Saturday, December 19, 2009

Harry Truman would never do an end zone dance

On the morning of November 2, 1948, Harry Truman was awakened by secret service agent Jim Rowley to be informed that he had won the most dramatic upset election in our nation's history. Literally every poll, media outlet, political pundit, and even his own team were convinced that he couldn't win and yet, on this morning, it was clear that he had won the necessary electoral votes and garnered the popular vote by over 2 million votes. So, did Harry do a fist-pumping, chest-thumping jig around his Excelsior Springs retreat home?

Not exactly.

Here is how Jerome Walsh describes Truman's reaction to the news on that fateful day in a letter to a friend.

I am trying to give you ... a sense of the astonishment we all felt at the unbelievable coolness with which the President faced up to the whole situation, the manner in which he took the thing for granted, as if he had read the answer in a crystal ball two weeks before. At 6 a.m., there still was plenty of reason for Governor Dewey to refuse to concede. Conceivably Ohio might have switched in late returns. California or Illinois might have toppled and the President's lead been sharply reversed. ... Actually, Mr. Truman, at 6 A.M., hardly seemed interested in the matter. To him the election was won, had always been won since the day he began carrying his fight to the people, and his mind already turning to other aspects of his program. ... The serenity of the President ... suggested to all of us, I think, that his years of crisis in office have equipped him with a very large reserve of inner strength and discipline to draw upon.

We've all seen the picture above as Truman holds up the ill timed headline proclaiming Dewey the winner. What we can't do is equate that to a football end-zone dance in 2009. Truman had a confidence sense of himself coupled with authentic humility. His response was more like the seasoned veteran who simply hands the football back to the ref and heads to his teammates for some congratulations to the whole team. I like the phrase that is often used by veteran football players, "Act like you've been there before".

Leaders would do well to keep an even temperament in the midst of the highs and lows that inevitably come with any organization. It's imperative to keep one's eyes on the ultimate goal and work persistently toward that end expecting that the focused labor will produce the desired results. You might even consider a little back flip to celebrate when you finally get there, but only if you have a safe landing place ... and nobody is watching your foolishness.

This any many more insights to this remarkable leader can be found in David McCullough's excellent book Truman.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Inspired by Ruth, one of the Two Writing Teachers, here are my thoughts on this fine day.

Today I had space to think, and listen, and learn with colleagues for 7 whole hours.
Today I observed committed professionals doing the same ... and enjoying their good work.
Today I laughed at heartfelt texts from some friends.
Today I took a short walk in the middle of the day and marveled at the breathtaking beauty of a fall day.
Today I enjoyed a juicy navel orange and was able to avoid the guilt of a second muffin.
Today I marveled at the power of a small number of negative thoughts to bring productive work to a halt.
Today I gave a genuine compliment and realized I give too few of those.
Today I swallowed my monstrous pride and asked a rival for help and it was very wise.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Dip is coming

Leading a school has plenty of ups and downs. We have enjoyed some very positive developments the past few weeks. Our grade level collaboration time is maturing every week, our ELAC parents had an energetic and productive meeting last week, and our Instructional Leadership Team has expertly laid out our first SMART goal for the 2009-10 school year. So, why am I hesitant to pump my fists and jump for joy at these mounting victories? Well, that's because the dip is coming. Seth Godin described The Dip in his book by the same name. It's the natural trough that any organization will face on the way to becoming the best in their field. The key to coming out the other side is not very dramatic or heroic. It's simple perseverance. Malcolm Gladwell says we need 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Dave Ramsay says that we can develop unstoppable momentum through focused intensity, and persistence, reminding us of the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.

I was reminded of this when I came across some references to the research of Heyman and Dweck on the traits of the helpless learner versus the mastery learner. In terms of school leadership, we need to foster mastery learners, especially since we know that the Dip is inevitable. Our staff need to believe that their efforts will produce results, even though it may take more time than we are comfortable to admit.

Seth Godin summarizes his call to action in his Manifesto: Being average is for losers. The only way to not be a loser is to stop doing anything that is keeping you from achieving your primary goal, put your head down and outwork everyone else until you break through the dip to the other side.

photo credit:

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Losers Quit and Quitters Lose

This squirrel's odyssey over the wall is much like the many examples of success in Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers . Mr. Gladwell marshalls evidence to support his thesis that successful people reach their high levels of achievement owing more to their opportunities, combined with hard work and persistence then their native intelligence or genius. Persistence gets high billing in Gladwell's thinking. He noted a student who was videotaped working through a difficult math problem. She came up with the answer after 22 minutes of toil and sweat. Asian students were also cited as having more staying power to work through math problems when compared to their US counterparts.

So, how can we incorporate this idea into our schools and classrooms? Here are some thoughts and ideas:

  1. Teach kids about the power of the brain to grow and learn. Here's how Larry Ferlazzo did this with his high school students: Growing Brains
  2. Give less problems that are more demanding and require lengthy solutions.
  3. Gradually build students' stamina to work on challenging problems.
  4. Celebrate and recognize effort and persistence as often as achievement.
  5. Have teachers model this type of learning for students.
  6. Develop this type of thinking with adult learning and school problems.

When my son was playing soccer last year (a sport where he is not anywhere near the very best), I encouraged him to try his best and never give up. He took those words to heart and had a very positive year, drastically improving his skills and contributing handsomely by the end of the year. Winston Churchill's famous "Never Give up" speech is another good example of this critical ingredient for success. This last fellow also had something to say on the subject and I think he had his fair share of academic success.

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." - Albert Einstein

Photo credit:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quality Saves Lives

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital studied the relationship between hospitals' performance on Hospital Quality Alliance (HQA) indicators and mortality rates. They found that patients in the hospitals in the highest quartile of HQA indicators had a better chance of living. Here's the money quote from the authors.
"It is clear that the United States has embarked on a continuing and expanding initiative to monitor the quality of hospital care. Our findings underscore the potential of this effort for improving quality of care and changing patient outcomes."

The connection for school administrators is crystal clear. We must monitor the quality of instructional care. That is the most effective action that we can take to change the course of our students' lives. When we attend to the fundamentals of good instruction and productive school climate, we create the environment in which students can thrive. Doug Reeves described these as the antecedents of learning. We would do well to determine what are the antecedents of learning that we believe undergird powerful learning, make those expectations clear and explicit to all teachers, and monitor their implementation every day. Our students will gain the greatest benefit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Warning: You are a Pig

Bob Sutton has found that leaders have a big problem on their hands. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review he stated the following:
People who gain authority over others tend to become more self-centered and less mindful of what others need, do and say.
Photo Credit
He cites an experiment where a group of three students were given a project and one of the three was clearly put in a supervisory role. 30 minutes after the start of their work, a plate of 5 cookies was put in the room. The researchers figured no one would eat the 5th cookie, a clear broach of etiquette, but wondered what would be come of the 4th cookie. Well, you guessed it, the student in a position of power tended to take that 4th cookie and, to top it off, ate like pigs, chewing with their mouths open and spraying crumbs everywhere.

Those of us who have been trusted with leadership positions should take stock of our habits to make sure we are not slipping down that road to totalitarian brutishness - even slightly. Here are a few tips that will help us avoid the fate of the Obnoxious Boss.

  1. Seek for and take action on feedback from a variety of folks in the organization. Look for creative ways to get input. Do so formally and informally. Be careful of asking too many times through the same channels and don't let the sycophants rise to the surface. Find those people who are most critical and let them have their best shot. You don't need to take every criticism at face value, but take the time to reflect on their complaints to determine if their might be some truth in there.
  2. Take on the roles of your subordinates from time to time. It's a great idea to ride the bus one day, serve food in the cafeteria, help a small group next to the Instructional Assistant and answer phones at the front desk. You will see the impact of some of your decisions in a new light.
  3. Force yourself to listen for others ideas before inserting your own. Listening shows such a high level of respect. I once worked with a boss who seemed to start every sentence with "No, but". It was quite discouraging. You won't be able to implement every idea, but give them a fair hearing and serious consideration before throwing out your personal favorite.
  4. Be prepared to apologize when you recognize your own churlish behavior. You will make mistakes of all kinds. Be quick to take all the blame that you deserve. If you failed publicly, apologize publicly. If you failed privately, apologize privately. Having done both of these on several occasions I can tell you that 1) It aint easy and 2) you will gain more respect in the aftermath if done genuinely.
  5. Develop accountable relationships both within and without the organization. Find some colleagues who can serve as sounding boards for your ideas and processes. My wife is one of my favorite sources. She questions me quite freely and I rarely admit that she's right :) but once I think about it, she usually hits it right on the head. (Fortunately, she doesn't read this blog, so she won't know that I admit this.)
  6. Consciously send messages that you will listen to others and you are eager to serve them to improve their performance. Your words and actions will be scrutinized. Make sure that you highlight practices that have been generated by someone other than yourself. Don't be shy about performing menial tasks that will ease the load of your staff. You will build energy and commitment to the cause when you are a model of servant leadership and mutual support.
  7. Frequently recognize the contributions of others. You are not accomplishing anything of value on your own. Find out how each individual wants to be recognized and look for positive contributions to be placed in the spotlight. Some prefer a note in private, others prefer recognition of the group and not the individual. Some like tokens of appreciation, while others enjoy a note of thanks. Some would love it if you gave them time or attention. It's also a great idea to praise others behind their backs. Be creative and genuine in your praise.

In district negotiations recently, the representative from one of the bargaining groups told a story of how he was dancing with his wife one night when he noticed that the dance floor was quite crowded and he kept bumping into this one guy. He got a little frustrated and told the guy to go dance on the other side of the floor. It just so happens that he is a rather large man with a booming voice and when he gave that "suggestion", he looked around and the entire dance floor had cleared out and given him some room. He told that story to make the point that when the District makes demands employees will possibly take those demands beyond their intended impact because of the position of power that they hold. I think it's a beautiful illustration of the trappings of power. Our actions and words will be scrutinized and we need to carefully send messages that we are there to serve the needs of our staffs to deliver quality education to every student. So, don't be a pig and be sure to say please when you go for that second cookie.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Social Learning Starts Early

A recent study in Pediatrics journal gives strong support for parents to converse with their children early and often.
Parents should be encouraged not merely to provide language input to their children through reading or storytelling, but also to engage their children in two-sided conversations.

This is a great encouragement that underscores the value of language. This is a current trend in our instruction and, it only make sense, that children would benefit from having large doses of conversation at early stages of development as well. I mean, just look at this little guy. He is on his way to a degree at Harvard.

Super Baby, Intersting, Little Girl Telling What - Click here for more home videos

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Teaching Algebra in 1st Grade

The Lebanon school district in Oregon is revamping their math program and starting young students with algebraic thinking. Based on the principles of Cognitively Guided Instruction, these schools are focusing on the following key points.

Begin simple algebra and multiplication by first grade; have every child talk extensively about his or her mathematical reasoning; let students set up their own problems and equations and allow them to use big numbers if they choose; cover few topics in great depth; use lots of visual and hands-on modeling to make math ideas concrete.
There are several factors in this approach that coincide with Singapore Math including the use of visual models, covering fewer topics in great depth and introducing algebra concepts as early as 1st grade. Singapore actually introduces algebra in kindergarten though model drawing. Every problem needs to begin by placing the question mark (the unknown variable) in the right place. This allows students to easily transition to algebraic thinking.

One of the observations I had in the article is that students began to develop confidence in their math abilities and teachers were surprised at the capability of their students to grasp more complex problems. Notice the kind of attitude this fostered in one of the Lebanon 3rd graders:

Says 9-year-old Casey McEuen : "Sometimes the problems can be very hard and difficult, but we can figure it out."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Let's banish all worksheets

Recently I had the joyful opportunity of covering a 6th grade class to start the day. The lesson was harmless enough. We were to read the Science text together on the topic of Earth's history. It was a quick survey of archaeological science in terms of fossil dating and making predictions about the observations and artifacts included within our earth. After reading a fairly engaging section of text, the teacher asked that the students work on a worksheet. I'm thinking, what was the buy-in for participation in that worksheet? Probably Zero!! Now, to be honest, I didn't even read the worksheet, because the actual sub came in and I had to run, but I got to thinking that maybe there was a better way to solidify that learning. For example,

The teacher could have focused on this California Reading Standard:

2.8 Note instances of unsupported inferences, fallacious reasoning, persuasion,
and propaganda in text.

...because this text was ripe with inferences.

They could have written a simple 3 column chart with observation, inference, and analysis at the top and listed all the observations included as well as inferences made by the authors of the text. The final column could have included their analysis of the validity of the inference. Was it supported sufficiently or not?

They also could have focused on writing standards of expository composition, research report, or persuasive composition. Any short writing piece that would contribute to one of these genres would have been a more authentic task than filling out ANY worksheet. I'm confident it would have also been more engaging, especially if time was allotted for students of differing opinions to state their cases in small groups or before the class for everyone to judge their logic and thinking.

Basically, I don't see a lot of learning accomplished through filling out worksheets unless there is some opportunity for engagement, discussion, and academic discourse.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Change or Die - Most choose Die

At least, that's what Doug Reeves says in his book Leading Change in your School quoting Alan Deutschman from Change or Die: The three keys to change at work and in life.

Thus change is defeated by anxiety almost every time. In fact, he concludes the odds against change - even when change is literally a matter of life and death - are a staggering nine to one.

Sadly, I can see why this is true. I know that a good diet would include lots of fruits and vegetables, but that chocolate chip cookie is extremely hard to resist. This is good to keep in mind when seeking to foster change efforts both personally and professionally.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another voice for mastering those math facts NOW

The number one course of failure at Oregon State University, you ask: Algebra!!! Professor Argyres, who has taught the course for 10 years, has a theory about this:

He said he feels that this issue originates in elementary school.

"If you never had to memorize your times tables, how do you factor a number with a calculator?" Argyres said. "I see people fail Math 111 for arithmetic issues all the time."

When students never learned the basic information appropriately in high school, or earlier, it is significantly more difficult for them to succeed when they get to college algebra.

Throwing down the gauntlet at our feet. Well, I totally agree. We must send our kids to middle school with those math facts mastered, because if we don't where are they going to master them?

I say we start with a little school wide dose of the KIPP Academy math chants

Hit the road Jack

Hit the road Jack
Originally uploaded by StuartM1
Dennis Fermoyle had some insightful comments about student discipline in charter schools and the looming threat of transfer that they enjoy as the ultimate tool in their disciplinary tool bag.

The bottom line of the good discipline those schools have is a certain reality that has to be in the back of students', parents', and teachers' minds: If a student doesn't meet the behavioral and performance standards of the school, he or she will be gone. In Sweating the Small Stuff, a book about six successful inner-city schools, a teacher is quoted as telling a misbehaving student, "If you're going to act like that, you won't be able to stay here."

He raises a legitimate question regarding those students who are Left Behind through such practices. As I was reflecting on this concept of removing students, I thought about our own context since we are a school of choice in our district. We have the ability, in some cases, to deny or rescind students who are zone transfers. And believe me, we have some staff and parent groups who wish I would use that option more often then I do. In reality, I'm very reluctant to use that tool in elementary school (high school is a different animal altogether and I would be a lot less reluctant to pull the plug).

My thinking is that students who have poor attendance or horrible behavior in elementary school need redirection, reeducation, retraining, and reinforcement of the good behaviors that will allow the student to be successful in the future. We are doing a disservice to the student and our own learning community when we decide to jettison students ... and families when they haven't lived up to our standards. In fact, I like to think that our school is a great place for students who are struggling academically, socially, behaviorally or any other way. We have a staff who will not leave these students in their current state, but will work tirelessly to find the strategy or support that will enable every child to progress and overcome all obstacles. I think that is a sign of a much more impressive school than one that can raise test scores by sending the "troublesome element" elsewhere. My aim is that we would aim to be more of the former than the latter.

Removing Callouses

Callouses can be a real pain. They start off as a minor annoyance and can eventually become quite debilitating as they grow bigger and dig deeper into your foot. I recently had a callous that developed into quite a stinker. It stayed with me for over three years. That's right! Three years. I tried medicine halfheartedly and it made a little progress, but it kept coming back strong. I even went to the Dr. and had a little cut off. I was told I could cut the rest off myself. Have you ever tried to surgically remove a portion of your flesh from the bottom of your foot? Thanks Doc! So, I tried filing off dead skin a couple times a week. In the end, I learned to live with the irritant and just hobbled along with my little friend. Finally, I decided to carefully apply the over-the-counter remedy according to the directions for a full cycle. After about 7 days of faithfully applying medicine and changing the bandage, I ripped off the cover one morning, and to my surprise, the entire crusty little callous came right out of my foot - completely!

So, why would I share such disgusting personal details and what does that have to do with school and leadership? Quite a lot actually. Our schools are full of little callouses,that if left untended, can grow into big problems. As a leader, I must constantly be on the alert for those behaviors that hamper our mission of educating all children to the highest level. There are attitudes, behaviors, comments, practices, that may seem harmless and might be hidden from the view of most onlookers, but they will lead to cancerous growths that can eventually cripple our system. Sometimes, the leader may be the only one who notices - a classroom instructional practice that leaves a few kids in the dark, recess protocols that gives students too much freedom, or a disciplinary procedure that leaves students broken and battered with no chance for redemption or improvement. So, here's my plan on callous detection and removal at school.

1. Keep an eye out for callouses of all kinds in every place.
2. Apply a remedy for removal at the first opportunity.
3. Analyze the effectiveness of that remedy, and change it until the callous is gone.
4. Walk (and learn) with one less obstacle in your way.

Happy Callous Hunting!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Following Lincoln's Lead

There is much to be learned from the life and work of our 16th president. Not without reason is he revered for his leadership during the bloodiest crisis in our nation's history. Dorothy Kearns Goodwin has written an insightful book (Team of Rivals) on Lincoln's political genius, in particular, as he worked with his cabinet during his presidency. Here are some lessons for leaders of any organization to take from this remarkable man.


Learn from loss, failure, and mistakes while keeping an optimistic outlook.

Lincoln had many personal losses including the death of his mom when he was 9, the death of his sister when he was 18, and various political defeats as he attempted to make a name for himself. Also, early on in his presidency, the Union army was embarrassed at the battle of Bull Run. All of these defeats proved to be learning experiences as opposed to devastating losses. Lincoln learned from failure and rarely made the same mistake twice. He was able to raise the Phoenix from the ashes on more than one occasion as he never lost his hope and optimism for a successful conclusion to the story.

Allow humor, laughter, and enjoyment to be a part of your organization

Edward Stanton, Lincoln's War Secretary was quite a serious fellow. He often got annoyed that Lincoln would do such frivolous things such as read contemporary humorists to entertain the crowds while awaiting news on the telegram for his re-election bid of 1864. Lincoln, on the other hand, often used humor to build relationships, relieve tension, and drive home a point. Lincoln proved that one can do very serious work while still enjoying life, laughter, and merriment to the fullest. Indeed, his laughter and storytelling were qualities that endeared him to the hearts of many.

Read deeply and widely from contemporary and historic sources.

Lincolns' formal education added up to less than a year of school, however his Personal Learning Network consisted of many of the classics of literature including The Bible and Shakespeare as well as humorists of all stripes. He had a depth and breadth of literature knowledge that consistently filled his fertile mind with wisdom, anecdotes, and lofty ideas. Being immersed in the thoughts of great men helped him craft a course for his generation in their great struggles.

Risk friendship and relationship among those you are leading.

At Lincolns' deathbed, Kearns Goodwin notes that there was not a man in the room that did not love Lincoln. He gained this affection and loyalty by the force of his personality. Words like kindness, goodness, and decency are used constantly by those who knew him well. Although he had to remove cabinet members and generals from their positions, in almost every case the affected member came to understand his decision and lost no respect for the man who had just demoted or removed him from a notable position. Lincoln built lasting and enduring friendships with his colleagues and subordinates and his motives were never in question, even by his adversaries.

Know the status of your colleagues and subordinates first hand.

Lincoln could have written the book on Management by Walking Around. He constantly sought ways to visit the front and speak directly with his generals and shake hands with the troops waging the battle. He often did this facing very real dangers and risks, which caused him to gain greater esteem in the eyes of the Union army. He was also consistently available to White House visitors (and criticized for it) giving his attention and time to all who came calling.

Think deeply and seek a multitude of council, then act decisively.

Lincoln was often criticized for moving too slowly on the slavery issue. His original intent for the war was solely to save the Union. This brought barbs from the likes of Frederick Douglas, who felt him wholly uncommitted to the cause of freeing the slaves. However, when he finally came to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, his resolve on this issue never wavered. Once he had decided the time was right to act, he held onto a position with an iron will and determination against all attacks.

Act humbly by taking no personal affront when attacked and keeping your focus on the greater good.

Lincoln's greatest quality, in my opinion was his humility. He never held a grudge or did a vindictive act against political or military enemies. If a person was going to be helpful to the cause, he would give space for that person to contribute to the effort. He followed this same path on his view of reconstruction. He did not seek a pound of flesh from the South, but rather a commitment to support the Union. He then sent the Confederate army back to their homes. Lincoln told a great story showing how much he valued humility. One of the many office seekers came to the White House seeking a prominent post. Lincoln denied his request, but he persisted in seeking ever lower ranking jobs until finally he concluded by asking if he might be given a pair of trousers. Lincoln delighted in such frank and humble folks and embodied that same humility throughout his life.

Reading this account of Lincoln's tactics and thinking were breathtaking. His keen intellect and sharp reasoning were matched by his genuine and authentic love of people. He remains the model for all Presidents to emulate and indeed any leader would benefit from applying his habits and characteristics to his/her organization.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Creativity and the Fundamentals

One of the criticisms I've come across about accountability measures based on standardized tests goes something like this: If we assess students based on standardized tests, teaches will "teach to the test", which when translated, means drill and kill, followed by rote memorization and robotic hypnosis and all creativity is thrown out the window. Here's another one of those false dichotomies that is propagated throughout the educational kingdom.

When I think of creativity and flair on the basketball court, one of the first players that comes to mind is Pete Maravich. He was one of the most creative and flamboyant players of his day and age. No one would accuse him of being boring or stale in his approach to the game. You can check out some of his wizadry here:

However, the funny thing is, when reading his biography, I noted that his dad, a high school and college basketball coach, instilled in Pete the necessity of learning and practicing the fundamentals until they were second nature. He performed session after session of ball handling drills that helped him master the basics. Indeed he was fanatical about practice, repetition, and drill. The end result is that he was able to create and ad-lib because he had mastered the fundamentals of the game.

Bringing this back to education, I value students who can think critically and reason with complexity and synthesize information in order to create, and produce new products, but this can only be accomplished by students who are masters of the fundamentals of language, math, and subject matter content. I think the debate would be furthered by a "both/and" mentality as opposed to an "either/or" mentality.

Finally, I'm thinking of classrooms with teachers who get the most remarkable results on standardized tests and those classrooms are lively places with rich interaction and student enjoyment. It's just that those teachers are also attuned to the building blocks of academic success and don't allow their students to miss out on these critical components of learning. Our standardized measures are not the ends that we seek, but I contend that they are a requisite means toward those ends and we are justified in pursuing those goals, measuring them, and expecting all students to achieve them.

Monday, February 16, 2009

21st Century Skills of Abraham Lincoln

I'm reading Dorothy Kearns Goodwin's outstanding book, Team of Rivals and I was struck how Lincoln had a handle on so many 21st Century Learning Skills. How did he do that without an iPhone and a virtual social network?

Here is a list from The Partnership for 21st Century Skills , so let's see how Abe measures up.
Accountability and Adaptability—Exercising personal responsibility and flexibility in personal, workplace, and community contexts; setting and meeting high standards and goals for one's self and others; tolerating ambiguity
It seems that everyone who observed Lincoln, from his time as a lawyer on the circuit, to his early political endeavors, right up to the Presidency, came away with similar reactions. He was a man of high character, immense skill, and shrewd maneuvering. In terms of ambiguity, his handling of the slavery/union issue on the verge of the 1860 election is a classic example of taking a nuanced approach to leadership, somehow bringing a coalition of Northern Republicans and Democrats to his side without overwhelming the border states who were constantly on the brink of secession.
Communication Skills—Understanding, managing, and creating effective oral, written, and multimedia communication in a variety of forms and contexts
I hear Abe was a pretty good public speaker. Some of you might have heard of the Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address or maybe the debates with Stephen Douglas. Now, granted he did not use an LCD projector to throw up some PowerPoint, but he gets high marks for hitting that word effective on the rubric, no matter what the medium. His folksy methods belied his careful research and deep insights. I think it's the greatest compliment of a speaker that he is able to make the complex simple and Lincoln did so with good humor and clear thinking.
Creativity and Intellectual Curiosity—Developing, implementing, and communicating new ideas to others; staying open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives
Lincoln was faced with the challenge of preserving the union while the specter of slavery was being debated on many fronts. Somehow, he was able to craft a direction that was forward thinking, yet continuously revised as events changed. He was careful to integrate the intent of the Founding Fathers within the political and social upheaval of his day.
Critical Thinking and Systems Thinking—Exercising sound reasoning in understanding and making complex choices; understanding the interconnections among systems
At the outset of conflict, the South was sending overtures to England for support. Secretary of State Seward was incensed and drafted a threatening and menacing letter to Great Britain to cease and desist. Lincoln was able to see the repercussions of such a harsh tone and softened the language of the letter, then encouraged the ambassador to make sure it was read to no one, but only shared the general ideas with the English. The result was that England remained neutral, and the French followed suit, avoiding an early imbalance of power that would have weakened the North's chances for success.
Information and Media Literacy Skills—Analyzing, accessing, managing, integrating, evaluating, and creating information in a variety of forms and media
Lincoln was able to take in the information from various fronts and sources, evaluate those items that merited the highest priority and craft a coherent policy, then getting that information out to the people in a timely fashion. Now, granted he relied on horse drawn couriers (as the telegraph lines around Washington D.C. were sabotaged by the South), but he used the technology of his day with great effect. The substance of his message won the hearts and minds of his constituents.
Interpersonal and Collaborative Skills—Demonstrating teamwork and leadership; adapting to varied roles and responsibilities; working productively with others; exercising empathy; respecting diverse perspectives
Off the charts. The whole premise of this books is that Lincoln wisely sought to include his presidential rivals on his team so that the best and brightest were part of the cabinet. The manner in which he wooed these men, then skillfully kept everyone placated while melding diverse opinions was what made him truly remarkable. His greatest quality was his magnanimity and humility. He never took offense, even though he was surrounded by some ultra ambitious politicians who felt they were more worthy of the office that he was. You never heard him say something like, "I won, so you need to do what I say".
Problem Identification, Formulation, and Solution—Ability to frame, analyze, and solve problems
Abe faced problems unlike any of us have ever seen. No sooner had he entered the White House, but he was faced with the decision to fortify Form Sumter in South Carolina or allow the Confederates to take it over. He finally decided to send in fortifications, delicately balancing the concerns of the border states, who were sitting on the fence of secession.
Self-Direction—Monitoring one's own understanding and learning needs; locating appropriate resources; transferring learning from one domain to another
Lincolns was self taught, with a formal education that didn't amount to more than a year of school and he never set foot in a college or university. However he was an avid reader who constantly sought to acquire books to feed his fertile mind. His lack of formal support probably spurred him on to devour learning any way he could get it. I think he had one of those Personal Learning Networks (PLN) all these tweeters are talking about.

Social Responsibility—Acting responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind; demonstrating ethical behavior in personal, workplace, and community contexts
I'm sure there are not many 21st century politicians who can lay claim to this skill. Mr. Lincoln was dedicated to the preservation of the Union and felt that his generation was given a sacred task of furthering the initial intentions of the Founding Fathers by doing whatever was necessary to prove that this grand experiment in democracy would not fail.

Now, don't get me wrong. I want our students to be skillful in the use of 21st century technology. I want them to learn to use social networking and digital story telling to its greatest effect, however I still see way too many horrendous PowerPoint slide decks that teachers think is cutting edge, when it's just full of shabby research and shallow thinking. The habits of mind that Mr. Lincoln had were obviously pretty good for both the 19th and 21st century and they will serve as excellent standards for our little learners of today.

Monday, February 09, 2009


Infrequent posting can only be explained by one thing. This year has been tough. We have been implementing a new math program (Singapore), new processes (Standards-based planning), and trying to replace our benchmark assessment system because of rising costs. There have definitely been many more frustrations than successes thus far.

The thing that pains me most is the sense that some of our staff are losing their confidence in our direction. However, a few things have given me encouragement as of late. We have finally fond a replacement (even if it may be temporary) for our benchmark assessment system and we have come to some agreement about our instructional focus for the remainder of the year.

Furthermore, I have a greater sense of urgency to support teachers as they intervene with all of our borderline and below students for the remainder of the year. I think can truly make huge strides as we tailor our instruction and interventions to each individual student.

I was reminded of this by a post from Dan Meyer recently where he shared his enjoyment playing some Guitar Hero and how his enjoyment was increased when the difficulty increased and the success rate dropped.

I don't think the happiest students in my class, the happiest teachers at my school, are the most successful. I suppose it goes without saying that failure and satisfaction go hand-in-hand, to a certain extent.

So, I should content myself to stop looking for the smooth and easy route and realize that these bumpy roads are the ones that we indeed ought to be traveling. We just need to keep falling forward and all will be well.