Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Boy Do We Need Argument

My wife and I recently had the wonderful opportunity of traveling to Europe - without the kids - for an amazing vacation.  Besides, the plethora of historical landmarks and unique cultures we encountered, there was one more discovery we made that was earth shattering.  Watching the BBC in London we came across a story on Palestine that did something rarely - if ever - seen on US television.  It was a story that understood that the issue had two sides!  Imagine that!  The story was told of Palestinian families who have suffered from the actions of Jewish settlers and the Israeli leadership.  However, the show fully acknowledged that these Jewish settlers had a compelling point of view and logic for their own actions.  What was most revelatory about this show was it's clear objectivity and desire to simply understand the various points of view and stories that were represented in this conflict.

One of the elements of Common Core Standards that I heartily embrace is the emphasis on argument, including the ability to marshal evidence in support of a position, and especially the ability to understand counterarguments and address those facts and opinions clearly and explicitly.  Unfortunately, our children have some huge barriers to overcome, namely adults who can't do this AT ALL.  We are a biased and unthinking lot at times, led by talking heads who scream at one another and listen not one iota.  Chris Lehmann underscores one clear example of how we have an aversion to healthy debate and differences of opinion.  So, educators, embrace this opportunity to train a new generation of clear thinkers and reasoned debaters.  The opportunity to improve our community life is right before our eyes if we truly embrace the spirit of argument.  Our students will benefit from learning to carefully consider all sides of an issue and make determination based on the facts and a clear sense of logic and reasoning.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Seeking Bone Marrow Match

One of my friends and colleagues at Salt Creek has a brother who is facing chemotherapy and will need a bone marrow transplant.  If you are in the San Diego Area you can help by joining the Registry on the following date:

Bone Marrow Registry Drive
Hosted by City of Hope at San Diego City College
Drive Location: Gorton Quad, 1313 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA 92101
Drive Date: Oct 18, 2012 / Drive Time: 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why do so many kids hate school?

Dan Willingham has his perspective to this question from the cognitive psychologist point of view.   This guy has a stronger opinion still summed up by, School is Prison.  While reading the excellent biography of Gino Bartali, Road to Valor, I am getting acquainted with this World Champion Cyclist  and World War II hero.  What struck me at the outset of his life was how little an impact school had on him.  He showed no interest in school and even lobbied his parents to let him finish early so he could move on to other pursuits like working at a bike shop and racing competitively. 

This makes me wonder how schools should change to become attractive to children like Gino, who have passionate interests that don't necessary align themselves to our curriculum or structure.  Angela Maiers says we should have passion centered schools and I agree.  To the degree that we connect with the passions of our students, we will also be able to connect them to the amazing world of science and languages and math and history that inform their passions and, I'm confident, we will see an increase in student engagement and learning and maybe even be able to change a trend that is at least as old as Shakespeare (and I'm confident much older).

Love goes toward love, as schoolboys from their books; But love from love, toward school with heavy looks. 

- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Keys to Consultative Leadership

Photo Credit: Nick Stenning

George Washington was an extremely inexperienced leader at the start of the American Revolution, especially when compared to his British counterparts.  This was underscored by some poor decisions at the outset that were costly and foolhardy. As the war progressed he learned to trust his instincts and seek and incorporate the wisdom of his generals.  Immediately after defeating the British in the daring Battle of Trenton, he convened his generals to help determine the next course of action. This war council led to the evasive and offensive action that led to the Battle of Princeton.  Washington learned to inquire from his field leaders and decide on a course of action that was based on this more informed perspective.  Leaders who are wise enough to get multiple perspectives from those who are closest to the action will be leaders who make stronger decisions and build cohesiveness and trust among their leadership team. Here are three principles of consultative leadership that we can glean from His Excellency George Washington

1. Be clear about the type of decision that is made.  General Washington called in his Generals with the express purpose of getting their input for the next course of action in the war.  Although he was going to make the final decision his willingness to ask opinions demonstrated that he valued the Generals.  They understood that Washington needed their perspective, but they also understood that he had the responsibility for making the final declaration on next steps.

2. Listen.  OK, this seems easier than it looks.  When consulting opinions, you will set back the entire process if you simply express your brilliant plan and seek the approval of the team.  You have got to shut up and hear what others are thinking and experiencing.  The only value of a team is if each member actually gets to express their opinion and contribute to the final solution.  You will find that there are ideas and angles that you never have, nor never would have considered if these alternative perspectives were not heard.

3. Be decisive.  After listening, questioning, brainstorming, predicting, and summarizing it's time for the leader to make the decision.  Consultation is not consensus.  In the end, your judgment as a leader has got you to where you are and you need to trust your instinct - along with the wealth of information that has been presented to SELECT the one course that your organization will take.  If Washington can be criticized in the early phases of the war it would be for his indecision.  In fact, in the Battle of Brooklyn, when the Continental Army was routed, he left a decision up to one of his Generals (Nathaniel Greene) despite his instincts telling him to go another way.  The outcome was disastrous and complete.  As the war progressed, he learned to trust his instinct and intuition and led the troops to decisive action and ultimate victory.

What has been your experience with Consultative Leadership?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Writing Inspires

"The pen is mightier than the sword" - Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Photo Credit: Joel Montes

Writing inspires. Never was this more true than during the American Revolution. In Ron Chernow's excellent book Washington: A Life, the Continental Army endured several early losses and was on the brink of annihilation. Thomas Payne, of Common Sense fame, came up with a pamphlet called the American Crisis praising this young and inexperienced collection of farmers, carpenters, cobblers, and the like who were taking on the formidable Brirish army. General Washington made sure that these essays were read to all of his troops as they prepared to avoid and outsmart their foe.  Here is the opening line:
These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
No doubt that this emotional boost was one factor in the slowly turning tide that helped this misfit band overcome bleak and dark days at the start of the conflict. This is a great lesson to teach our students and to make sure they write with specific audiences at all times. Just like this young man found when his homage to his cat fell on receptive minds.