Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Learning From the Wisdom of Others

            I am writing this post as I fly from Denver to Birmingham and my next opportunity to work with colleagues. Denver was the site of Colloquy 2013, which is the event that HMH organizes for the team that does work for their Leadership and Learning Center. It was a great opportunity to connect with fellow educators who traverse the United States facilitating the various topics that the Center is known for (check for more information). It was an equally great opportunity to connect with the sales team and the staff that work in the Denver office and some of the leaders from the Boston office. I was open to learning when I arrived and I was not disappointed. On the contrary, I was mentally exhausted from the three days.

            I am fascinated by why people choose the type of work they do and explored that with many of the people identified above. From key educators whose books I have read and that have helped shaped my views, to colleagues still practicing at their day jobs while occasionally facilitating the work of others, through the thought leaders at the organizational level, to the sales and support team who create the opportunities for all of the professional development associates, one thing ran through as a common thread – passion for the work they do. This caused me to explore my own reasons for my work and reflect upon the changes I’ve experienced as an educator and I’ll be darned if I didn’t get to the same conclusion – passion for the work I do.

            It was a real treat to be asked to give an opening keynote on the final day (and to be honest, a little intimidating with an audience full of folks who do the same work I do and many for a longer time) and I decided to speak about passion and emotion. In my mind the former is key to making change, inspiring others, and loving what you do. I spoke of passion being attached to beliefs and emotion being attached to feelings. To be clear, I am an emotional guy when it comes to family. I shed a lot of tears when I left the middle school after eleven years. I still get weepy when I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every Christmas. I just think that emotion in my work life skews the rational decisions I often need to make. It decreases the time between a stimulus presented and my response.

            I also spoke to the group about feeling like part of something bigger when I work with them. It’s a highly collaborative group that supports each other tremendously when any of us are out working with educators. That’s an important factor in ensuring the best possible results. The work is also more transformational than transactional as we try to change the outcomes for students and do so in a long term, meaningful fashion.

            Ultimately, my flight to Birmingham has been filled with numerous positive recollections, scribbling notes to remind me of commitments I made to send information, and e-mailing appreciations to those who taught me over the three days. John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”  I clearly spent time in the company of many leaders and am better for it. Thanks!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Something to Work On...

“Be the change you want to see in others.”

            I have often used this Gandhi quote in presentations as it has a powerful message behind it. I have also tried to behave in accordance with the sentiments of the quote. But lately I’ve found myself lagging in this department and sitting back expecting others to change or at the very least, realize they should.

            It all came to a head last week as I headed to town to complete some errands. It was a foul weather day with winds and a lot of rain and I decided to break from the driving around to grab a cup of coffee. As I awaited the steaming brew that would bring some brief respite from the cold I saw an older gentleman in a wheelchair, who was struggling to get his rain gear on over his body and the chair. Those immediately near him ignored his repeated efforts and grunts and, I must confess, I did as well, as I made my way to a table. He continued to struggle and I kicked myself for not responding sooner. I approached him and asked if he could use some assistance. He smiled and said yes and then explained what I could do to help. It took less than thirty seconds and he zipped out into the rain while I returned to my seat with many sets of eyes on me.

            I resumed my list of tasks but could not get my mind off of what had just occurred and why I had initially chosen to ignore a fellow human being who needed minimal assistance. I pride myself on being a connector and genuinely enjoy meeting people. I didn’t need convenient excuses; I needed to get back to what I believe in. As I was pondering the recent events while walking through a busy mall, I saw a woman struggling with numerous boxes, headed for the exit. She managed to get the door open and headed to her vehicle, which was parked next to mine. I saw her try to balance the load while getting her car trunk open and asked if I could help. She smiled and said thanks, but she was fine. She followed up with letting me know that the boxes were empty and how much she appreciated that chivalry was not dead. I wished her a good afternoon and continued on my way with a renewed sense about the importance of reaching out.

            I share these two situations not to highlight my good deeds (in fact, I have gotten away from doing these simple things) but as a reminder to myself of the importance of modelling the behavior. I received three great gifts that day – two wonderful smiles of appreciation, and one excellent lesson about the power of one. I didn’t want to focus on what others were or were not doing, I just wanted to do. In the doing, I found the being. And that’s the greatest gift we can share.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year? What New Year?

             I have a confession to make. I’m not a big fan of the annual celebrations on New Year’s Eve. I prefer to spend the time with family or, at most, a few close friends. I’ve also never engaged in the notion of setting resolutions that might guide my behavior from January 1st forward. If changes need to happen, it’s probably more time sensitive than to be waiting for an artificial date with little meaning.

            As I thought more about the celebrations and resolution-making this year, I also realized my other challenge with the whole thing – it’s the time of year! Since I was five I’ve been going to school and that has defined my year. Whenever I heard conversation about the year it was always that September-to-September cycle in my mind and never the calendar year. My New Year’s Eve also doubled as Labor Day for most other folks and my resolutions were always focused on my upcoming students, staff, and schools

            To this day when I get asked to reflect on the year, my first thoughts go to the ten months that define a school year. It’s the cycle I’m most familiar with. It also keeps me focused on affecting change where there might actually be some impact as opposed to the personal wringing of hands and feelings of inadequacy that drive many resolutions espoused on the 31st

            When the current school year concludes I’ll be gathering with educators in various venues and we’ll reflect on the year that was. We’ll have conversations supported by information they have gathered over the year and we’ll make plans that will positively impact lives going forward. And to top it off, we’ll then have some days of rest in the glorious summer sun. Now that’s a resolution I CAN commit to!