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Learning little-by-little to love our only world on #earthday2017

April 24, 2017


I am not big into resolutions, although I have a goal to challenge myself to get out of my “comfort zone.”
As I move into summer 2017, I want to promise myself this: appreciate the Earth’s grandeur as Mary Oliver expresses in her poem, Starfish.
while I lay on the rocks, reaching into the darkness, learning little by little to love our only world.
We live on a precious planet that while resilient in some respects is constantly being assaulted by our reckless habits.   If you want to see the implications of our uncontrolled growth and demand for more and more things, read this piece in yesterday’s New York Times, Pollution Rising, Chinese Fear for Soil and Food.  If we continue to show little respect or love for our planet, where will we be in the near future?  A world without starfish?
Here is Mary Oliver’s wonderful poem for inspiration to love our planet.  It comes from her book of poetry, Dream Work.
In the sea rocks,
in the stone pockets
under the tide’s lip,
in water dense as blindness
they slid
like sponges,
like too many thumbs.
I knew this, and what I wanted
was to draw my hands back
from the water – what I wanted
was to be willing
to be afraid.
But I stayed there,
I crouched on the stone wall
while the sea poured its harsh song
through the sluices,
while I waited for the gritty lightning
of their touch, while I stared
down through the tide’s leaving
where sometimes I could see them –
their stubborn flesh
lounging on my knuckles.
What good does it do
to lie all day in the sun
loving what is easy?
It never grew easy,
but at last I grew peaceful:
all summer
my fear diminished
as they bloomed through the water
like flowers, like flecks
of an uncertain dream,
while I lay on the rocks, reaching
into the darkness, learning
little by little to love
our only world.
~ by Mary Oliver ~
Hope you have a wonderful day!
Bob Ryshke

Blue Ocean or Red Ocean strategy, which leads to lasting innovation?

April 20, 2017

Watch this short video from Harvard Business Review to see an answer to this question!  It reveals a way to think about strategy within the context of sustainable innovation in an organization.  How is this relevant to schools given that most of us “look the same” or do the same thing?  Thoughts?

Learning to #apologize, the art of healing!

April 4, 2017

In K-12 schools, communities composed of intricate webs of student-student, adult-student, and adult-adult social interactions, we tend to expend minimal energy designing or adopting programs that help students and adults navigate complex social interactions.  When relationship problems do arise, we handle them in the moment usually with more reactive rather than proactive focus.  Of course, some schools bring in social-emotional curriculum to help students learn to thrive in their school community.  This is certainly an important first step.

But in the end, do we hold ourselves accountable for defining the indicators and outcomes we want to achieve through our efforts?  Do we place as much value on a student’s social-emotional growth as we do on their academic growth?  Consider this, we eagerly assess a student on a scale of A-F or 100-0, hopefully not zero, with regard to their academic growth.  Academic achievement or grading conversations consume considerable time and energy in a teacher’s, student’s or parent’s school experience.  However, we spend little quality time discussing a student’s social-emotional growth, and we certainly don’t “grade it.”  You’ve heard the saying, “what we assess is what we value!”

In this post, I’m suggesting schools spend time thinking about, designing, and implementing programs, structures, and conversations centered on the social-emotional growth of students, and make use of research in neuroscience which confirms that social-emotional learning supports overall cognitive growth.

Healthy social-emotional development in young children correlates with healthy cognitive development and therefore creates a strong foundation for future school achievement. (1)

Neuroscientists are conducting research on different aspects of how a person navigates interpersonal relationships.  The research is providing a window into how the decisions we make in relationships impact our overall emotional health and happiness.  For example, Sabrina Strang and colleagues published a 2014 study, Neural Correlates of Receiving an Apology and Active Forgiveness, which illustrated that the act of apologizing and forgiving activate neural pathways that lead to the development of a stronger empathy response.  The authors write:

Activation in a network of frontal, temporal and parietal regions is often found in empathy processes. Empathy includes emotional as well as cognitive processes. By simulating the emotional experience of others we can intuitively understand what the other person feels.

In schools, do we model for students the power of an apology?  Do we design learning environments where students are taught how to work through complex interpersonal relationships?  Do we encourage them to process their feelings, apologize when they hurt others, and forgive those who violate boundaries?  As adults, do we model these healing behaviors for students as we navigate public adult-adult relationships?  My experiences in a variety of schools has been that these programs or experiences are hit-and-miss, and generally only happen when a situation becomes a crisis.

On March 30, 2017, Krista Tippett published her On Being interview with Layli Long Soldier, “a writer, a mother, a citizen of the U.S. and of the Oglala Lakota Nation.”  She is the author of the book of poetry, Whereas.  You can read an excerpt on the Poetry Foundation website (click here).  In the interview, Long Soldier reflects on the impact of personal and national apologies on her psyche or our national psyche.  She tells a power story about her father’s apology to her about not being there in her formative years.

And when I was in my 20s, he came to visit one time and unexpectedly, he was sitting at breakfast with me and apologized for not being there. And I think there was something in the way he said it. He cried when he said it. And I could feel it, I could physically feel that he meant it. And really — and I can say this to this day — in that moment, all of it was gone. Like, all that stuff I’d been carrying around — it was gone. It was lifted. And I feel, in many ways, we started new from that point on. I really have not had the need to go back and rehash things with him and so on. We started from that place forward. We’ve known each other in a different way.

She goes on to comment that:

I think there has to be a kind of trust building in order for any kind of apology to be effective, whether it’s interpersonal or at a national level.

In her interview, she references the United States congressional resolution of apology to Native Americans in 2009, which was enacted as part of the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act.  The apology was not public, and was buried deep in the document (click here).  Layli Long Soldier heard about the apology months after it was official, but never through any public forum.  I had not heard of the apology because it was never part of our national dialogue.  Former President Obama’s failed to understand how making this public was instrumental to the healing process.  Here is a quote from the apology (click here for more details):

To acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the federal government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.

An apology is only meaningful if it comes from the heart.  The words, expressions, and sentiments have to resonate with those who are on the receiving end of the apology.  If you listen to Layli Long Soldier’s interview, then it’s clear the US apology to Native Americans did not come from the collective heart of the American people.  It was a legally crafted set of words, buried deep within another document, that we were afraid to share.  I would conclude that our national psyche, our social-emotional health, was still unapologetic for all the hurt we caused Native Americans.  A public apology by then President Obama, in the form of a ceremony at a sacred Native American site, would have been a more meaningful resolution to the long history of pain we caused.

In our schools, we need to teach students how to give and accept apologies as a way to heal.  Healing is a process and an art.  It requires a strong inner voice and a moral grounding that allows for an expression of vulnerability.  Being vulnerable is a quality that leads to establishing trusting relationships.

(1) Ready 4 K, The Importance of Social and  Emotional Development in Young Children, Megan Waltz (click here)

Adopt five simple strategies to improve your #leadership skills

April 2, 2017
Feedback loop.Tjan_Page_2

Alignment: Adapted from Tjan’s model


Finished reading a piece by Anthony Tjan (@anthonytjan) in Harvard Business Review, 5 Ways to Become More Self-Aware, written in February 2015.  He begins the article with the line:

You can’t be a good leader without self-awareness.
While he doesn’t actually reference the work of Richard Boyatzis, Resonant Leadership, or the work of Daniel Goldman on the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership, his five ways of becoming more self-aware align well with these authors’ ideas that effective leadership links directly to one’s emotional and psychological health.
Tjan’s five ways for becoming more self-aware are:
  • Meditate
  • Write down your plans and priorities
  • Take psychometric tests
  • Ask trusted friends
  • Get regular feedback at work


His explanation for each of the five ways is short, interesting, and compelling.  Seems simple enough to design a way to function at work that includes each of Tjan’s suggestions.

I love his four questions that he asks himself when he meditates:
  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What am I doing that is working?
  • What am I doing that is slowing me down?
  • What can I do to change?


Of course, asking the questions is one thing, being honest with myself as I reflect on each question is the hard task, but the important one to get right.  The learning or insight comes from being open and honest about each question.

In my own work, I too meditate at different times throughout the day, using only a few minutes to quiet myself, focus on my breathing, and sit in silence as a way to re-center. I find it extremely helpful to take these mindful pauses.
Under the suggestion of writing down plans and priorities, I thought he idea of mimicking Ben Franklin’s idea of the balance sheet was quite clever.  Being conscious of the things we do well or our perceived weakness and assessing progress in both areas strikes me to be an important self-reflective exercise.
Tjan writes:
We have to rely on the feedback of our peers, friends, and mentors.
How often do we talk about feedback, but rarely do we get this conversation right?  If we are honest with ourselves, feedback can be challenging to hear, process, and make useful.  It requires work.  As Tjan suggests, there is no more important work to be done if you want to be an effective leader.  Leaders are learners, who learn best when they engage others in sharing information about how things are going.  His simple two-step protocol is: (1) have a process for collecting feedback; and (2) effectively manage it.  I think this implies that as the receiver of feedback, I need to take it seriously and it should be ongoing work.
Tjan concludes with the statement:
Building self-awareness is a life-long effort.
So it is.  Let’s begin now if we want to get the most out of our leadership potential.

Build #trust to manage resistance

March 19, 2017

One of the salient needs of all human beings is to be in the company of other people.  But it’s more than merely being in the presence of others.  We crave to be in trusting relationships in which our needs and desires are recognized and appreciated.  I think we crave this almost as much as we crave food and shelter.  So when we are faced with resistance at work, in our families or with our friends, we should consider whether we have put enough energy into nurturing trusting relationships. Each of us carries that responsibility.  It’s a two-way street.   Here are some thoughts about what we can do to promote trust with others:

  1. Lead by example
  2. Open communication
  3. Empathize with others and get to know them
  4. Try not to place blame
  5. Be willing to confront trust issues
  6. Be willing to grant the benefit of the doubt
  7. Practice deep listening
  8. Suspend judgment and quiet the critical mind

There are probably other things you could add to this list.  Nevertheless, the most important one would be to lead by example.  If we believe that building trust in a community diminishes resistance, then it is our responsibility to model the characteristics of a trusting person.  As a leader, if we want to build trust on our team then we have to model all the qualities of someone who is trustworthy.  The time has come to look in the mirror and learn.

Importance of Trust in Building Community

March 2, 2017

Evie Blad wrote a article in this week’s Education Week entitled, When School doesn’t seem fair, Students may suffer lasting effects.  Her opening sentence…

When students believe schools are unfair places, their loss of trust can lead to a lack of engagement that affects them for years, researchers say.

…explains the challenge we face and the reason why schools, administrators and faculty, have to work diligently to build and maintain a trusting environment for their students.  How does a trusting school culture get built?  I would suggest it first starts with building trusting relationships among  with the faculty.  My experience has led me to believe that when faculty feel supported and respected by the administration that serves them, then it is very likely that classrooms will exhibit those same qualities.  When faculty believe their administration has their best interests at heart and adult actions align to the beliefs and values, there is likely to be a trusting school culture and healthy classroom cultures.

In her book, Trust Matters, Megan Tschannen-Moran writes,

Trust binds leaders to followers.  Without that bond, a manager can enforce minimum compliance with contract specfications and job descriptions, but that will not lead a team of teachers to greatness.  As “lubricant,” trust greases the machinery of an organization. (Page 16)

For me, those word sum up the importance of establishing a trust adult culture in schools, which then creates an atmosphere for trust and fairness in the classroom.  Trust is not something that happens without a great deal of thought and effort.  Tschannen-Moran shares this definition of trust.

Trust is one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable, and competent.

That definition sets a very high bar for all of us in schools, especially teachers in their relationships to each of their students.

Evie Blad writes about the “trust gap” in schools.  She reports on studies that show students from different racial and ethnic groups have different levels of trust as a result of their school’s response to their issues.  With regard to disciplinary issues and how they are treated, Black and Hispanic students’ trust is more likely to erode over the course of their middle school years as a result of how they are treated in schools by administrators and teachers.  The data would suggest that there is a structural bias in place as a result of how students are treated.  The lack of fairness in the students’ minds definitely erodes the trust they have.  Blad points out that the perception is reality.  She writes:

And it wasn’t just a perception; there was real evidence of bias at the school, the study says, noting that only black students received discipline for broad, subjectively interpreted infractions like “defiance.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that many underrepresented students in the US feel disenfranchised from their schools because they feel they are treated unfairly.  While it may not be the intended reality, it is the perceived reality.

In her interesting opinion piece on the Hechinger Report entitled, How can we show disenfranchised, black students that they matter when everything else is telling them otherwise?, Dena Simmons (@denasimmons), Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, writes:

In the end, we, all of us, must be compassionate. We must be open to other experiences, and we must learn to accept others and ourselves for everything we are —and everything we are not. We must fight for ourselves and for each other. And, we must begin to shift the violent course of history to one of peace, love, and mutual understanding. I have faith in us. My task is simple: it is for Black lives to be seen, to be human, to be treated with dignity. Our shared humanity depends on it.

Her words are powerful and indicate that we have to work extra hard to be sure we are building strong bonds of trust with all students in schools.  Checking ourselves at the door as to whether we are treating all students equitably and fairly.  If so, then we will be able to design learning environments that are safe, caring and engaging for all students.  When teachers believe they are respected, valued and trusted, they will consciously and unconsciously create respectful, meaningful, and trusting learning environments for students.

Check on #cfrecommendations to read

February 27, 2017

Getting personalized right, the recent edition of Educational Leadership, has a number of interesting articles. I’ve been making my way through them and thought I would share short synopses that could use to decide on whether an article was worth exploring in more depth.

Carol Ann Tomlinson, generally a good bet for an interesting essay, wrote, Let’s Celebrate Personalization: But not too fast. She suggests that before a school jumps into the deep end of the personalization pool, first carefully explore a variety of questions:

  1. Why and why now?
  2. What will the match be between your curriculum and personalization?
  3. Who will experience personalization and when?
  4. What if the approach falls short for some students?
  5. How will old and new paradigms of teaching coexist?
  6. What support will teachers need?
  7. Who will help teachers retool and will you have sufficient support?
  8. What is the school leaders role?
  9. Where are parents in the change process?
  10. What aspects of the educational environment will have to change…grading practices, scheduling, etc.?

She sheds a little light on each question and walks a fine line between promoting personalization versus staying the course. Clearly, she is a strong proponent of differentiating for students interest, readiness and learning profile. Be informed and be reflective is her advice.

John Spencer wrote an interesting article about using design thinking in the classroom, The Genius of Design. Piloting a structure modeled after Google’s “20% time,” where students get about 20% of their weekly class time to work on projects that connect to their interest. His rationale for introducing this change is that “students should actively create their own learning rather than consume it.” He adopted design thinking as a strategy for structuring the Genius Hour because “it’s a creating thinking process that focuses on developing actual products that solve real problems.” He adapts the standard empathy, define, ideate, prototype and test cycle of design thinking into:

  1. Look, listen, learn
  2. Ask tons of questions
  3. Understand the process or problem
  4. Navigate ideas
  5. Create a prototype
  6. Highlight and fix
  7. The Launch

In the article he defines what happens in each stage with some examples from student work. Certainly, a clever adaptation to make design thinking work as the driver for projects in Genius Hour.

In One Size Doesn’t Fit All Homework, Cathy Vatterot profiles an elementary school in Massachusetts, Vinal Elementary School, that uses an individualized (personalized) homework model. She answers the question: Why personalize homework? The answer lies in the research that supports investment in “student empowerment and autonomy in learning.” Vinal went down the road of personalized homework because it fit another significant change, standards-based grading, that they launched.

In the article, Vatterot describes what personalized learning looks like at Vinal. How do teachers structure the environment so that students chose the type of homework assignment that matches their learning profile and interests while staying focused on mastering the standards. The article addresses the ways in which teachers assess and bring students into the assessment and grading process. She writes about the logistics and the parental concerns, which required an intentional education process so parents could function as a facilitator and not a doer of homework.

We learn from Vatterot’s article that there are huge benefits to creating a personalized homework culture. In addition, there is a different kind of teaching required of the teacher to make it work. She quotes Elliot Eisner’s 1991 article in Education Leadership:

Amidst the noise of standards and the merely measurable, we had somehow lost the idea that the essence of schooling should be to nurture curiosity, wonder and excitement of learning something new.

That is a great quote to end this post on! Enjoy your reading of these pieces. You will need a subscription to ASCD in order to read the full article or request it from your librarian.

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