Saturday, February 4, 2017

How does Perfectionism interfere with Learning?

“Successful Failure?”

Looking for the "perfect" piece of brisket?
ASAP BBQ got it, once!

What does "Successful Failure" mean for educators, parents and people that work to motivate lead and inspire others?

How often does it happen?  A student tries a problem but can’t figure it out on the first try so he gives up.  Or, she writes an essay with too many red marks on her page and never writes again, while struggling with self-esteem.  Or, he struggles playing catch so he quits the ball team, even though he can hit. Or, she has a bit of peer conflict, trying to compromise on what game to play and pouts, adding more strain to the tender relationship. All these little scenarios get played out over and over as we grow up and students failing to learn these coping skills carry the deficiency long into adolescence, and even adulthood.  As educators, how can we teach our learners how to overcome the discouragement, letdown and often times, self-inflicted pain of perceived failure? Below are a few possible interventions, supports and techniques for building up persistent learners.

·        Encourage play, especially play involving choices, decisions, play acting and characters.  Early forms of empathy come from the ability to see the world through the eyes of others and acting out, voicing stuffed animals, dolls, characters and even imaginary friends all have their place in a child’s developmental growth.  Even little cars, although often crashing, help children with fine motor skills, competition and organizational planning. Leagues that play games, without keeping score do well as the children are developing their skills, but once the fundamentals are mastered, objective scores become a necessity.
Building Dolls out of Corn Husks IS NOT A SCIENCE but an art.
Trying to make these perfect will only lead to frustration.  
·        Recognize your child’s response to quotes such as “perfect,” “right,” or “not good enough,” and AVOID the critical, leaving the perfectionism for the professionals. While still young, children have an intrinsic instinct to try and please their adult caregivers, but when their efforts are “never good enough,” discouragement leads to impending insecurities. Doubts and poor self-talk festers into a struggling self-esteem.  Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, writes about a patient, also a salesmen, that thought he needed an “ear job” before he could really sell.  Dr. Maltz counseled him into changing his way of thinking first. Maltz’s book Positive Psycho Cybernetics admonishes us to think only good thoughts about ourselves and adjusting our thoughts sufficiently supports growth and advancement better than plastic surgery. The salesmen thought his productivity was tied to directly to his physical appearance but was able to achieve his goals, without a costly and purely cosmetic surgery.

·        Consider balancing the positive and negative comments realizing the importance of the words we use to offer suggestion, praise, and even critique.  Scientists proclaim the negative in our brain is like Velcro and the positive slides out like Teflon.  A child remembers the negative comments, sarcasm and jabs, far easier than the positive feedback so sparsely doled out for a “home run.” Science tells us our brains focus on the details of the negative far more than we replay the positive events, actually diminishing the actual positive event.  School centered initiatives often tout the need for teachers to share four positive comments for every single negative comment with the students.  Thus a student hearing sarcasm frequently internalizes the message into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Yes, the “funny” part of teasing contains a kernel of truth and the recipient remembers the feeling when the jab is made.  Retaliation, getting back at and coping take precedence.  Learning is stifled.  No longer safe or secure from ridicule, a learner shuts down and avoids the pain by avoiding the attempt.  The antecedent leads to the behavior and suffering consequences. The results of failure are greater than the rewards of success.  Recognize these trappings of perfectionism, its causes, and early signs to arrange for the necessary re-teaching and redirecting.  A child overly critical of himself becomes his own worst enemy.
The Jewel Box in St Louis Forest Park grows some fabulous specimens, but are they "perfect?"
I doubt it!
·        Caring adults should model successful failure. “Successful failure” sounds like an oxymoron but it is vital to growth, mastery and development. Just like a skier that NEVER tries a harder slope will plateau and never get better, learners need to push themselves to the point of failure.  Good leading demonstrates this cycle by showing pupils how to recover after failure.  For instance, a teacher may make mistakes deliberately but subtly to recover and progress forward.  The learning cycle repeats indefinitely. 
§  Try something new
§  Fail at this new venture
§  Try again by making minor adjustments (Frequently repeated and called learning)
§  Succeed and celebrate the breakthrough
§  Repeat the entire cycle at the next level
Video games are built on the premise that giving players the chance to try again keeps them advancing, through a series of increasingly difficult levels. Persistence, grit and determination, although somewhat intrinsic can be developed with motivation and positive feedback based on the student as a worker, esteemed because of effort and not just because of talent.  For instance, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.  Likewise, classrooms should be filled with this learning cycle where students are failing up, trying, gathering suggestive and constructive aligning feedback, void of sarcasm.  Offering a critique is not the same as being critical.

               Teachers, counselors, care-givers, managers and others striving to lead are on a quest for motivated, persistent and gritty individuals. These good leaders manage the risks of the team aligning ability, talent and effort with encouragement, motivation and a safe environment. By advancing the level of difficulty with experience, pushing to improve without crippling, handcuffing or expecting perfectionism from him or others, a good leader, is also a good manager, overcoming “I can’t” with “I can’t, YET!”  The fear of failing should not exist!

Even Calvin Coolidge faced this when he assembled this quote in 1929:
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Calvin Coolidge

How can we overcome, “I Can’t!” in our pupils? 
With the Power of "YET"

Perfectionism is…?
Detrimental and interferes with learning!

Compare and contrast the following cycles:
“Try, Fail, Quit!”
“Try, Fail, Try Again, Fail, And Succeed?”

How can we teach persistence, grit, tenacity and determination? 
Teach and model overcoming adversity!

BrainyQuote, 2017. (2001). Calvin Coolidge quotes. Retrieved February 4, 2017, from

Garson. (2016, January 12). Quote investigator. Retrieved February 4, 2017, from

Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. FROM THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS, 119(1), 182–191. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2697

Hanson, R. (2001, June 1). 01 Jun take in the good. Retrieved February 4, 2017, from

Maltz, M. PSYCHO- CYBERNETICS, A new way to get more living out of life. Retrieved from

Stuart-Kotze, R. (2008, October 23). Why failure means success. Retrieved February 4, 2017, from

Monday, November 28, 2016

Friends, Family, Faith and Traditions make the BEST HOLIDAYS!

Thanksgiving Wrap Up: 2016
When looking forward to a few extra days off for the Thanksgiving Holiday, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew we would have a big gathering around the fire, a Thanksgiving Dinner that couldn’t be beat and plenty of catching up to do, but that wasn't till Thursday. My first day off however, Wednesday, found me looking at old #TBT photos, remembering the years here as a Principal and becoming thankful for the relationships, connections and families throughout the building, district and community. Almost growing nostalgic in the process.  

For instance, one tradition is the Boys Basketball Thanksgiving Practice and their insistence on an “optional” workout on Wednesday at 8:00 am and then again on Sunday at 3:00pm.  Getting up out of bed on a “Vacation Day” for a middle school student really shows dedication and commitment.  Then running, practicing, drilling, and strategizing, all in the name of building a program started off as a nice touch but has evolved into a focused period of concentration and deliberation.  I began looking for those old photos, to share with the team the memories and reminders of those that have laid a foundation before them, but discovered much more along the way.  

It seems the friends, faiths, families and traditions is what makes these annual events so important, branding us as part of the bigger picture.  We all want to be part of a group.  We want to feel connected.  We want to be somebody, yet in all our business, preparations and running around, we forget to stop, enjoy the sunset, relish the conversation and reach into another person’s life.  
When we consider how to energize or motivate ourselves, it is often by remembering the reasons why? and for what purpose?  Getting energy from others by helping others is the best way to feel connected and part of something bigger.  This Holiday Season, think of somebody who needs something that only you can supply.  It may be a conversation, a listening ear, a personal visit on an elderly or shut-in to change a light bulb or something as simple as a pleasant and unique greeting.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

An argument seeks WHO is right. A discussion seeks WHAT is right!

What is right?
Who is right?
How can we get past the argument into the discussion?
Competition or Collaboration or Communication?

As we face problems, issues, obstacles and hurdles, I instantly think of the teachers at in my building as the best resources for developing plans to address the problems.  I know some concerns are not easy to articulate and others aren't easy to solve.  Many times, it seems like the problem is so ingrained, it is insurmountable.  Regardless, I think of their opinions, ideas and brainstorming sessions as valuable.  In fact, often times, when I get over my stubbornness, we apply staff created and designed solutions addressing things with deft, tact and creativity. 
Back in the day, a realtor told me, “‘No’ means ‘Maybe’ and ‘Maybe’ means ‘Yes! As someone is looking for a house, they may like everything but the carpet!  That is a ‘Maybe’ and it brings us one step closer to satisfying their housing needs. Additionally, ‘No’ just lets us know what is not working!  All we need to do is keep trying to maximize the benefit for ALL parties, from the students and parents to the teachers and district.  What works for ALL of us?!
Gathering opinions, insights and experiences for the true good of the group maximizes buy-in, effectiveness and participation. Proposing ideas and brainstorming brings out the best.
Keep up the collaboration through the communication and shy away from the competition!

An argument seeks WHO is right.  A discussion seeks WHAT is right!


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Parent Hopping and Teacher Hopping?



If you are more fortunate than others, 
it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence.

Parent Hopping! AND Teacher Hopping!
The act of asking the other parent when the first parent gave the “wrong” answer. If Dad said “NO,” go ask Mom. At school, we are aware of our consistent follow through and how our students are sensitive to the differences. We may be agreeing just to agree, even if it is not exactly what we think is important. For instance, hats in the building. We ALL will ask a student to take his hat off in the building but does that really have a MAJOR impact on the learning in itself? Can a student learn with a hat on?  Regardless of our personal interpretation, we all agree that consistency is more important and a unified front displayed by the teachers is far more important.
Planners are another factor that may or may not be important to an individual teacher. Yet, we as a team agree to use planners in our classrooms to help student organize as they work their way through their middle years. Do we need them?  DO STUDENTS NEED THEM?  Schools are student centered even though they are teacher led! Therefore, planners it is!
Teacher Hopping, for instance, in the middle school takes on a familiar look as well. A student asked me, “Can I go to my locker?” I was not sure why a student would ask me that question, so I paused. Coach came up and I deferred the question to him. Then, it was clear that the student was trying to “Teacher Hop” and bypass the rule by asking another Staff member! Sounds like at home. If mom says NO, ask DAD. Together, the letter of the rule is not as important as the need for us to be unified and together in our enforcement! We agree to remain individuals but serve students as a team!

An Argument strives to prove WHO is right.
A Discussion strives to prove WHAT is right.
Let's not confuse the two.
Stay on the same page and convey a truly unified front, knowing agreement to serve children is better than proving who is right.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

How do we measure stamina or persistence?

What is the difference between a SETBACK and a DEFEAT?
Think baseball! 
A SETBACK might be related to a pitch called a strike but the batter just stood there. It sets us back, behind or in a weaker position, but it does not mean things are done, completed or finished! An opportunity for success still exists and things could still work out! The SETBACK just makes it harder. A big part of education is working to get over this hurdle and overcome.
A DEFEAT might be the end of the inning, the end of the “at bat” or the end of the game. Regardless, there is a sense of finality in the DEFEAT but a sense of hope in the SETBACK.
School must teach how to overcome SETBACKS.
These window decals mapped out the last few weeks of our school year. We want to sprint to the future but not kick too early. We must finish strong and carry our load all the way to the end. Here, events and special activities are aligned to motivate any and every student in our building. WHO might we be missing? Who is not served in this group of activities? Who are we leaving out? For example, our DodgeBall Tournament pulled in anybody and everybody.
Meet: The Enforcers

At School, we strive to develop the full person, the academics, the discipline, social and emotional intelligence, executive function, financial awareness and exercise. These are just a few of the parameters we deal with on a a daily and nearly continuous basis.  All while students have cell phones, worry about their fashion risks and attend classes on time, while getting homework done, permission slips signed and turned in, and lunch accounts paid up.  But this is the middle school and that is what we do!

Setbacks happen continuously but defeat is never accepted.  Setbacks demonstrate trying, attempting something new and taking educational risks.  Setbacks are expected.  Defeat is not.

Every person who has met success, also met failure!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Was it worth it?

Was it worth it?
Last Saturday night, at 10:30pm, we traveled to the Missouri Botanical Garden to take in the rare blooming of the amorphophallus titanum commonly called the Corpse flower due to the odor and size.  
(Seldom do I see 2:00 am these days anyway.)

After driving an hour, waiting in line for another half hour, then seeing the flower for less than 5 minutes, it makes me wonder…  Was it worth it? YES. Unabashedly Yes. How often would I actually get to see and smell it in "Real Life?" I heard a student say the "Grand Canyon? I will just Google it!" (Imagine the limits in understanding after seeing pictures of the Grand Canyon, and thinking you have really experienced the presence!?) How many other things do I miss because I am in a hurry, on my way someplace else or not paying attention.  I really must take time to smell the roses.  I see these 8th grade students in our building and it does seem like they were just in 6th grade last month. They are growing with leaps and bounds right now and it is amazing the maturity they are showing. Let’s continue to provide them opportunities for leadership.  We were even thinking about having them assist during the first day of school while everyone is trying to get things together, there are still new students, lockers, classes and teachers to find. Mentoring and peer leadership roles are wonderful motivators at getting those students engaged.

It is ALWAYS worth it.

Tom McCracken

Thursday, April 21, 2016

140 Characters, A 90 Second snippet or a Living Room Story?

Elevator or Living Room Version of a Story???

Elevator or Living Room Version of the Same Story???
Middle School Staff Blog
Welcome to Spring
April 21, 2016


Elevator Version or the Living Room Version
My wife and I were invited over to some friends house for dinner a few weeks back.  We sat there in their living room for a time, then the guys went out into the back and lit the grill and the ladies stayed inside.  When it was just the two of us in a smaller setting, we were able to actually have a conversation.  We waited for each other to finish thoughts.  We asked each other direct questions that demonstrated prior knowledge.  We waited for the answers and allowed plenty of time for processing.  We were able to talk about more than the weather, the Cardinals or each other’s health.  It was a time of connecting. I felt refreshed, energized and renewed that I was in a good place in my life.
The next day, Jayne and I were heading down to her doctor's appointment on the 8th floor of the Brentwood Building.  We walked in the building and noticed  another couple looking at the marquee, looking for their floor.  They turned Jayne happened to know her.  They were heading to the 11th floor and so we rode the elevator together.  It was during this time, the ladies began chattering about common friends and family.  Who was ill, why they were in the building, lost friends and even the uncommonly warm weather, but they couldn't really finish anything.  We said goodbye at our floor, the girls promised to “get-together, soon” and we exited on our floor.  I was feeling exhausted from the quick snippets of stories.  Eventually, I realized something when I compared this incident with the evening before.  For the first time, realized the difference between a LIVING ROOM VERSION of a story or an ELEVATOR VERSION of the same story.  
The elevator version is quick, it conveys facts, ideas and basic information but it contains few details and possible important omissions.  The Living Room Version is longer, filled with details, drawn out and maybe even embellished a bit.  There is time for interaction between the speaker and the audience with reflection and segways frequently following paths into deep conversation and thoughts.
From here, I began to wonder about my versions presented here at school.  Do I try and force a living room version when I only have time for an elevator story, shoving too much into a small window, forcing others to “drink from a firehose?” By trying to get it all done, am I really adding to the frustration level? Or, do I give the elevator snippet when more information is needed, possibly the reasoning or back-story or explanation of my limited reasoning?  Regardless, as I continue to practice, hone and develop my communication skills, I realize they will never be perfect. I will never be able to convey my intended message precisely or exactly.  But I can’t let this stop me.  Perfectionism is a manifestation of insecurity.
I wonder about any applications for the classroom, teaching or learning?