Sunday, May 31, 2009

Noble Goals

I recently had the opportunity to complete an emotional intelligence test and have a phone conversation with a consultant from Six Seconds. This model of emotional intelligence focuses on three major areas Know Yourself, Choose Yourself, and Give Yourself. The model can be found at the link above. Of particular interest to me was a section about choosing noble goals. The questions "what gets me up in the morning? What is my life's work? What is my purpose?" are easily lost in days consumed with endless challenges and the "busy-ness" of life. The experience of taking the test and reflecting on it with a consultant gave me a wonderful reflective moment to consider what is truly important to me.

I know that I am at my best when I am driven by meaning and purpose. Clarity of purpose seems to elude me frequently; however, after taking the SEI and examining my results the time seemed appropriate to flesh out my noble goals. I spent a great deal of time considering what truly motivates me and when I feel strong. After a great deal of reflection, I believe that my purpose is to "Awaken and Amplify collective and individual potential."

As a student, athlete, teacher, husband, father, coach, and assistant principal I am driven by the desire to awaken the latent potential in others and myself. There is nothing I enjoy more than the conversations and events that reframe circumstances and awaken the creative potential in all of us. It is the creative construction of possibilities in the form of an ideal self that did not exist before that motivates my thoughts and actions.

I am confident that the support I received from teachers, coaches, and parents awakened in me possibilities that I never would have considered. Identity is socially constructed and when others hold up a mirror not of what is but of what is possible... only then do we truly extend ourselves towards the excellence that lives within us.

As I consider the deep challenges that face public school, and more importantly the challenges that face our young people who will live and work in a dynamically different world there is no doubt that the time to awaken and amplify potential is now. I cannot imagine a better opportunity to hold up the mirror of possibility than in the role of principal. I am reminded of the literature review of leadership over the past 100 years by the Gallup Organization referenced in the book High Impact Leadership which found that the only consistent positive finding in leadership literature is the Pygmalion Effect. Our expectations of others matter, and the people we serve will rise or fall based on those expectations. When I consider that fact, it is clear to me that I have a tremendous resposibility as a leader, parent, teacher, and coach to expect the very best from the poeple who matter most.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Wall

No this is not a reflection on the classic Pink Floyd album. This is a reflection on a fundamental block that I have had in my thinking and feeling for four years. This block was certainly present as my writing became more and more academic through the doctoral program. More than that my thinking was held hostage by an inability to experience my emotions fully to write and think with my heart as well as my head.

I realize now that perhaps this blog is for me, not for the world. Perhaps what I have to share is not contained in the thousands of pages I have read of late but is in fact the pursuit of my authentic self. I realized today that for four years I put my professional passion in a small box not to be taken out. In containing my professional passion, I locked away my personal passion as well. Today I was forced to take a good look in the mirror. I saw myself and I realized that this person in the mirror was no longer me. For too long I have allowed myself to be a vacant shell. Rather than engage my passion and experience my life fully I have carefully controlled my emotions, managed my relationships, and safely executed a course through treacherous water.

Now looking back, I see that I may have successfully navigated the journey; however, I missed the wind in my hair and the salt water in my eyes. Indeed the thrill of the adventure is lost because I stayed below deck where I wouldn't get wet. I recognize that it is time to re-engage my emotions to open myself to the full experience that life has to offer. I am so grateful to the people who hold up the mirrors for me to see myself, who challenge me to be better, and believe in the capacity of my spirit.

Today I realized that the facade of the leader is to present the illusion of self-sufficiency to myself and to others. I have failed to acknowledge my need of others and the role that they play in my development. True leadership requires the sacrifice of certainty, the shattering of independence, and the conscious choice to engage fully with the people I serve.

I thought that I was terrified of the challenges that lay ahead for me. Today I recognized the reality that I was terrified of myself. Terrified of what might happen if I pursued excellence fully, if I brought the best that I have to offer and did not succeed. That terror is now gone replaced with the peace that comes with recognizing that the only thing I can bring to life's challenges is me, all of me. I am all I have to offer the world and the greatest disservice I could do is not to bring all of me to the challenge.

The wall is coming down, it has to. There is no room in my leadership style not to experience the power, passion, and thrill of the viral spread of positive emotion and the joy of realized potential. Hope, optimism, resilience, and confidence are not only academic concepts to be measured. They are the basic currency of leadership. They are the underlying foundation of who I am. Authentic leadership is an act of faith that what I bring and who I am will be up for the challenge, and in so far as I am not, the opportunity for growth will occur.

The wall is coming down... I look forward to seeing what's on the other side...

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Power of Strength

I recently finished reading The Element by Ken Robinson (he's on Twitter) who is one of the world's leading thinkers on creativity and innovation. Ken defines The Element as the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion, or the place where what you love and what you are good at meet.

I was particularly intrigued by the book because of the direct challenge it presents to our current education system. Ken argues that many, if not most, people do not find their element in formal education and it is only when they leave school and begin their "recovery" that they figure out what they are good at and pursue their passions. As an educator, a parent, and a person who cares deeply about the quality of life of others, the idea that our schools are systemically designed not to nurture and develop the strengths of young people is a tragedy.

In a back to basics approach we have marginalized subjects outside of math, reading, and science and in so doing reduced the likelihood of powerful learning for all students. I wonder what my life would have been like if the central core subject of school was music. I am tone deaf. I cannot sing on key. My ability to read music is extremely limited. I do not feel joy or passion in the making of music although I can certainly appreciate the quality work of others and respect their talent. However, I suspect that in a place filled with talented musicians my confidence would have withered. I would have known implicitly that I was not as good nor as talented as others and would have struggled throughout my school career never measuring up to the talent and skills of those around me, all the while wondering what was wrong with me.

When I think about the students in our current schools whose learning style involves movement, music, rich visualization, social input, reflection, and tactile stimulation is it any wonder that we have so many students who struggle and so many people who do not discover their worth and capacity until after they leave school and are "recovering" from the experience. Despite loads of research on brain-based learning, effective instruction, and curriculum design low level coverage of disjointed facts in a predominantly auditory format remains the standard practice of most schools.

I say this as educator and a person who has committed his life to public schools. As I say it, there is no question in my mind that we can and must do better. I believe that part of our primary mission as educators is to nurture the natural aptitude and personal passion of the students who come to us. How quickly students are labeled unmotivated, lazy, and stupid when their capacity in particular areas is not up to par. Yet how quickly we forget that all of us have areas where those same words describe us precisely, regardless of how talented, motivated, and passionate we may be in our current arena.

I wonder what would happen if every educator, parent, coach, and daycare provider was actively observing the young people that they have contact with the intent of facilitating their natural aptitude and personal passion. For that matter I wonder what would happen to the productivity in the workplace if every manager, team leader, VP, and CEO was looking to unleash the potential of the element in every employee.

There is tremendous power in strengths-based organizations. If we are willing to reframe the remediation of weakness into the cultivation of strength we unleash the potential in ourselves and those around us. Right now in traditional schools strengths are not even a whisper. Listen to the words that surround our schools: remediation, tutoring, deficiency, re-teach, failing. We teach things in the same way to the same child who did not understand the first time a second and third time and then we wonder why they continue not to succeed despite our efforts to help. This is very different from the educator who asks, what assets and strengths to you bring to this learning endeavor? How can I build on those strengths to help you achieve a rich understanding of the most essential content? How can I create learning activities that will tap into your aptitude and passion? How can I build confidence in your identity as a learner so that you will have the skills to pursue your creative possibilities in the future?

I do not believe that we learn the same way. I do not believe that we learn things at the same time. I do not believe that the value of our children should ever be diminished because they don't learn in the same way or at the same time as others. I do believe that each of us has the responsibility to nurture the natural aptitude and personal passion of ourselves and those we have influence.

As a school leader I believe that part of my mission (reason for journeying) is to help others discover their element and create systemic conditions that will discover, support, and unleash the personal passion and natural aptitude of the students, staff, parents, and community members that are connected to the school.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reflection- A Personal Commitment to Thinking Out Loud

For 35 years I have spent a tremendous amount of time thinking, reading, and learning. Most of those thoughts have occurred in private with some of my favorite books whether they be books about leadership, systems change, quantum mechanics, chaos, living-systems, string-theory , self-help, personal-improvement, brain-based learning, positive psychology or any number of other topics that I find fascinating. With that said, I realize that the world has changed and the incredible tools of Web 2.0 have created a space for all of our thinking to be public and shared with the world. The quality of thinking is not a prerequisite for publication which means that all of us have equal footing in expressing ourselves. I have decided that this blog will serve as the repository for my thinking, and as I continue to read and learn I will discuss the implications of what I am learning and reading as it relates to the educational futures of young people and what might be done to incorporate this learning into practice.

I believe that we limit the thinking of our children when we do not engage in deep reflective thinking ourselves. As educators the quality of our thinking should mirror the quality of thinking we hope that our students achieve. In the 21st century the requirements for thinking at extremely high levels are a demanded of the world, no longer the luxury of an elite educated class. For a fabulous book on the subject of the thinking required in the 21st century I recommend A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. If you are like me and one book is simply not enough I also recommend Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner of multiple intelligence fame. These books provide fabulous insight into both why this type of thinking is a requirement in the 21st century as well as what this thinking is.

With the knowledge that I will be assuming the role of principal at Cross Middle School on July 1, 2009 I recognize that I must become a participant in this globally connected world and subject my thinking to the scrutiny of the public. I cannot be a bystander while I benefit from the incredible insights and knowledge that I gain from others by reading their blogs, books, and posts while I give nothing back to this vast digital resource.

So this blog is my personal commitment to the reflective thinking that I think all people must engage in if they are to achieve high levels of personal learning and take on the most vexing problems of his/her personal and professional life. When we write reflectively we crystallize our thinking, we make manifest the most salient components of our values, and we clarify our identity, mission, and vision. There is no question in my mind that there are few things a leader could engage in that would have a greater impact on the organizations they serve. Beyond that, I know that when students reflect, question, consider, and ponder, the beginnings of deep transformational learning are engaged and the possibility for profound positive change is unleashed.

It is my hope that my thinking may be of benefit to others and spark their learning as so many others have ignited my passion for thinking, and if I am the only one who ever reads this I trust that writing for the purpose of clarifying my thinking will yield positive actions aligned with new insights. My commitment is to post at least once per week and to create a pattern of reflective writing in my life as opposed to just reflective thinking. I hope others will join me on this journey.