Monthly Archives: July 2013

Courage Required!

Choose_our_lensesThe existing state of affairs in the environment, education, healthcare, workers rights, nutrition, transportation, energy or in many other areas leads people to look for change.

Focusing on the preferred future rather than just steps away from the current situation has the potential to lead to transformative change.   Further, when a community of people focus on a preferred future – they can work together to bring about transformative change.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t just want to move away from the status quo.  He had a DREAM.  Dreams motivate and inspire.

Below you will find a few of the posts I have written that support the concept of focusing on the preferred future rather than just polishing the status quo.

Gaining the Skills, Knowledge and Dispositions of Thinking Together: Essential Educational Goals as We Help Our Students Meet Their Futures

I believe that getting good at thinking together is an important goal to strive for.   As teachers we need to help our students to develop the skills, dispositions and attitudes helpful to engage in thoughtful, productive conversation.

The complexity of the world can lead adults to respond to problems in ways that are almost devoid of interdependent thinking in spite of the potential good that can come from collaboration as a “co-creator”.  As our students move into adulthood may they be much more comfortable thinking together in our world full of complexity.

Academic_conversation Kegan and Lahey explain, “when we experience the world as ‘too complex’ we are not just experiencing the complexity of the world.  We are experiencing a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own at this moment.  There are only two logical ways to mend this mismatch – reduce the world’s complexity or increase our own.”  Kegan and Lahey conclude that, despite the challenge of developing interdependent thinking skills, adults can develop their thinking.  In the interest of more effectively addressing the many challenges adults face, it is clearly worth increasing our own complexity by becoming thinkers who are good at thinking with others.

The promise of people thinking interdependently through contentious problem situations is that such efforts can ultimately achieve significant positive outcomes for society and/or for the individual. When we engage in interdependent thinking, we can all influence and be part of positive change.  We all will not get our way or be the ‘argument winner’.  But if we invest in the concept of thinking together with an open mind, a willingness to understand how others think and feel, and a desire to reflect and rethink throughout the process of coming to an actionable decision – we can accomplish much together.

Block asks the question, “How are we going to be when we gather together?”   This is a crucial question.  My answer is that adults need to intentionally develop abilities for thinking interdependently.  We must actively deploy these skills to effectively work, listen and think with each other.  It is our shared responsibility to engage with one another with the goal of producing positive change for the future.  And we must intentionally commit to having schools that encourage all of today’s youth to work, listen and think together as they develop.  Because it is also our shared responsibility to do more than grow ourselves – we must nurture the growth and development of today’s youth so they might fully participate in tomorrow’s world.

1)              Kegan, Robert, and Lahey, Lisa L. Immunity to Change. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press, 2009 page 12 – 14

2)              Block, Peter. Community: The Structure of Belonging. San Francisco, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008 page 10

3)              Much of what appears above I wrote and has been published in the Foreword  I wrote to: The Power of the Social Brain: Teaching, Learning, and Interdependent  Thinking by Arthur L. Costa and Pat Wilson O’Leary, Teachers Colleges Press, 2013 page xii

So many definitions of leadership – here are a few . . .

Multidimensional Qualities of Leadership, A Sampling

Definitions of Leadership

Leadership – mobilizing people to tackle tough problems.  ~  Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz, 1994, page 15

That the job of school leaders is ‘primarily about enhancing the skills of knowledge of people in the organization, creating common culture of expectations around the use of those skills and knowledge, holding the various pieces of the organization together in a productive relationship with each other, and holding individuals accountable for their contributions to the collective result. ~ Building a New Structure for School Leadership, Richard F. Elmore, 2000, page 15

The most effective school leaders are able to collaboratively create and sustain changes that continually enhance student achievement.  Failure is Not and Option: Six Principles that Guide Student Achievement in High-Performing Schools, Alan M Blankstein, 2004, page 194

Rather than define leadership either a as position of authority in social structure or as a personal set of characteristics, we may find it a great deal more useful to define leadership as activity.  ~ Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz, 1994, page 20

Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.  ~  Leadership: Theory and Practice, Peter G. Northouse, 2007, page 3

When we focus on leadership as activity – then the activity of a citizen from any walk of life mobilizing people to do something is an act leadership. A leader is someone who works to accomplish goals that meet the needs of both the leader and followers.  From this point of view leadership is more than influence.  ~  Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz, 1994,  page 22

‘Messy leadership’– the practice of reviewing data, making midcourse corrections, and focusing decision making on the greatest points of leverage – is superior to ‘neat’ leadership in which planning, processes, and procedures take precedence over achievement. The Learning Leaders: How to Focus School Improvement fopr Better Results, Douglas B. Reeves, 2006, page xi

Leadership is oriented by the task of doing adaptive work.  Influence and authority are primary factors in doing adaptive work, but they also bring constraints.  They are instruments and not ends.  Tackling tough problems – problems that often require an evolution of values – is the end of leadership; getting that work done is its essence.  ~  Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz, 1994, page 26

Leaders come in every size, shape, and disposition. They all seem to share some, if not all, of the following ingredients. The ingredients of leadership are:

  • passion,
  • integrity,
  • espousing a guiding vision,
  • a basis of trust,
  • the ability to engage others in creating shared meaning,
  • emotional intelligence, and
  • the key competence is that leaders have an adaptive capacity. ~  On Becoming A Leader: The Leadership Classic Updated and Expanded, Warren Bennis, 2003, pages xxi, xxii, 31, 32, and 33

Leaders, whatever their field, are made up as much of their experiences as their skills, like everyone else.  Unlike everyone else, they use their experience rather than being used by it.  ~ On Becoming A Leader: The Leadership Classic Updated and Expanded, Warren Bennis, 2003, pages 62

LeadershipLeadership will consist not of answers or assured visions but of taking action to clarify values.  It asks questions like: What are we missing here?  Are there values of competing groups that we suppress rather than apply to our understanding of the problem at hand?  Are there shared values that might enable us to engage competing views?  ~  Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz, 1994, page 35

Ultimately, your leadership in a culture of change will be judged as effective or ineffective not by who you are as a leader but by what leadership you produce in others.  ~  Leading in a Culture of Change, Michael Fullan, 2001, page 137

Leaders are those who stimulate and inspire group members to both achieve extraordinary outcomes, and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity.  Leaders help group members grow and develop by responding to individual members’ needs and then by aligning the objectives and the goals of the individual members, the leader, the group, and the larger organization.  Thus, potentially leading to high performance, high levels of satisfaction and strengthened commitment to the work group and organization.  ~  Transformational Leadership, Bernard Bass and Ronald Riggio, 2006, page 3

Leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations in the first place or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances.  Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.  ~  Leading Change, John Kotter, 1996, page 25

Leadership is not all about personality; it’s about practice.  When getting extraordinary things done in organizations, leaders engage in these Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Modeling the Way, Inspiring a Shared Vision, Challenging the Process, Enabling Others to Act, and Encouraging the Heart.  ~  Leadership the Challenge, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, 2002, page 13

Children Differ. This might be the best summary of what the research says about teaching children to read.

Had it ever occurred to you that you don’t like to read hard books?

What was the last hard book you tried to read but finally quit reading because it was just too difficult and not at all enjoyable?  Now ask yourself, Was this book selected by you or was it assigned to you?  Imagine going through life never enjoying any book you read and never reading a book that was easy to read.  That is the situation of too many struggling readers.

Are you surprised that the research says that learning and motivation are higher when tasks can be completed with a high degree of success?  Do you think the teachers in your district would believe that difficult work produces better results?  Try to figure out why anyone would believe that?

Reading with 98 to 99 percent accuracy sounds like easy reading, right?

No adult would continue reading a book they could read only at 98 to 99 percent accuracy.  In a John Grisham novel there are 300 to 400 words per page.  Reading even at 99 percent accuracy would still mean there would be 3 or 4 words on every page you couldn’t pronounce and didn’t know what they meant.  In other words, there would be 75 to 100 words in every chapter that you wouldn’t know.  Have you ever read a book that difficult?

Does your school do a better job of teaching kids to read than it does of developing children who do read?  How would you explain the outcomes your school fosters?

Children Differ. This might be the best summary of what the research says about teaching children to read.  Think of instances where you found a technique or teaching strategy that worked for only one child but it worked really well with that child.  Can you understand why having teachers with big teaching toolboxes – filled with different instructional routines and strategies – is the best hope for achieving the goal of all children reading?

Does your school use commercial test preparation products (workbooks, computer-based drill and practice, etc.)?  Since no research supports the use of these products, how is their use rationalized in your school?

Does it surprise you that schools with fewer poor children (fewer than 25 percent) are ranked among the best schools in the world?  What factors other the wealth explains why some kids do so much better than other in schools?

Think about how much reading your struggling readers do every day.  Is it enough reading practice?  Does the volume of reading your struggling readers do pale in comparison to your better readers?

I strongly recommend the book; What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs, Third Edition 2012 by Richard L. Allington.  The above questions and more will be confronted in this excellent book.

If we care about all kids learning to read, I think we will want to read this book.



Thank you, Charlie LeDuff

I like Detroit!


Sorry for shouting just then.

You see, I like to work from a positive frame. I like to be appreciative of what is and then dream big about what might be.

So, reading Charlie LeDuff’s book: Detroit: An American Autopsy shook me.

As I read it I was frustrated. I wanted him to tell the good stories of Detroit – at least some.  That is not his style.  He is a journalist.  Some say a slightly sensational journalist.

I found it hard to put down because even though it is non-fiction, it reads like a novel. After finishing the book and thinking about it for two weeks I have come to the conclusion that LeDuff is:

  • a storyteller,
  • a tenacious researcher,
  • a bold person,
  • someone that wants to “not shy away” from what is real,
  • very human and thus fallible and that
  • he cares enough about Detroit to help the rest of us see, with depth, some realities we might never know about.

He is a journalist.

The complexity of Detroit’s interwoven lies, wasteful practices, selfish motivations and lack of respect for attempting to achieve the common good is illuminated through the stories he tells.  His own, past and present, personal and family Detroit story and its straightforwardness too, shines a light on circumstance, privilege, pain and fragility.

So, what I get from reading about very costly phantom firehouses is a sense of “what is” in a city that is deeply infected with corruption. And what I get by knowing that police officials dramatically under record annual homicides in the city is a sense of “how complicated” it is to tell the truth when “the culture” has become so cloudy that truth can be cloudy, too. And what I take away from images of empty, as in abandoned, news rooms and “stick ups” at gas stations is a sober sense of the current situation.

Thank you Charlie LeDuff.  Thank you for doing what you do and sharing it with a wide audience. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to improve Detroit – yes, it won’t be easy and yes it is worth doing.

We need to know where we are starting from.  Reality is a potential jumping off point.