision was made not to report the incident to the police. Freeh said: "The best they could muster to protect Sandusky's victims was to ask Sandusky not to bring his 'guests' into the Penn State facilities."

The NYS legislation directs that accountability and discipline be applied to investigations of online abuse and perpetrators that are held responsible for the pain and misery of harassment and bullying, something that was missing at Penn State. A bigger failure of the institution was the lack of faculty and staff education on their role in being reporters of child abuse and harassment, something Mr. Paterno was clueless about.

The bigger they are the harder they fall, or so their legends crumble.

When so much ilk is placed in the reputation of a person or an institution at the price of allowing harm to come to one child, let alone eight or more, questions of managing human behavior should be discussed in public forums, and reassessment of perceptions critically analyzed.

This Friday morning, the tweets from social media networks are discussing if the statue of Coach Joe should be removed and the deific canonization of this human being be placed in perspective. My suggestion is to keep it where it is and turn it around so that we can honor a man that looked the other way when he should have been the leader everyone hoped he was.

O'Leary, J. (July 10,2012). NY Governor Signs Cyberbullying Law. Retrieved at

Freeh, L., Sporkin & Sullivan. (July 12, 2012). Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of the Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse of Gerald Sandusky. Retrieved July 13, at

(14July 2012) An Enduring Lesson in Ethical Leadership. The News-Journal. [Opinion]. Retrieved 14 July 2012 from

Monday, July 9, 2012

Teacher Stack Ranking??

Recently, I read an article on the demise of the creative brainstrust at Microsoft. Author Kurt Eichenwald interviewed many employees at Microsoft and discovered that the evaluation system that was used to categorize employees, typecasting them into ranking bins that will either lead to firing or idling.  ". . . a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate." (Allen, 2012). In many ways the APPR used in NYS and other states to qualify for federal funding is a form of stack ranking, where teachers and administrators are given the equivalent of an evaluative ranking that either guarantees continued employment or elimination.  Unfortunately, the basis for the evaluation hinges on the standardized assessment of students, that are developed by companies such as Pearson and other psychometrics corporations making a handsome profit off of the states.  As Peter Dewitt states in his recent blog:  "Teachers and administrators need to be evaluated, and those that I work with and connect with on Twitter want to be evaluated. However, the tools that are being used to evaluate are not the best ones. State testing should never be a part of a teacher or administrator's evaluation. We know that large educational publishers like Pearson Education are making millions off of states because they not only offer the tests, they offer the textbooks that will "ensure" that students will do well on tests...if teachers are really doing their jobs (they say...). All of this spending on testing is happening at the same time that schools are getting their budgets cut which means a loss of programs and a loss of staff. We should stop spending so much on testing and provide some of that funding back to schools that need it. Programs and staff are what really have a positive impact on students, not more testing. " (Dewitt, 20120 Once again I continue to remind the profession that political hucksters masqeurading as state officials have buffaloed the voting populace into believing that passing a test is an excellent benchmark for learning and teacher effectiveness. Those of us in the profession know that is not the best way to evaluate nor foster student success and learning. If the example from Microsoft has any message, the APPR system will frustrate and inhibit creativity and student learning. 1. Allen, F.E. (July 3, 2012). The Terrible Management Technique That Cost Microsoft Its Creativity. [BLOG] Forbes. Retrieved July 8, 2012 at 2.   Dewitt, P. (July 8, 2012). The Pro's and Con's of Accountability. [BLOG] Retrieved July 8, 2012 at

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Educating or Harming Boys...

Educating Boys

Imagine how challenging it would be to educate Henry V in our US public schools today. At least that is what David Brooks, columnist with the NY Times is suggesting in his offering today entitled "Honor Code".

I can see it now, a ten year old Henry V playing with his friends on the school playground rallying his friends in an imaginary battle against the French army near the jungle gym. Little Henry is encouraging his army of friends carrying their imaginary swords made up of tree branches and the like, while screaming at the top of his lungs "Once more to breach!"

As the armies of kids are about to clash, elderly playground monitors run in, and stop the violent play,though imaginary, and haul off little Henry to the principal's office for violating the NYS Project Safe Schools zero tolerance laws for encouraging armed conflict with sticks, and is suspended for 5days.

Upon returning to school he is assigned to a special education evaluation where they confuse his desire to create, be passionate, and energy as ADHD, and he is medicated with amphetamines to calm that restless spirit. This way he will be able to sit still in class, and be lulled into boredom and dreary sleep listening to lectures and test preparation exercises. The medication dulls his personality causing him to fall asleep. Another elderly classroom aide drags him to the principal's office to be reprimanded for sleeping in the class,a sign of insubordination. He is kept in from recess for three days and must eat lunch in the principals office.

Little Henry is already gaining a sterling reputation in the faculty lunch room. This is the professional forum where teachers sit around a table with their sustenance, where they discuss, at times unprofessionally, how little Henry is a trouble maker, nuisance, and comes from an arrogant broken family.

Two years later he is caught calling his friends "a band of brothers" and talks about fighting together in the MS lunch room, when another elderly lunch monitor hauls him into the principals office and he is suspended for organizing gangs in the school.

By the end of his senior year in high school he is disaffected and not interested in encouraging loyalty and competition because the system has frustrated his creativity, imagination and desire to compete and excel. He drops out of school and is labeled a renegade, troublemaker, instigator.

Like Mr. Brooks, I agree that schools today do not wish to foster the excitement for learning when teachers are faced with career ending evaluations based on one dimensional assessments that force all students into a box of perceptions that are restricted, stringent, and narrow, much like Andrew Cuomo's personality!

"Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp. "
Brooks, D. (July 5, 2012). Honor Code. New York Times. Retrieved at

Friday, July 6, 2012

The American Flag: Fabric or Symbol?

We have a friend in Florida who is a commander of the Marine Corps League in Florida that asked me to write a note on the American Flag for the newsletter. On behalf of the July4th festivities, I offer it to my readers this July, 2012: There are many symbols of American freedom that are all around us, each and everyday. As we enter the month of July, we are confronted with these very symbolic representations that remind us of who we are as a nation, and what we stand for as a united people. Whenever we celebrate July 4, we celebrate the birth of our nation when a few brave and courageous individuals met in Philadelphia to declare with one voice: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." After reading the article about Betsy Ross in the June newsletter, I was inspired to remember those sacred words of the Declaration of Independence, especially when being reminded of the greatest symbol of our country, the American Flag, our Star Spangled Banner. I am sure everyone knows of the story how General George Washington asked Mrs. Betsy Ross of Philadelphia to sew the standard that would become the American flag. (For anyone interested in more detail, check out this link A committee of Congress made up of Robert Morris and George Ross (both of Pennsylvania) accompanied by General Washington met with Betsy Ross (who happened to be an acquaintance of the General, and a well-renowned seamstress in Philadelphia. Prior to making the Star Spangled Banner, she had a reputation for making signal flags for the Pennsylvania Navy of 1775. As recounted by Betsy's daughter and other family members she was paid 14 pounds, twelve shillings, and two pence for the project.   The exact directions from Congress can be noted from the following resolution approved by the members in the design of the new flag that was passed on June 14th, 1777 and read: "Resolved. That the flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a field of blue representing a new constellation." Regardless, the American flag has been an important part of my life and the lives of our countrymen. For every Marine will always be energized by the raising of that very flag on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, or standing erect and tall on Firebase Charlie in Da Nang, Vietnam, or proudly in the desert encampments of Iraq, and the mountainous gorges of Afghanistan. The American Flag is an important symbol of our American freedom, and our way of life, defended proudly by the Corps, for over two hundred years. God Bless the USA.

The Leadership Variable

" I learned that history is shaped by the use of power, and that different people, leading the same army, with, therefore, approximately the same power, applied it so differently that the army seemed to change from a pack of noble fools at Fredericksburg to panicked cowards melting away at Chancellorsville, then to the grimly determined, stubborn soldiers who held the ridges at Gettysburg, and then, finally, to the disciplined, professional army that ground Lee to dust in Grant’s long campaign. It wasn’t the soldiers who changed. It was the leader. And even though I could not then have articulated..." (Card, O.S.(1991). Enders Game. New York: Tom Doherty Associates. P. VIII-IX.) Whenever I consider the dilemma of leadership affecting organizations I am drawn to that quotation by Orson Scott Card in the introduction of his acclaimed science fiction novel Enders Game. His apt description of the crisis that Abraham Lincoln had in finding someone to effectively lead the might and resources of the union army at the outset of the Civil War was truly a problem, especially when his golden boy, in the selection of the proper, well-dressed, and verbose George McClellan could not lead his way out of a paper bag, let alone a significant defeat of the Army of Northern Virgina. It wasn't until a Ulysses S. Grant was appointed to lead the Grand Army of the Republic that the war eventually was won by the Union. This typical example of what I call the "leadership variable" is played out in our school organizations,as well. If you have the right person in a leadership role of a principal's position,supervisor's position or superintendent, the success of the organization will be assured. The quandary is how do you find successful leaders? Boards of Education need to be bold enough to make changes and decisions to leadership positions sooner, rather than later. The risk would be devasting to keep ineffective people in these roles. Just look at the example of an incompetent George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, George Meade, and others that had no idea on how to beat the Confederacy from winning the Civil War. In education, the stakes are equally devastating.