The Importance of Being Earnest: Do You Walk Your Talk?

A trivial blog, for serious school leaders

Source: classic-literature.findthedata.org

I am sure, at one time or another, you have come across The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Recently, I was reflecting on the play, and wondering how it connected to leadership. An important aspect to the play was Wilde’s attempt to expose the Victorian Aristocracy for all of it’s contradictions.  In essence, I had to ask myself, as a leader, do I really walk my talk?

Argyris and Schon (1974) wrote the seminal piece, Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness. Since then, many researchers and educational leaders have discussed the concept of espoused theories (what I say I would do) and theories-in-use (what I actually do). I return to this time after time because I believe it makes me a better leader. The difficult part is that my theories-in-use (what I actually do) are understood by those who observe me. We all know that everyone has a different perspective. How do I know how I am doing?

When I talk with other leaders, or read their blogs I always wonder how their theories-in-use are observed by those they lead. I am sure they do the same with me! How would we ever really know? Does it really matter?

As leaders we are never going to please everyone. Our decisions impact the lives of students, parents, and teachers, and therefore are delivered with a lot of responsibility. With the ability to make those decisions, we must understand that there will be those who criticize our every move. This is certainly something that they try to teach us in graduate school, but it is only completely understood when you embark on your leadership journey.

Source: austin-williams.com

This year there were times when I struggled with decision making. I am not sure why. Maybe it was because I wanted to please everybody. Fortunately, I had (and have) supportive school leaders who I could turn to for advice. Eventually though, I would hang up the phone or the conversation would end, and I would have to make the decision on my own. I can only hope that my espoused theories and theories-in-use were in sync. Did I make the right decisions? Did I walk my talk? Only time will tell.

As luck would have it, I was recently reading Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker. He has a chapter titled, “Make Decisions Based on Your Best People.” In that chapter, Whitaker (2012) sums up the decision making process with these guiding principles: “1) Treat everyone well. 2) Make decisions based on your best people. 3) Protect your good people first.”

There really is a lot of importance in being earnest!

Resources:

The Importance of Being Earnest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Importance_of_Being_Earnest

 Espoused theories and Theories in use:

http://www.infed.org/thinkers/argyris.htm

Shifting the Monkey, by Todd Whitaker

http://www.amazon.com/Shifting-Monkey-Protecting-People-Slackers/dp/0982702973

The Cat’s in the Cradle

And the cat’s in the cradle with the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man on the moon

Father’s Day had always been a difficult day for me until I had my own children. I grew up without a father. He passed away in an unfortunate accident while my mother was pregnant with me. Gone, just like that. Throughout my life I have had a strong desire to be a father. I am sure it is because I never had one. It was my life mission to be a father. The World’s Best Father!

The past 8 years I at least looked forward to Father’s Day. I hadn’t always cherished the day, though. I didn’t understand how important it was to me. I used to want to go play golf or have time to myself, because that’s what dad’s do. It’s ironic, on Mother’s Day moms across the globe look forward to spending time with their children. Dads are different.  All that changed when I heard a song that I had heard hundreds of times.

Ever listen to the song “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin? (Ironically it was released in the year I was born) About 3 years ago I was listening to the song in the car, and I started to cry. I couldn’t stop. It really got me. I thought about all of the times I was the Father, and I how I was too busy to spend time with my children. Was I becoming the dad in the song? Would I regret the decisions I made someday? I put so much emphasis on being a great father that I forgot about the most important aspect: spending time with my children.

Talk to any grandfather, and they will tell you that their children went through a similar progression that Chapin noted. They will tell you that it is hard to compete with friends, technology, or sports/activities. Then their kids go to college, they go to work, and find someone to start their family with. All of those fathers will tell you the same thing: it goes so fast!

So, for me Father’s Day will be spent with the most cherished people in my world… my wife and children. How will you spend your Father’s Day?

Take a few moments and listen to this song. Think about your dad. Think about your children, or even think about your life. Are you present? Are you engaged? Let me know, and we’ll get together then, I know we’ll have a good time then….

More information on the song:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat’s_in_the_Cradle

 

Cymbolic Symbolism

Just minutes before the Spring 2012 Concert

As an Elementary principal I have had the opportunity to play floor hockey, football, kickball, challenge students in math, substitute teach, write essays, and even tried Double Dutch  with the students, and teachers. Up until the other night, one thing I had never done was perform with a School Band.

Growing up I had an appreciation for music, but never had any interest, or patience in playing instruments on my own. A lot of my friends played the guitar, drums, and even the Tuba, but not me. So in order to grow as a professional, I came out of my comfort zone and played the cymbals in our Spring Concert!

I have to admit that during the practices, I felt just like a kid, and I was treated like one! My fellow band members had little patience for me at first. They would say, “Dr. Cook, you are supposed to play on 23 and 29. See its right here!” I had to inform them that I didn’t read music. They laughed at me! Before long I wore them down, and they all chipped in to make sure I met my marks.

As for the actual playing of the cymbals, I needed a lot of practice. All I was required to do was a cymbal roll. I was told to start in the middle and “roll” towards the outside of the cymbal. It was not easy. I played too quiet, I played too loud, and I messed up a lot. One of the kids in the percussion section told me, upon seeing my frustration, that I needed to play with more confidence.

I got a lot better through one word…practice! I attended as many practices as I could leading up to the performance. I thought about my part, I talked about it to other musicians. I felt like I was a part of something.

My main goal for participating in the concert was to show kids that they could achieve something if they set their minds to it, and used their resources. I tried to show them how difficult it was for me, and that I too have challenges in my life.

Mr. Mazza leading the chorus

I also learned a little more about the correlation between playing in a band and leadership. Although the conductor is in charge, everyone has their parts, and with that everyone needs to be on the same page. Each instrument has its purpose, and there are times for solos, playing along with everybody and letting others take the lead. Every0ne has to work together for the music to sound beautiful. You have to trust that everyone else has practiced, and that they are following the script. Mistakes are bound to happen, and sometimes those mistakes are only heard within the band.

Thankfully, it all came together on the night of the concert. I welcomed the parents to the Spring Concert and admitted that I was nervous (but I didn’t tell them why). Once the concert started, I got into the zone. I remained focused on my objective…cymbal roll. I felt such a rush after we finished our first song. Although I probably missed a few of the notes, I was on cloud 9!

RM Bacon kids working to the crescendo

Thanks to everyone who supported me in my first concert, self-titled, “Cymbolic Symbolism.”

A year of firsts!

With only a few days left in the 2011-2012, I would like to reflect on this school year. This was the year of firsts.

Here is a list of my firsts:

– First full year as a principal

– First year on Social Media: facebook, twitter, pintrest, google+, edmodo

– First ASCD conference!

– First school blog!

– First personal blog!

(And I am sure I forgetting some things!)

It is been such a rewarding year being principal here at RM Bacon Elementary. I could not have accomplished this without the symphony of musicians playing the beautiful music that is our learning.

Here are some things we have accomplished as a team:

– Successfully implemented the “Your Image is Our Image” theme

– Started an Edmodo group with a school in Wisconsin

– Redesigned our Basic Skills Instruction to mirror the RTI process

– Raised thousands of dollars for charities

– Implemented a new math series

– Increased teacher and student use of technology

– Hosted ASCD film crew for Classroom Instruction That Works 2nd edition

– Began an “un” professional development model on Fridays focusing on technology integration and application

– Updated our PBIS model

– Received approval for 21st Century Learning Program for next year

(And I am sure I forgetting some things!)

In addition to all of this, I had an amazing year working with parents, teachers and students on the ambitious goal of being the highest performing Elementary School in Millville within 3 years and  in the County within 5 years. We have established a process-centered approach to being world class.

I am already looking forward to next year…when “Impossible is Nothing!”

 

Like Crabs in a Barrel

Have you ever heard the story of crabs in a barrel? Basically, it goes something like this. If you have a bunch of crabs in a barrel they will work to pull each other down as they attempt to climb out of the barrel. Furthermore, it is said, that if they were to work together, then they could all get out of the barrel. If you haven’t, please take the time to read this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crabs_in_a_barrel.

In education, are we much different than crabs in a barrel? Think about your classroom, hallway, grade level, school, or district for a minute. Ponder on those who consistently go above and beyond the call of duty, those that transcend the status quo. Now think about how they are treated by others, even yourself. Are most people saying positive things about them? Or do they develop conspiracy theories on “how they got to where they are?” Others may say that another’s success can be attributed to the clothes they wear, their age, their race, if they play a particular sport, or maybe are involved in a particular social media endeavor.  You have heard it before. There are so many adages at work to pull us farther down into the barrel such as, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Or so and so always gets the opportunity because s/he is in the right crowd.”

Ironically, we often find ourselves telling our students to not “pull each other down into the barrel,” but are we setting the proper example? Kids often fall prey to the crab mentality. Students who make the honor roll, excel at an instrument, or are advanced proficient on a state assessment are often looked at in a negative light. Think about it, kids aren’t much different than we are, are they?

Here are some things to ponder about being a crab in a barrel:

–          Why do we have trouble celebrating others successes?

–          Why do we make up excuses when someone else has a success, as opposed to attributing it to hard work?

–          What will it take to change the crabs in a barrel paradigm?

–          When was the last time you helped to celebrate someone else’s success?

–          Are you building up, rather than tearing down?

–          Do we think another person’s successes will cause you to have to do more work?

bigstockphoto_Key_To_Success_509650-1xkrlsc.jpg

Here are some things that are said, with maybe the best intentions, but still work to pull down, rather than build up:

–          You are working too hard, you are going to burn out!

–          You know, you won’t get paid any extra for all of this extra stuff

–          You are starting to make us look bad!

–          Why do you ask so many questions?  I want to get out of this meeting!

–          Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

–          I didn’t do ______________(insert project) because, well, what are they going to do?

–          No matter what, we are protected by the union.

–          So, how well do you know the ___________(insert leader position) outside of work?

As we strive for world class education for all students, we do not have time to pull each other down into the barrel.  We need to change the paradigm, and turn that story into a fable, not a documentary.