What’s Your Walk Up Song

Thanks to Jonathon Wennstrom for suggesting this topic a while back!

Baseball season, and therefore summer, are almost upon us. For some of us, things like the equinox don’t determine the seasons, baseball does. “If you build it they will come” was written about a ballfield, not a school. But that is a story for another day.

A ballplayers walk up song, whether he is walking up to the plate or in from the bullpen, can tell a lot about the player. It can pump up and motivate the player and the fans, and in some cases, intimidate the opponents. In nearly every case, it is an extension of the player’s personality. It fires up the athlete to do his/her job.

As an undergraduate music major, and still an occasional trumpet player, there has always been a song in my heart. As an educational innovator, a couple have always been there, and will always be.

I crossed my personal Rubicon in a class leading toward my Superintendent of Schools endorsement in the summer of 1993. Excerpted from a reaction paper that term, “where I have found myself professionally is very much at odds with the general system of public education in which I work…there are inherent constraints within the system which make it difficult to effect significant, positive change.”

As we worked our magic, my district understood that we had to operate as a business. Our customers were just like every other business, they were the people who walked through the doors every day. We had a special name for them – students. As for product, we had dreams for sale. Their dreams, not ours. We wanted to empower our students to become the architects of their futures rather than the victims of fate.

My first walk up song was from the Man of LaMancha-“The Impossible Dream.” We used a rainbow to personify the dream, and we followed every rainbow until we found our dream.

The song that still plays today is “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. The tune was written to protest a curfew imposed on the Sunset Strip in 1966. It evolved into an anthem protesting the war in Viet Nam. I adopted it as we worked to see our schools through the eyes of our customers, adapting our practices to what the world might be like when they became our age, instead of what it was like when we were their age.

From the lyrics, and my thoughts:

“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” Things are changing in the world, and we must change with them.

“There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.” The guardians and gatekeepers of the status quo are waiting to throw water on our passion fires with their rules, regulations, and resistance to change.

“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.” Let’s all take a step back to see what is happening, and why we are here.

“There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.” We are choosing a path, and we aren’t sure if we have chosen the correct one.

“Young people speaking their minds. Getting so much resistance from the behind.” Our customers want, and need something different,and like all adolescents, patience is not a virtue. It isn’t happening fast enough for them, they do not feel their voices are being heard.

“What a field day for the heat. A thousand people in the street. Singing songs and carrying signs, mostly say hurray for our side.” Listen to the policy debates in our local Board of Education meetings, State Legislatures and State Departments of Education, Congress, and the good people in the Lyndon Johnson building in Washington, DC. Lots of words, not much action.

“Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you’re always afraid. You step out of line, the Man come and take you away.” A key function of any bureaucracy is to protect itself, and the first response to a significant change is to resist. Particularly when the gatekeepers do not fully understand either the implications or long-term consequences of the change.

Lessons learned from helping write legislation that challenged the status quo, and changed it:

  • There are 2 types of people, those who fear the future, and those who embrace it.
  • A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were built for.
  • First, break all the rules.
  • If it ain’t broke, break it.
  • Sacred Cows make the best burgers
  • Expect the unexpected or you won’t find it.
  • From Marjory Stoneman Douglas – “Be a nuisance where it counts; Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics – but never give up.”
  • Jim Valvano – “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

That’s my walk up song, for this and every season. Let your music ring!

And so it goes…


Prove It

A report aired on Colorado Public Radio on March 15 about an elementary school in Colorado Springs that is part of the Next Generation Schools. The goal of the project is to creat more relevant, authentic learning experiences.

Parents at the school know that grades and test scores are part of the system students use to move on after high school. Scott Fuller, the Next Generation Coordinator for the district, hit the nail squarely on the head when he said that the system is changing, mostly because future employers don’t equate grades and test scores with success anymore. “Colleges are starting to shift what they equate with success, and are moving more towards ‘prove it to me. Prove to me that you know that. Portfolios, interviews, what have you done with this to apply it.'”

All of our students will eventually become employees, hopefully in a career rather than a job. That may happen directly out of high school, after a credentialing/certification program, a two-year course of study, or a baccalaureate/graduate program.

So in my perfect world, our assessments would no longer rate students as “novice,” “nearing proficient,” “proficient,” or “advanced.” They would describe student work as “competent,” “proficient,” or “mastery.”

Competent – having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully.

Proficient – competent or skilled in doing or using something.

Mastery – comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.

In other words, it isn’t about how well you know something, it’s all about how well you can do something.

While I was working in the career-tech world, we learned about the differences between apprentices, journeymen, and masters. A master electrician/plumber/mechanic/carpenter certainly earned more than the apprentices and journeymen. Companies hired employees with the expectation that while they started at the apprentice level, they could “learn how to learn” in order to become masters, thereby earning both themselves and their companies higher incomes.

In other words, companies hired mastery, not competency or proficiency.

Put another way, do you want your surgeon to be a master, or will you settle for competent or proficient?

Thankfully, there are people creating a process that will work in my world. Two amazing educators in New Mexico, Ferdi Serim and Mike Archibeque, have created LEVERS, LEarner Validated Educational Resources and Strategies. It is a system that creates learners who can demonstrate they have learned how to learn, who can plan and manage their own work, and can make high quality products in a team.

I was blown away by their presentation at the recent ILC conference in Denver. They have captured how to develop future “employees”, learners who have exactly the skills that employers are looking for. Not just kids who possess high levels of knowledge, but who also have the abilities to apply what they know in real world situations.

Read more about it at levers4learning.com

They, Scott Fuller, and many others like them are creating systems so our kids can Prove It. We need to listen to them, and follow their lead.

And so it goes…

Lead, Follow, Or Get Out of the Way

I came across a Simon Sinek quote earlier today, “When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders.”

Some school people I know need to take this to heart…we need to empower teachers and students, not engage them in what the “leadership” thinks they should be doing. As I wrote a long time ago, tell people what you want done, get out of their way, and let them amaze you with their creativity in getting it accomplished.

And so it goes…

Am I My Resume

A long time ago, in a workshop far, far away, the opening icebreaker was something along the lines of “turn to the person next to you, and talk about how you would like to be remembered after you have passed away. What would you like your legacy to be?” The responses were typical of passionate educators: “I touched the future.” “I made a difference in the lives of children.” “I instilled a love of learning.” Except mine. Think I upset the guy I was paired  with when all I told him I wanted my legacy to be, “Damn, he was OLD!”

But I was very serious. And I still work hard to never confuse who I am with what I do.

Note to presenters – most of us in the audience detest the icebreakers. At the beginning of the workshop, we are usually energized and ready to go to work. The icebreaker really serves no useful purpose except to take the air and energy out of the room. Unless you are planning on using the information gained in some useful way later in the day, please don’t waste our time with the icebreaker/warmup. As one who spent several years training teachers for over 40 weeks a year, nobody ever complained when I explained that there would be no introductory activity. Trust me!!!

This topic reminded me of a TED talk by David Brooks in 2014. He talked about the differences between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Your resume virtues are the skills you bring to your job, and what is accomplished while you are there. Your eulogy virtues are deeper: who are you, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistent? Most of us would agree that the eulogy virtues are the most important. But are they the ones we think about the most?

In our resume world, we are worldly and ambitious. We want to build, create, innovate. In our eulogy world, we want not only to do good, but also be good. We are constantly trying to balance external success with internal peace and value. And we often confuse who we are with what we do.

All of us wear many hats simultaneously. I am a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, friend, neighbor, musician, golfer, educator, mentor, among other things. All are important in my life. That’s a lot of balls to continually juggle.

A lesson learned from a short, but powerful speech from Bryan Dyson when he was CEO of Coca-Cola was that we all have five balls to keep airborne. They are Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit. Work is a rubber ball, if you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four are made of glass. If one of these is dropped, it will be irrecoverably damaged, or shattered. It will never be the same. Work hard during the school day, but leave on time. Give yourself, your family and your friends the time they require. You will be replaced as soon as you leave your job, and someone else will do the work. You cannot be replaced elsewhere.

The opening number of “A Chorus Line” introduces the audience to a group of dancers auditioning for a show. The chorus line is the bottom rung of the performers ladder, no names in lights or in the credits. One of the characters makes the first cut and is asked to give his resume and photo to the director’s assistant. As he is looking at his professional life, he sings: “Who am I anyway? Am I my resume? That is a picture of a person I don’t know. What does he want from me? What should I try to be? So many faces all around, and here we go.” Pretty much captures how most of us feel at various times during our work days.

Through my career, I had the opportunity to be in the room with some recognizable stars and CEO’s. The stars didn’t have perfect hair without the help of make-up assistants. None of the CEO’s ever had a glitch-free project and clean sailing that the books and articles would lead us to believe. Nobody at my gym is cover material for a workout magazine.

Role models are fine, but not when they get in the way of embracing our reality. The reality of not enough time, not enough information, not enough resources, the reality of imperfection and vulnerability. Young people grow old quickly in this job.

Do you want to be remembered for what is in your legacy, or what is in your eulogy?

And so it goes…