Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fail Big Now, Win Big Later

Daily, we all have the opportunity to add to our future. Reading, writing, playing and solving problems are all necessary ingredients for success.  From Thomas Edison to the Wright Brothers, they knew and embraced failure, getting them closer to success. Missing one night of reading is not failure, but just another opportunity to start again.

I don't usually share too many videos but this one struck a chord.  It reminded me to embrace and push to the point of failure.  Failure becomes the landmark of growth, getting better and final success.

 @kickgenius shares motivational and insprirational thoughts, media and attributes for all of us in the people industry.  After watching that video, we see the chance for success and the opportunity for growth and advancement happens AFTER many, many apparent failures.  Muscle memory, learning, and overcoming the unknown are the best ways to take things to the next level. Asking students, teachers ourselves and others to learn means we may also be asking them to fail!

Failure is not permanent. Some call it the First Attempt In Learning.  Some think champions never fail.

What is your favorite thing about FAILURE?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Define "Busy"

Define Busy:

 These fireworks have a lot going on, all at the same time.  
For entertainment value, that probably draws more attention and attracts a larger share of the market.
For life situations, it sounds like stress.

 “Busy” is when...
you cease to live a life that is proactive and intentional, 
and begin living one where life happens to you. 
Your behavior becomes reactionary, 
your life lacks fulfillment and eventually, even lacks basic maintenance.

Do you run your life or does your life run you? 
In the heat of the busy schedule, we must take time, carve time, schedule time or even steal time to ensure we take mental, physical and psychological care of ourselves, before we can serve others to the best of our ability.

Airplanes and Mt Everest
For instance, the stewardess on the plane instructs us to put on our own breathing mask before we try to take care of those others around us.  Sagas from mountaineering condone leadership that puts personal care as a high priority when determining the good of the group. 

All these expressions, quips and cute little quotes remind me that our life is ours and sometimes we have to say no to the good so we can say "yes" to the great.  We must balance the important, vital, urgent and necessary.

Myself included.

Are you living without margins in your life?  Please take care, prioritize and put margins in your life, at all costs.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Where are the connections made?

This post was floating around facebook without citation.

I posted it Friday afternoon and received source documentation within hours.
Please read this post:

It is a moving rendition of the thought processes of many, many of our teachers.

I had posted it without citation but have removed it upon my own accord.

I offer her compete credit and accolades for this moving read. 

Thank you.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Ancora Imparo or #leadlearner?

#Lead Learner or Ancora Imparo?

Summer goal: Create an even more inviting space in the library through a remodel...
June, July and August
As the summer matures with school impending, thoughts for the beginning of the year race, spiral and ripen inside my head.  At the beginning of the summer, a feeling of exhaling, unwinding and relaxing swell as the excitement of a summer event rises.  An annual summer trip, vacation or excursion marks the pivot or fulcrum for the next year.  It was that first day back, after a week long motorcycle trip through the mountains of Arkansas, while reading an article about principals being the Lead Learners in a building that I came across this quote, "ANCORA IMPARO," as the last sentence in the article.

Mirrors or Microscopes
This quote became a framework for my thoughts ever since.  Gaining momentum for this year while establishing routines, procedures and plans, I wondered what I could do differently.  Maybe polish my mirror?  Look at myself, my own characteristics, the things I do that hold others back, limit their motivation or stifle their creativity?  What do I need to do to get us to the #nextlevel?  Look less at others and more at myself?
Mirror at myself, or microscope at others?

The quote is attributed to Michelangelo, on his 87th  (or 83rd) birthday, in 1562 and loosely translates, "Yet, I am still learning." Buried in the simplicity is a theme of growth, progress and improvement for any and all who seek, desire and want to make things better.  However, the reach is limited.  Personal change is all he can claim.  He can't claim influence, impact or warrant change in others. He can't mandate, threaten or dictate change in others, only himself.

Latent in that quote is the concept of growth for all; students, teachers, principals, parents throughout the school. The hash-tag #Leadlearner carries an overtone of the principal being the top, best, lead or master learner and all information, learning or growth filters through him.  Ancora Imparo puts the principal alongside the rest of the team regarding the learning and the growth. 
As a #leadlearner, do I limit myself in my thinking?  Worse, do I limit those around me?
When Ancora Imparo becomes the framework, what happens to boundaries?
How has my behavior in the past stifled, governed, limited or held others back?
What do I need to mend?  Who do I need to reconcile with?

Shout out to @bethhouf, and @editorbytrade for their posts, thoughts and articulations.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Is it time yet? What happens on day 1 in your room?

Is it ever too early to think about the first day of school?

Taken this week, last year, the afternoon shower created a spectacular rainbow followed by a matching sunset over Buena Vista Colorado.

Its never too late, or too early, to think about teaching and reaching into the future.

 Day 1
What’s important at the beginning of school?  What are your plans for the first days of school?

Below are topics and routines I addressed in the early part of every course.  These are important to establishing high expectations for the entire year.  These lessons stem from study of Wong, Whitaker, Payne, Lemov, Hattie and others.  As most things in education, they were often modified to fit individual situations. We had procedures for everything and we discussed, learned and reviewed those procedures till they became natural and the way we did things.  Students enjoyed them, although they wanted to appear reluctant at the beginning.  By the end of the year, they were all invited to attend a field trip, five hours away to the big amusement park.  Paragraphs below describe the procedures, their explanations and implementation.

You are in those seats because I love my wife.”
This was often the very first thing I said to my classes on the first day of any school year.  It always took students by surprise but maybe it made them wonder.  I would pause, then explain their assigned seats were in alphabetical order according to the overhead projector shining on the front board placing them in that position so we could pass in papers. Instructions were to “put your own paper on top!”  This allowed them to be in order when they were passed across the room and not back to front.  Back to front methods encouraged the person in the back to get the attention of the person in front, usually with some physical contact that could escalate. Placing the growing stack of papers on the adjacent desk sorted papers somewhat alphabetically thus diminishing my time spent grading and increasing the time I could spend with my wife.

"Procedures verses Rules"
Rules are “meant to be broken” but procedures are how we do things.  For example, the speed limit sign reads 55 and this “rule”  is often disobeyed.  Few signs are required however to keep drivers to the right side of the road.  The procedure suggests safer travels will be achieved with drivers all agreeing to stay to the right.  This simple example from the road reinforces a few of the outcomes and benefits when a teacher sets up procedures.  First off, it demonstrates to the students the importance of systems, structures and plans.  Later, students will expect routines, plans or other mnemonic devises and look to the teacher to provide those. Finally, the time invested early lays ground work for instructions later, such as field trips, assemblies and those out of the ordinary days that require group instructions  and “on the fly” decision making.

Parenthetic Note:
(Framework for these concepts grew from study into Harry Wong, Todd Whitaker, Ruby Payne, Teach like a Champion, Hattie and others.  Teachers can prepare their rooms as well as their minds for the upcoming school year by reviewing of any of these inspiring summer readings!)

Has a student said, "I have to come to school!"   
     In reality "You choose to come to school, and thank you!"
This is fairly close to the actual first few days I spent setting up my classrooms.  My students were typically reluctant learners dreading school, however a favorite anecdote stems from my principal asking me if a certain student, “Johnny” was “there yesterday.”  I replied with a "Yes, but why do you ask?”  The answer was astounding.  It seems little Johnny skipped every other class that day but showed up for my class alone!  I am not sure if that is good or bad.  I do know, he was there by choice.  

S: I have to come to school.
T: You GET to come to school.
S: My mom will get "locked up for educational neglect if I don't." *
T: So you are really saying, you choose to come school instead of the alternative."
   Pregnant pause while student ponders the options.
T: Thanks for being here.  Now that you understand consequences, let's learn."

 (*Some Students just prefer to say She'll be mad if I skip!)

Define Manners:  Making others around you feel comfortable.
I like to say my wife taught me that definition.  Maybe the real truth is I never really grasped the concept but am still trying to learn how to do that?!  Maybe she was trying to tell me something?  Maybe she was trying to let me down easy?  Maybe I made her uncomfortable?  In the classroom, we talked about manners, respect and being nice.  We were not to use sarcasm, put downs and verbal jabs but instead build each other up. Even Pink Floyd called out teachers using dark sarcasm in the classroom.  There is no room for sarcasm in the classroom.  We will be taking educational risks and nobody wants to be made fun of, or thought about being made fun of for making a mistake.   
A post 9-11view of Ground Zero.

"Entering and leaving the room"
What’s the tallest building you were ever in?  There's a lesson in that visit.  When teaching an Elements of Algebra class, a picture of the Twin Towers was in the book for the lesson that day. We looked into our book and there was a picture of them on the page I had planned to teach from that day.  I will always remember where I was on that day.  Tall buildings have elevators that work with buttons directing us to floors 1-55,  56-80, or 81-100.  When boarding the elevator, we have to let the people on the elevator get out of the way, clear the path and make room for new riders.  If there is no room, we just wait for the next car.  Similarly, when entering a room, allow those leaving to exit first, maybe even holding the door open for them (See manners above) and allow them to exit?  Thus preventing a log jam at the door, teaching manners, procedures and making those ready to leave feel comfortable and respected.
Stool Sheet: 2 Truths and a Lie and Attention Getting Mechanisms!
We often have students complete a data card that first day, claiming we need their number in-case "the computer goes down."  Students added a few things to this data card to round out the first day.  Two truths and one lie is a good mixer allowing folks a bit of self-reflection time, showing the importance of out of the box thinking and individuality.  But it was also good for the teacher to read out loud and let the students try and guess the authors.  Other included were other items such as their favorite meal at McDs (always listed as a number) would allow me to take a break, tally their attendance, allow them to talk and regain their attention with the signal of a raised hand.  No screaming, shouting, lights flipping or ruler slapping, but the simple act of raising a hand. They would be expected to get quiet and attentive within 5 seconds, or be kept after the bell for however long it took to get quiet. And after they shared with their neighbor their favorite meal, we would return to work refocused after the brief pause.

Finally, What is your EXPECTED GRADE!
Students often make a list of their course schedule.  Here we added a twist with the EXPECTED GRADE they wanted to earn in that class.  Students were asked up front to begin to think about the outcome, even before any assignments or coursework was done. They were allowed to enter a PASS if they wanted but none were allowed to not submit a grade.  This first step in visualization publicized and made conversations about grades, progress, effort and achievement the first steps in learning.  Students began to see themselves as that type of student.  YES, THEY WERE GOING TO PASS!  That's the beginning of Positive Psycho-Cybernetics. (Thanks Dr Maxwell Maltz) 

These things sometimes seemed basic, immature or even like something students should know when they enter a room.  THEY DO NOT.  We can't progress until students do know these routines. We must discuss, rehearse and reteach over and over again to teach.  One exposure to an idea, process, routine or discipline DOES NOT always ensure it is retained.  Note:  We still have not discussed rules of the class yet.

What important foundational events or procedures take place in your first day of class?
How would you like April and May to be different?  Plan things differently in September and see what happens.

Reference Me helped me assemble this citation page.

Clark, R. (2004) Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child. 1st edn. New York: Hyperion

Hattie, J. A. C. (2008) Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. London: Routledge

Kagan, S., Rodriguez, C., Kagan, M. and Taylor, B. (1992) Cooperative Learning. United States: Kagan Cooperative Learning

Lemov, D. (2012) Teach like a champion field guide: practical techniques to master the art of teaching. 1st edn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Lemov, D. and Atkins, N. (2010) Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. 1st edn. San Francisco: Wiley, John & Sons

Payne, R. K. (1998) framework for understanding poverty. Baytown, TX: RFT Pub.

Sommers, W. A. and Payne, K. (2000) Living on a Tightrope: A Survival Handbook for Principals. Highlands, TX: Aha! Process

Urban, H. (2008) Lessons from the classroom: 20 things good teachers do. Redwood City, CA: Great Lessons Press

Whitaker, T. (2003) What Great Teachers Do Differently. Tandem Library

Wong, H. K. (2004) First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. Tandem Library

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Eighth Grade Graduation

Transitions from year to year, event to event, season to season

From the background to the foreground, left to right, 8th graders to 6th graders.  
Our story below takes place in this type of setting.

As our 8th graders left the building, the simple action of leaving the building became a memento, a reminder and maybe even a milestone.  They were pressed onto the high school.  Like a bird being coaxed out of the nest when the mother knows it can fly, these students are both excited and apprehensive.  Similar to other stages and seasons in life, school is filled with transitions.  One thing comes to an end while another begins.  It's this cycle of beginning and ending that forms a microcosm of real life where we all grow, develop and change while we mature; students, staff, parents and even administration. 

The Plan:
After a final inning of kickball, teachers against students, the students all returned to their seats for one last "talk."  Earlier in the day, the 8th graders were discussing doing something special.  After deliberation, we decided on a signal.  When the principal dropped his blazer, the 8th graders were all to get up and silently exit the room.  One student was to pick up the blazer.  Another was to turn on the exit music.  All were to remain as quiet as a heard of traveling 8th graders can be.  As they left, it would be the last time they would walk across our gymnasium floor as 8th graders.  When they return, they would be 9th graders!  This was their send off.  This was their commencement.  This was the last time they would walk as middle school students.

The Practice:
Incredible. We followed the plan pretty closely to the intent but a few unintended benefits happened. Our simple walk became emotional.  No one expected anybody to shed a tear but the emotions were high and as they began walking, the 8th graders began crying.  This was contagious and both boys, girls and then staff also shed tears. A realization of the enormity of this event occurred and the 7th and 6th graders watching began a spontaneous cheer; an authentic exclamation of appreciation, commendation and approbation.  They seemed genuinely proud, happy and glad for their earlier rivals.  There were no derogatory remarks, and in fact, a bit of envy and some admiration.  These 8th graders were taking a big step, right before their eyes and we all owed some respect and honor to them for succeeding!

After the cheering, stopped, and the 8th graders had left the room and gathered in the commons celebrating, there was a vacant area in the bleachers.  We looked around and noticed the void.  "Seventh graders, slide down to your new seats. Sixth graders, move into those new vacant positions.  You are the new Middle School!  You will build this place next year and you are now 8th graders and 7th graders."  This kinesthetic act of moving locations left an impression on all of us in the room.  Eighth graders were now high school students and 7th and 6th graders had grown a year, right there.  The bell rang and everyone was dismissed to home for summer break.

Lessons and Questions:
What lessons do we learn about transitions?  Is it easy to have a clear line of beginning and end, or is a gradual change better?  Are seasons better with the gradual change in weather, day length and temperature or do birthdays and anniversaries give better cairns? With every lesson, we uncover more questions, some public and some personal. What have I been learning over this summer?  Where can I help others transition better?  How can I transition better?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lessons and Reflections from the Principal's Office


While working on my Ed Specialist degree, the dissertation investigated the effects of a Summer Academy, examined a problem, looked into an index, built a hypothesis, studied populations and defended the published document.  
Here are those results in a 60+ page paper.  
Here are the results in a few word summary:  
Continue the Summer Academy and continue to learn.

School year cycles
The school year is marked off in seasons.  There is the excitement of returning back to school in the late summer and fall. Anticipation of new teachers, new friends and new opportunities for success. Procedures and routines develop into habits and by Halloween, we are well into our year.  Hunting season in our school gives way to Thanksgiving and Christmas Breaks scream right past.  #RubberbootFriday is as much a tradition or outfit as a way of life.  Weather forecasts and the threat of #snowdays after the break requires redoubling (Does this mean 4x?) the effort some days to keep everyone focused but we get through. Scheduled 3 day weekends become make-up days get traded for  and we try to keep from going into June with our school year.  Spring break and the promise of warmer weather, motorcycle days and playing outside keep everyone driven.  State testing consumes all waking thoughts, discussions and agendas till we get to the end!  Finally, end of the year procedures, events and picnics keep us all working in overdrive till the last day before summer school starts and things go around again.

Lessons for all of us
Mixed emotions surround the last day, for students, parents and teachers alike. For some, it is stress. For others, a sigh of relief.  Others hate leaving their friends.  Some begin to wonder about meals and security.  Some just like learning and want to stay.  Tears are shed, yearbooks signed and promises made in efforts to assure each other that we can all make it without each other.  Even the principal learns. For instance, while working on yet another degree, the course load kept my mind occupied with finances, light-bulbs, research and writing. However a leadership lesson was buried behind all these distractions.

Lessons for the leader: Problems
After three years as "leader" of this building, I saw leadership in even another light. Prior to this year, I carried the belief that all I needed to do was articulate the problem with the team and the "right" decision would rise to the top on it's own.  After the discussion, we would all together see the right way and agree to this Utopian plan and walk away content and fulfilled. Throughout the year I began to notice a few discussions took longer than I thought they should.  I thought we could wait it out and consensus would occur. Sadly, this passive perspective of mine failed us.  So I had to learn to make those "executive" decisions, even when I felt it unnecessary.

Here, while riding over Cottonwood Pass west of Buena Vista Colorado, the decisions are simple:  Do we go up? or Do we go down? The input is from two people. Weather, bike condition and timing are our only variables. Decisions are simple!
School decisions are infinitely more elaborate. 

A solution: Decisions
The need for a solution was greater than the actual striving of a perfect solution and coming to an answer. We needed results versus just studying the problems in order to serve our goals better.  I began to see my role as the leader was to lead, inspire, motive but also make the final decision.  I was responsible for the outcome and not just a contributing member of the debate.  We could have the debate, discuss the options and perspectives but after allowing voices, we NEEDED a decision. I could not RUSH the answer but needed to make the call. I could not choose to not decide.  I needed to make a choice.  We would all have to abide by the results.  I could not waiver, change sides or redo the choice.  We (read I) had to grow and change and play without a net!

Personally, I began to realize that I did not have the luxury of waiting every time and dragging the decisions out!  I needed to change.  I needed to reduce the frustration in the staff by doing my job. I needed to make better decisions.  Making better decisions in my world means:
...Gather input better by being more approachable.
...Value diverse opinions like we value diverse people.
...Continue to examine and organize data.
...Investigate opinions of all stakeholders.
...Make the decision in a timely manner, based on all the known variables.
...Share and communicate the resolutions with those same stakeholders.
...Filling the requirements and responsibilities of the job, regardless of my personal desires.
...Serve my constituents by supplying what they need and not what I want to give them!

Anything else?  What did I forget?  (I guess if somebody has to tell me, I might not really learn it!)

Looking forward to next year, I see continued growth, change and progress throughout myself, the building, the district and our community. When we spout the mantra "learning for all" we MUST include the Principal, too. This means me!

Thank you.

Tom McCracken

Monday, March 9, 2015

Build capacity & stamina mentally & physically

“Does your program really work?”

Program Attendee: “Does your program really work?”
Program Presenter: “Do you work?”

In a real life McFarland USA saga, the Lindbergh Cross Country Team (aka, the pack is back, the green and gold) built a Dynasty, one year at a time.
Photo Credits, Races and Participants, please TAG.

Growing up the eldest son of a cross country coach built a foundation competition, winning and championships. Hosting these championship teams year after year with team after team left tremendous memories, lessons and expectations about the “right “ way to lead, inspire and grow.  Capacity building formed the basis or quest of each parameter and together, the team with the best built capacities ended up higher.  Physical, mental, academic, as well as cardiovascular, skeletal and molecular capacities are among the obvious as well as latent.  In an effort to not be redundant, some anecdotal and historically relevant points will follow.

Of course the physical realm is the first and typical area of attention. Coaches all expect their players to perform up to their best.  It is the coach’s responsibility to maximize the player’s potential through training, preparation and research based workouts regiments.  Repeating the same workouts the same way learned will only produce the same results.  Aspiring champions should look to other champions, glean and then tune their workouts to reach new goals.  To do what all other teams do and expect different results is a troubling sign.  We attribute that quote to Einstein.

Physical capacity is more than just running more, or doing additional workouts but knowing the purpose, reason and motive behind these workouts often times inspires the participants to exert extra effort, work even harder and widen the gap between them and opposing teams.  At this point of understanding and comprehension the physical becomes the mental.  Sports and competition are so often labeled physical but often the margins are so close and training matched perfectly, a slight mental advantage is all that is necessary. Mental dominance ebbs from many factors but confidence, experience and trust in the leader builds the first step.  Hearing a talk about why these workouts are so important, then competing knowing others is NOT doing those same workouts and recognizing their shortcomings widens the gap even farther.  In cross country for instance, it is the 5th person to cross the finish line that often times determines the team status.  Having confidence throughout the team verses just the number 1 or 2 man demonstrates depth, the beginning of mental capacity and ability to envision or imagine or believe the event could occur.  Believing, hope, faith or persistence knowing there is a finish line, it will be crossed and we can do it faster than any others comes not just on workouts but internal belief in the outcome!

Physical and mental capacities are the obvious few, but underneath or behind them are nuanced variables that must be addressed for champions to reach a new level.  Draft Day and McFarland USA, starring Kevin Costner and Moneyball with Brad Pitt, all infer a back-story prevalent and so vital to the overall success.  In Draft Day, the star knew his goal and had to write it down to remind him of the vision.  In McFarland USA, it was the collective struggle physical that formed the team to unify them so the 7th man rose to 5th man status.  Moneyball reminded us that talent can be bought or grown and uncovered.

These “feel good” movies often time succeed at reminded us to persist but champions are more than just a good feeling.  Winners are not born but must be made, fermented, tested and fired in a crucible long before they stand at the winner’s circle and have their name announced.  The work, effort and practice that goes in before the contest helps determine the final results better than many other indicators but alone, they are not guarantees.

There are many more capacities to address when building champions.  Additionally, physiological, academic, experiential and a true desire and willingness to win all fall under the umbrella of a type mental capacity. These mental capacities are seldom addressed but imperative to successful competition.  Physical preparation and development of a tuned cardiovascular system, anaerobic, aerobic and cellular development and muscle memory form the building blocks but the mental understanding creates the will, drive and passion necessary to win.

Where else can we instill in our wards the big picture?  Do they know why we do something?  Do they know the purpose for our behaviors? Do we believe our efforts will work?  Are they convinced our efforts will work?

Personally, I was at a conference and the presenter was asked by a member of the audience, “Does your program work?”   He replied, “Ma’am, do you work?”  The implication was clear.  Nothing was going to make it happened automatically.  There are no guarantees. 

Capacities: Physical Physiological Psychological Mental Academic Cellular Molecular Anaerobic Aerobic Competition

Please Tag the runners and Photo Credits in the heading.