Tag Archives: stewardship

Energizing, Appreciative and Affirmative . . . A Fulfilling Read!

The book: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle is rich in positive ripples of appreciative and affirmative framing. It is respectful, forward-looking, and abundant in love!  Gregory Boyle‘s ability to frame the life journey of the people he serves in the “positive” is beyond inspiring!

He works with ex-gang members. He is a Jesuit priest. He is not young and he has not old – he’s experienced. He is a positively piercing voice related to the goodness that can be achieved by “framing” any and all situations in a life affirming fashion.


Gregory Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries. He refers to the ex-gang members as “homies”.  This book is full of stories of his interactions with homies and the many gifts that he has received by working with ex-gang members over the last three decades.

Here are some short passages from the book.

“Knowing homies has changed my life forever, altered the course of my days, reshaped my heart, and returned me to myself. They have indeed been trustworthy guides. Together we have discovered that we all are diamonds covered with dust. They have taught me not that I am somebody but that I am everybody. And so are they.”

“I don’t empower anyone at Homeboy Industries.  But if one loves boundlessly, then folks on the margins become utterly convinced of their own goodness.”

“Homeboy Industries has always been the “already and not yet”. What this place announces to the world is aspirational and not declarative of a fully formed, complete thing.”

“When life throws a knife at us, we can either catch it by then blade or by the handle. We can stare right back at the terrifying darkness of what we’ve been through in our lives and grab it by the handle.”

“We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world or savor it.  I want to propose that savoring is better, and that when we seek to “save” and “contribute” and “give back” and “rescue” folks and EVEN “make a difference,” then it is all about you . . . . and the worlds stays stuck.  The homies are not waiting to be saved. They are ready are.”

“I met a man, an ex-homie, born –again and with the best of intentions, who was now working with gang members. He asked, ‘how do you reach them?’  My response was, ‘For starters, stop trying to reach them.’”

I love that Boyle embraces the complexity of life and living. I totally respect his absolute focus on building honest, caring relationships. This book and Boyle’s previous book, Tattoos on the Heart, are both excellent reads.  They celebrate humanity.  I find them to be energizing.  I recommend them highly.


Thinking about Nonviolence as a Result of Reading Ahimsa

Being a believer in nonviolence in today’s world is perplexing. So, when I read a book that I think might help people to consider the possibility of thinking broadly about the practical human value of nonviolence, I want to recommend it. Not because this piece of fiction has answers. I recommend it because it might be provocative. I think, we as a human race, have a lot of interdependent thinking to do about how to get along.

The book Ahimsa (a·him·sa /əˈhimˌsä)by Supriya Kelkar gets us thinking about resolving conflict, how we want to be with others and the future.

Kelkar, the author, was born and still lives in the Midwest. She earned her BA at the University of Michigan. AHIMSA, is inspired by her great-grandmother’s role in the Indian freedom movement. This book is marketed as a middle-grade novel. I see it as a book for everyone. If I were a high school or college teacher teaching social studies, history, humanities or civil rights I would consider assigning it. If I were a third (I started my career as a third grade teacher) or fourth grade teacher I would consider reading it aloud.

The story is captivating. Fascinating in that the story is complex, revealing and beckons you to want to know more about the struggles of oppressed people. The issues faced by the characters are fundamental liberty and life. They include: trust across difference, power and privilege, the friendship of a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, a mother dedicating her self to a cause, India in the 1940’s, the caste system (untouchables), non violence, education in India,authoritarian British rule, Mahatma Gandhi’s deeply held view of ahimsa, well devolved characters authentically navigating the realities of complexity.

According to Wikipedia, Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues and an important tenet of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. Ahimsa has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences. While ancient scholars of Hinduism pioneered and over time perfected the principles of Ahimsa, the concept reached an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism. Most popularly, Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in the principle of ahimsa.

Ahimsa’s precept of ’cause no injury’ includes one’s deeds, words, and thoughts. Classical literature of Hinduism such as Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as modern scholars debate principles of Ahimsa when one is faced with war and situations requiring self-defence. The historic literature from India and modern discussions have contributed to theories of Just War, and theories of appropriate self-defence. From Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahimsa

Read These Books by John Lewis- they are a valuable source of the American experience


I recommend that everyone, all moms and dads, gramma’s and grampas, aunt and uncle and caring neighbors go to a library and borrow these three books.  Or go to a bookstore and buy them.

Then read them and talk about them with others.  John Lewis was one of many individuals that intentionally put his life into to the civil rights movement with a deep commitment and clear awareness of the personal cost that may be paid for marching into the challenges of segregation and injustice.

Once you have read, thought and talked about these books – I suggest you reach out to a young person.  Someone in their twenties, teens or younger and ask them to read your copies and to talk with you about the stories. With the younger children, you might share these with – you may want to read them aloud as you sit side by side with your daughter, grandson, niece or neighbor.

The conversation that comes from this sharing could open new learning for all and new opportunities for growing close.  These heartfelt discussions might lead to a thirst for more learning about this and related topics and for more important sharing between the two (it could be more) of you.

Our American journey has not been a straight line.  It has not been without pain.  The journey continues as WE strive to form more perfect unions amongst and between all.

Enjoy these three important books!!!!!

Note: the picture of the three people in this post is of Nate Powell, the illustrator of the books, John Lewis, the author of the books and Andrew Aydin a co-author of the books.


As I read Roger Lewin’s and Birute Regine’s Weaving Complexity and Business: Engaging the Soul at Work (2000) I was impressed with their message regarding ‘complexity’. Yes, they write from a business perspective where managers are many and their roles are very important. And yes, some educators and educational leaders might not like to think of ‘businesses’ and ‘managers’ when they think about schooling.
Given that, please read the following quote from their book. “When managers accept that periods of chaos are natural – even desirable – in business, then they will come to see chaos with different eyes. Specifically, periods of chaos can be embraced as a portal to change, which may be enhanced through respectful and limited influence, not as an aberration that needs to be avoided.”
Most of us would likely agree that education is going through a time of dramatic change. And that the concepts of maintaining the status quo or going back to the specific order of less chaotic times are not reasonable.  So, the times we live in, raise our families in, help with our grandchildren in and work in are changing.
These times may lead to a better and different future. Maybe our influence on the future may be limited yet respecting the fact that change is here and is continuing to unfold – we need to be part of the ‘unfolding’.
Our vision has to be on the future and not on the past. Helping to shape tomorrow for our children and grandchildren is important work. To do that we need to be clear on our vision of all children benefiting from schooling and all children being effectively launched as citizens of tomorrow. IMG_6481

Five Smooth Stones

Thank you, Karen, for inviting me to read this book.  Back in 1974 or 1975 I didn’t read for pleasure.  We were married in December of 1973.  You were surprised and saddened that I didn’t read for pleasure.  You had a plan.  You asked me – if you suggested a book of fiction to me, would I agree to read it because you asked?

You introduced me to the world of “want to” (as opposed to “have to”) reading through this book, Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn, and I am forever grateful to you.

As I would read we would talk about what was happening and how the plot was unfolding each night at dinner.  Those discussions were rich and real.  Thank you, Karen.

On the occasion of our fortieth wedding anniversary I decided to reread Five Smooth Stones.  I was once again enthralled and captivated by this piece of art.  I found myself attracted to the rhythm and pulse of the story, characters and issues.  This is a love story, an epic tale of family, a historic and dramatic glimpse of the struggle for basic civil rights in our country and a challenging stimulant related to the realities of social privilege – all making for a truly great read.

This is a story of beauty amid reality, injustice and brutal violence.  This is a story of people who are so real I found myself believing that they were.

Fairbairn is a writer! She crafted characters of clarity and difference: Each real and provocative. She generated story lines that begged to be followed.  Mostly she was an artistic ‘weaver’ of divergent and convergent ‘wrap and waft’ of material.  Whether it was individuals, history or events – she brought this huge story into what I consider a treasured piece of art.

Ann Fairbairn published this work in 1966. I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to get immersed into a compelling, intense, serious, loving and abundant story.

I am a slow reader and the hardback copy of Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn I was reading from was 853 pages long.  I loved its length.  Actually I wished it were longer.  Shucks . . .  who among us wants a good story to end?

Thanks again, Karen!

Five Smooth Stones

How does important, complicated, and serious work get done?

Think putting a man on the moon.

Think bring Apollo 13 home.

Through collaboration!  

Our times require us all to be willing, able and effective in our collaborations within and across networks.  We need to be explores of the power and potential of ‘interdependence’ because we and others are investors, owners, caretakers and creators of the physical and thoughtful community space we share. Healthy collaborations may ‘just happen’ yet, more likely, they will need to be nurtured and developed.  We need to be committed to connecting with others collaboratively and be prepared to find new ways to build, sustain and expand communities of collaborations for the good of each and every student.

  • Yes, times are complex!
  • Yes, the stakes are high for our students and community!
  • Yes, there are many that are caught in “can’t” – wrapped up in a negative spiral.
  • We need to avoid the nonconstructive energy that is sometimes around us.  We have potential – together, we can make a difference!!!

We need to develop the capacity to mobilize our collective potential and turn it into positive power – to set in motion positive ripples of confidence, energy, enthusiasm, and performance.   Getting good at appreciating ‘what is’ provides us with a focus to help as we frame our day, our work and or our sense of the possible.  A positive, forward looking, plan allows us and others to approach and tackle the real world challenges and opportunities we encounter with resourcefulness.  Together we need to discover and focus on the direction and actions leading to outcomes of improvement for our students and our communities.thought_through-scaled1000

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