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.

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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

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