Monday, March 30, 2015

Mentor - Have One, Be One

The role mentoring plays in our lives has been generating a lot of dialogue recently. I love the fact that the word “mentor” can be a noun (an experienced and trusted advisor) or a verb (advise or train someone) as I believe it’s necessary for individual growth to both have one and be one.

I can clearly state that I would not be in the position I am today nor have enjoyed some of my successes were it not for a number of mentors who either inserted themselves into my life or appeared when I needed them the most. Some of you who have attended my presentations or seen my TEDx talk ( know that there was struggle during my younger years. Some of my earliest mentors were educators. Mr. Springer took me under his wing early on and nurtured what he termed “my ability to lead” despite my efforts to hide my poverty by being disengaged. He knew I didn’t always have lunch and he always had something for me. More than nourishing my body, he nourished my soul. I wasn’t ready for it back then but it resonates today. Ms. Fainsilber was another teacher who saw beyond the current conditions and would regularly ask me when I would be ready to display the “real me” instead of the lousy imitation I was showing. She pushed me despite my pushback. Other educators played similar significant roles at key times as I was finding me.

Although she won’t want to see this in print (and I’ll acknowledge that by being brief), my wife really was the catalyst for much of the growth I experienced. She helped me to find me but would never consider herself a mentor. We’ve grown up together, and beyond the people we were when we first met in a university dorm. Taking risks and seizing opportunities has allowed me to meet some incredible people. Regular readers of this blog will know the impact Wayne Hulley had on my life ( and how I carry many of his thoughts with me as I work with colleagues today. Another significant mentor was Stanley French, who also recently, and suddenly, passed away. Stanley was a huge support during all of my time with the BCPVPA. He cultivated skills in me that I did not know were present and helped me to hone my craft as a writer. He was a great sounding board who knew exactly when to ask the right question and when to just sit back and let me talk it out. I will miss his presence in my life. That is also the thing that happens as we age. Mentors may leave us before we’re ready to let go. Recently I had a chance to spend time with another former teacher who also reappeared in my life when I became a school leader. Nick Parker-Jervis (PJ) was one of my first teachers when I moved across the country at the age of fourteen. He had little time for my “cool act” and plenty of time to remind me of what I could accomplish. Again, I wasn’t ready to embrace that as an eighth grade student. However, when I entered my first leadership role and became involved with the principal’s organization, I was delighted to see my former teacher in a key role with that group. Despite admonishing me for making him feel old, he took me under his wing and provided insights that still resonate today. When we met for lunch a short while ago, it was such an easy and comfortable connection. I am fortunate to have people like this in my life and this reminds me that we equally have a requirement to be a mentor to others.

I was reminded of this during a recent visit to a school. After visiting some classes and debriefing with the team, the principal walked me out to my car. He expressed appreciation for the stretch goals we had talked about earlier and for pushing him beyond being comfortable. He then asked if I’d be willing to mentor him as he continued his growth. I am fortunate to work with a number of colleagues and support their growth (which also supports my growth!).

Additionally, as educators we are all in roles where we have great capacity to mentor students and new colleagues. In a report entitled “The Mentoring Effect” commissioned by MENTOR, the national mentoring partnership, some key points were highlighted:
  •           Youth with mentors are more likely to report higher engagement in positive activities.
  •       Young people with mentors report higher educational aspirations and matriculation into post secondary education, as well as greater engagement in positive activities.
  •           At-risk young adults who had a mentor are more likely to:

o      Aspire to enroll in and graduate from college than those who did not have a mentor (76 percent versus 56 percent).
o      Report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities than those who did not have a mentor (67 percent versus 37 percent).
o      Hold a leadership position in a club, sports team, school council or other group than those who did not have a mentor (51 percent versus 22 percent).
o      Volunteer regularly in their communities than those who did not have a mentor (48 percent versus 27).

This information should be leaping off the page right now and grabbing each reader’s attention in a way that compels each of us to find a young person that will benefit from additional guidance. Every school is packed with students that will see the benefit. I’m looking forward to connecting with more young men and women when I deliver a keynote at a Rotary conference next month. I also know I’ll be running into some of my mentors there and will further benefit from their wisdom.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Can We Agree That All Means ALL?

I attended the recent Title 1 conference in Salt Lake City and was pleased to sit alongside Chris Weber and Shane Templeton on a panel facilitated by Lissa Pijanowski to talk about our work and reference the RTI Roadmap that Chris and I just had published. Many of you are aware of Title 1 and how it began fifty years ago as an initiative of then President Johnson who wanted to ensure equity for all by increasing access to a basic education, Remarkably, and fifty years later, there still seems to be increasing needs for equity and new demands for an educated citizenry.

From their website I was able to glean this about the National Title I Association:

…dedicated to improving and implementing the Title I program so that more children reach their academic potential. The Association provides educational leaders at the state and local levels with the opportunity to work together to share ideas on effective and innovative programs, identify problems and solutions, and represent the needs of Title I families.

This is in support of the twenty-one million students across the fifty states, and territories; many who experience abject poverty (the rate of childhood poverty has grown over the last decade and represents more than one-fifth of the population) while also trying to alter their life chances through the best vehicle available to them – education.

During our session, we heard from many determined educators who weren’t looking for excuses or the magic wand to make everything better. They recognized the struggle, shared successes, and took notes on the successes of others. They probed with deep meaningful questions designed to solve a few more challenges back home – or at the very least add another wrinkle to the plans.

A recent post I wrote for the Solution Tree blog site asked “What's the difference between schools?”( …) and in it I proposed that the difference really isn’t in our students, it’s in the way we view them. Dedicated educators creating a collective will overcome even the direst of circumstances. As I wandered around the conference and sat as a member of the panel, I saw many of those educators.

As I contemplate the work that lies ahead and acknowledge the work that has been done, I am reminded of the words of Ron Edmonds:

We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach
 all children whose schooling is of interest to us; we already know
 more than we need to do that; whether or not we do it must
 finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven't so far.

He said that in 1979. It’s time for us to demonstrate our response to how we feel about closing the gap for those students who will, otherwise, be unable to successfully transition to the next phase of their lives.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Your Next First Step

I was fortunate to spend time with two schools this past week and have enjoyed an ongoing connection with them for almost three years. Over that time we’ve looked at curriculum design, assessment practice, school culture, leadership, and response to instruction as the schools continue to drive toward the goal of all students achieving better outcomes. Anyone who knows me and has worked with me will also know that all of the work has been built on a strong foundation of relationships.

As I was flying home and reflecting on the week that was with the two schools (and doing my customary making notes of the things I learned from brilliant colleagues), I came across this quote from Rory Vaden: "Success isn't owned — it's leased. And rent is due every day". It shifted my thinking from what was to what can be. It also resonated with me as I reflected on one of the challenges we face as educators – our work is not complete until EVERY student makes a successful transition; grade by grade and then to the next phase of their lives. Our success as educators isn’t based on what we did to get to our current levels of student outcomes; it’s based on what we’ll do to get those currently not there to a place where they can take on the next challenge in their lives. It’s not about arriving as an educator; it’s about striving to be THAT educator – the one who accepts no excuses but only results.

One of the things the two schools were focused on (despite their improving levels of student success) was their next first step. It’s that step that will move us beyond the current comfort – no matter how well deserved – to that next challenge, and more significantly, the next breakthrough. Our students are worth that effort.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Through A Fresh Set of Eyes (Lessons Learned from Liam)

Like I hope many of you did, I took the last two weeks of 2014 to relax, refresh, and recharge. I tried to be very disciplined in not getting swept up in work. Having our kids and grandkids with us for a good chunk of the time helped me to keep that focus. Let me just say that I am thoroughly enjoying being a grandparent. Time with the four grandkids, collectively and individually, has taught me many things. A recent trip to the beach with two year-old Liam was another learning opportunity.

As we arrived at the beach, he reminded me it was windy and that he would need his hat, mittens, and puffy coat. He had on his boots because there was water to explore. It’s important to be prepared for whatever you might encounter.

We started walking and it didn’t take long before Monna (Liam’s word for my wife) and Banjo (our overly energetic Springer Spaniel) were far ahead of us, shortly followed by his Mom and Dad. As the gap between the rest of the group and the two of us increased Liam was not concerned. There were too many things on the beach, on the logs, with the ducks, and in general that he didn’t want to miss. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

As the others doubled back to connect with us and make plans for the rest of the day and the subsequent couple of days before they were to return to their home, Liam was unconcerned. He was in the moment and holding a clamshell to his ear telling me he could hear the ocean that was three feet away. Today counts so take the time to enjoy each moment.

We stopped to sit on some of the big logs and have a snack. Two year-olds don’t have the same sitting needs of older folks and Liam was off to explore. We watched him walk off three or four feet away and then he fell down in the sand. He lay prone for a bit and didn’t make a sound. I decided to see what was up. As I approached him I saw he had a little stone in each hand and that he was fascinated by them. “Poppa, help me up”, he said. He didn’t want to let go of the stones in trying to get up solo. They were deluxe treasures that he needed to show the group and keep. Hold onto what’s important.

As I contemplate this post, Liam is singing “Hey Jude”.  He knows all the lyrics and sings with such joy.  His favorite part is where Paul McCartney screams out “Jude, Jude, Jude, Jude, Judy, yeaheaheah”, and he hits all of the notes. I have always enjoyed the song and tried to analyze it for the deeper meaning. I’m not sure Liam knows what many of the words mean but I do know I’ve never enjoyed the song more. Sometimes the meaning isn’t important, just enjoy the experience.

None of the words in bold represent new lessons or things I wasn’t aware of. I’m grateful to my grandson for showing me the old through a fresh set of eyes. As I start off another year, I am going to remind myself to look at things as if I’m seeing them for the first time. I know it’s going to produce new enjoyment of old things.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sometimes Choirs Need Practice Too...

My final presentation dates of the year were excellent learning opportunities for me as I spent one day with the Guidance Counselors, Special Education teachers, Student Success teachers, Social Workers, and CYC workers. We were looking at creating successful pathways with an emphasis on relationship building and connecting this to the work of schools. My point was that relationship building IS the work of schools and the group was largely in agreement. We talked about who's doing what, how they are collecting information on students, what information they are collecting, and what they are doing with the information.

During a break, someone politely asked why I was preaching to the choir. I replied, "Because some of you have stopped singing." The person explained some of the struggle in getting buy-in from classroom teachers who seemed to want to be dismissive of any student who stepped outside the expected requirements for all students. These teachers were quick to send students out of class, penalize their tardy performance, and expect the specialists to “fix” them.  My point is that the collective commitment of a staff has to be built by the staff. When the choir stops singing, the silence is deafening. Collegial influence backed up by evidence of progress on the part of the student will carry more weight than any inspiration I might provide.

After I tweeted out the original comment, a colleague, Diane Goodman (@dianegoodman701) sent out another key reminder when she said, “and sometimes choirs sing out of sync with the director - creating noise, not music‬.” Another key component of collective commitment is to have the leader engaged, ensuring that the team is all using the same songbook and that the desired outcome is to make great music together.

Sometimes, choirs need practice too.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dealing With the Yeah, Buts (One at a Time)

I’ve been speaking and writing a lot lately about content versus intent. I believe we are at a period in education where we know more about teaching and learning than ever before. I am always inspired by what colleagues share and am learning so much from what they write. I really think we have the knowledge base (the content) firmly in place or, at the very least, readily available. I think our next step is to determine our intent. Do we really want to engage in the practices and procedures, really want to implement policies that will lead to success for all students? The common and preferred response is yes, but lurking just beneath that are the “yeah-buts”. You all know these and they are progress stoppers. They conclude the great dialogue as they come just at the end of highly productive conversation. We’ve all agreed to commit to our next first step and then it appears. Yeah, but…

In some recent working sessions, the focus of the RTI conversations was around providing sufficient time for Tier 3 interventions. It was easy to agree that all students need to be proficient in the foundational skills of literacy, numeracy, and self-regulatory behavior. In fact, high school colleagues are often frustrated at the huge gaps that are evident in their students who are reading significantly below grade level or can’t do basic math. An end product of those gaps is negative behavior, often borne out of frustration. Let’s be clear – this is not an easily resolved issue. We aren’t able to create time and there are some constraining factors to consider. However, it is doable as I’m working in a number of schools that have made it happen. Conversations have led right to final piece of the puzzle needing to be slotted in – the time question – and the yeah, but emerges something like this. “Yeah, I agree the time is really important and the students need those skills, but I’m not giving up my course time. ___________________________ (fill in the blank with your course) is just as important as those other ones.”

This conversation is really not about the adults. It’s really not about valuing one course over another. It is about students and their learning needs. In some recent writing Chris Weber and I sum it up this way:

We believe it’s educational malpractice to NOT insist upon providing Tier 3 interventions in reading, numeracy, and behavior in place of important social studies, science, and elective opportunities WHEN significant deficits exist. The potential outcomes are clear:

  • Students will not finish high school
  • Or they will not fully participate in the comprehensive high school experience
  • Or they will not graduate ready for college or a skilled career
  • And they will not lead a productive life
…if they do not possess foundational literacy, numeracy, and behavior skills.

It’s time to slay the “yeah, buts” one at a time. They are impeding the progress of educators and significantly impacting the life chances of students. Let’s use them as starting points to the conversation not end points.