Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Awesome Way to Open the Conversation About Grit at Your School

Grit and resilience. We talk frequently at my school, to both kids and parents, about these two characteristics. People often ask for specific examples of how we address grit with our kids, so I decided to post one awesome example here. This exercise generated so much conversation, I decided I should share the entire process with you here.

We began the school year with a two-part series in chapel on the importance of struggle and challenges, and the importance of grit and resilience. In the second chapel, our entire student body watched the video of Admiral McRaven addressing the 2014 University of Texas at Austin graduating class. Yes, the entire student body watched the video and the kids sat absolutely mesmerized through his entire 20-minute speech. They even applauded after the video! 

After the chapel in which the student body watched the video, I sent the email below to each student and parent. The email outlines what we told our kids, includes a link to the video of the commencement address,  and provides a bullet list of the Admiral's main points. I have altered the link on this page to direct you to a source that has both the video and the transcript. Please feel free to use this idea and even this communication to students and parents to generate conversation at your school about grit. Even though Admiral McRaven does not mention the word grit, you will see how easy it is to transition to grit.

Even if you do not plan to try this at your school, please watch the video. I was blown away, and I believe you will be, too. I'm not easily inspired. However, this inspired me.

Families of the Class of ...,

I am pleased to report that the 2014-2015 school year is off to an excellent start. During our first two chapels of the year, I spoke about my desire for our kids to experience challenges and struggles in life. In our first chapel together, I challenged our student body with the idea that the things we will encounter during our years at _____ – in the classroom, on the stage, in the studio, on the field, outside of school – may be tough. I explained, though, that if being an Eagle were easy, everyone would do it. If achieving all the great things that Eagles achieve were easy, everyone would, and the achievements no longer would be special. I explained that the lessons we learn in our time here can and will prepare us to do things that, quite frankly, other students in other places will not be able to do, thus setting our Eagles apart. The challenges we will encounter together serve to build and strengthen us. I reminded them that often God equips those he has called and does not always call those who are equipped. So, how can we be equipped for success when faced with struggles and challenges?

In our second chapel, I presented a rather brilliant and inspiring plan for meeting challenges and struggles head on. The plan is not my plan. Rather, the plan comes from Admiral William H. McRaven who spoke at the 2014 University of Texas commencement. The entire student body watched the video together as the Admiral spelled out his plan. He framed the commencement address in terms of lessons he learned in SEAL training that would be valuable for the UT grads as they head out from Austin to change the world. I think his words are so powerful that I decided I should share them with you. I have included for you below both a link to the video and an outline of Admiral McRaven’s main points. I hope that each of you have the opportunity to watch and rewatch the video, and to discuss his plan as a family. I believe you will find Admiral McRaven an excellent communicator with a unique and memorable message.

May each of you have a transformational school year,


10 Lessons Admiral William H. McRaven Learned from Basic SEAL Training that Will Be of Value as You Move Forward in Life

If you want to change the world, 

  • start off by making your bed.
  • find someone to help you paddle.
  • measure a person by the size of their heart, not by the size of their flippers.
  • get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
  • don’t be afraid of the circuses.
  • sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.
  • don’t back down from the sharks.
  • you must be your very best in the darkest moments.
  • start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
  • don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reading: Paper vs Digital - an archive of resources

I recently entered into a Facebook conversation with a parent who had concerns about how reading comprehension may vary when readers read books and printed materials vs when readers read digital and online materials. I've done quite a bit of reading over the last three years on this subject, and I know what the vast majority of the research says: books beat digital. (Why "the last three years" you ask? The Shallows debuted in 2011. See below.) I have compiled a brief list of some the things that have been written on this topic over the years. To be fair, there is some research (but just a fraction of what exists to the contrary) that indicates books don't necessarily beat digital, but I have not included it here. Enjoy this list of sources supporting books and print over digital sources. If you read all of this and still remain unconvinced about the merits of print, well... perhaps it is because you have neither remembered nor comprehended what you read.

Reading: Paper vs Digital

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why School Leadership is Like Mountain Biking: Climbing Hills

I love being a high school principal. I also love mountain biking. Both challenge me and push me to my limit with surprising regularity. I've been involved in school leadership a few years longer than I've been mountain biking, but I've discovered a number of parallels that I believe shed light on how to handle the challenges of educational leadership. Navigating trails on my bike, especially trails I've never ridden, challenges me physically and mentally every time I go out. Keeping my bike on the narrow paths I ride also pushes me to my limits each and every time I ride. The biggest challenge for me right now, however, lies neither with twists and turns nor narrow paths. The biggest challenge for me lies with big, steep, and often-intimidating hills.

As a relative newcomer to the world of mountain biking, I initially attacked hills in entirely the wrong way. Actually, attacked isn't quite right. Let me paint the scene for you. I would ride to the base of the hill, slow to a virtual stop, pick my line or path up the incline, and then pedal upward. After a few feet, I'd realize I was ascending in the wrong gear, so I'd try to shift gears mid-climb. Eventually, I would stall, the bike would draw to a standstill (which, on a hill, is a bad thing), and I would be forced to leap off my bike to avoid tumbling backward. Not a pretty scene.

After stubbornly trying various iterations of the same approach, I realized I had no idea how to climb hills. I needed a plan. I needed help from people who had been there before and who successfully climb hills all the time. I scoured the Internet for videos and articles about climbing hills on a mountain bike. I went to a local bike shop and asked for advice. I watched (in awe, I might add) other cyclists climb hills that had made me look like the rookie that I was.

After plenty of research, I realized the error of my ways. First, I needed to build speed and momentum as I approached a hill. Slowing down to ponder couldn't have been more wrong. I needed the speed and momentum to launch me upward and aid in my ascent. Second, I needed pick my line before I reached the base of the hill. Choosing my path as I started my ascent proved just as disastrous as climbing from a standstill. Third, I needed to select a gear suited for the hill ahead of time. Shifting gears mid-climb led only to bent sprockets and bailouts. Fourth, I needed to power up the hill using a completely different posture. I had been distributing my weight in the worst possible way. Finally, I needed more time and practice on hills. The only way I would get better was by trying to climb more hills.

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I headed back to the hills to try again. Imagine my euphoria when I climbed a hill that had bested me on each and every previous attempt. I tried a different hill with my new approach and I made it! I wasn't always graceful, but I made it to the top more and more frequently.

As a school leader, I climb school-related hills frequently. These hills range from interactions with upset parents to handling losses or disappointments to PR issues to dealing with deaths in the school community. Interestingly, climbing hills as a school leader mirrors climbing dirt hills on a mountain pretty well. One of the first things I realize as a school leader is that I should seek out wiser and more experienced leaders who have experience from which I can glean wisdom and knowledge. As a school leader, I have to find momentum and ride that momentum as much as possible. Riding the momentum of great test scores, a great Open House or Convocation, a state championship or some other great moment helps when tough times arise. As a school leader, I have to choose a path and commit. Mid-climb is neither the time nor place to start thinking about how to navigate a challenge or to shift gears. As a school leader, posture carries great significance. A confident, strong posture can mean the difference between success and failure when climbing hills as a school leader. A weak or defensive posture can spell disaster. Finally, the more hills I climb, the more savvy and able I become.

To be fair, I can't climb every hill I encounter on my bike. Just last week, I cautiously stopped at the bottom of a rather large and scary hill to watch and learn from the riders coming along behind me (who, by the way, climbed the hill like mountain goats!). I'm reasonably sure that one day, with more strength and experience, I will climb that very hill. Likewise, there may be a school-related hill that will prove too high or steep for me right now. In both cases, I'm going to keep working hard to put myself in a better position to be successful in my ascent.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Few Thoughts from "What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches"

Here are a few thoughts taken from What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches. If you like what you see here, please check out the book. Please feel free to share not only this link, but also these images.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Alarming Realization About Innovation and Schools

As I type, I’m aboard a plane bound for the Boston area. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend The Innovator’s Journey, a workshop on innovation held at one of my favorite places, Olin College. During the sessions a few weeks ago, I heard stories from several highly-successful innovators and I collaborated with many others about innovation. Specifically, as those of us in attendance listened to the stories shared by the innovators, we endeavored to identify the events from and characteristics of each innovator’s childhood that most likely contributed to him or her being an innovative adult. While we made some progress, we have more work to do. Thus the reason for my journey back to Boston.

In reviewing my notes from The Innovator’s Journey sessions and replaying innovators’ stories in my mind, I have come to an alarming realization about innovation and the innovators I met a few weeks ago. I have discovered a rather conspicuous absence of the influence of schools, schooling and schoolwork on innovators based on the testimonies given a few weeks ago. Save one twenty-something innovator who had a positive school experience and who attributed some of his innovative nature to the training he received at a STEM magnet school, all the other innovators cited instead examples from their childhoods of parental support, free play, unstructured time, exposure to varied cultures and more, as factors that likely contributed to their innovative approach to life as adults.

In other words, at least for the innovators gathered at Olin, school played little to no role in fostering innovation. Granted, most of the innovators matriculated ten, twenty or more years ago from school systems for whom innovation almost certainly did not appear on the radar. Nevertheless, how sad that so many innovators in their formative years had to find opportunities for innovation outside classroom walls.

With all the talk of including innovation and creativity in 21st century education, we have quite a challenge ahead of us to actually foster rather than hinder innovation in schools and promote the growth and development of innovators. What a tragedy it will be if, ten years from now, innovators gather in a room somewhere to discuss the factors that contributed to their journey toward becoming innovators and they generate a list from which school is missing.

How exactly do we foster innovation among today’s students? I have a few ideas based on my own reading, experience and the time I spent at Olin recently, but I hope to have a much clearer picture forty-eight hours from now after I reconvene with some brilliant innovators and educators who are determined to answer precisely that question.