Aspiration, Inspiration, Blog Heroes

“Be the blogger and tweeter you want everybody else to be” and “blog like no one is reading.” I love this advice and the other concrete suggestions in Dan Meyer’s recent post, The Gathering of The High Council of The Math Teacher Bloggers. And I’m thinking about how to take his advice more fully.

One step is to consider the best models out there. Here are four:

Photo: Rainier Navidad

  • Seth’s BlogFrom marketing guru Seth Godin, this blog is consistently pithy and laser focused.
  • Dane’s Education BlogThese words from mindful and empathic independent school leader Dane Peters often make me smile, and his posts never fail to offer a resource.
  • The HeadlinerArtful use of homily to reinforce shared values in school culture is the particular gift of this blog by Palmer Bell, Headmaster at Riverside Presbyterian Day School in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • Independent Schools, Common PerspectivesPeter Gow helps us see and value the connections between the private and public education sectors in this blog published in EdWeek. There are few topics more important for independent school educators at the moment.

Thanks to these folks for inspiration. May we take a lesson from each of them.


Parting Words

‘Tis the season of graduations, when we send our students off into the world with some parting words. In “Commencement 2013: A sampling of advice to this year’s college grads” (The Christian Science Monitor, 5/28/13), Ross Atkin offers us themes from 20 notable commencement addresses throughout the country. My top three picks from Atkin’s platter, with the addition of a link to video of each address, are:

Embrace diversity“As you move on, you’re going to come across all kinds of people from all different places and faiths and walks of life. You can choose to pass them by without a word, or you can choose to reach out to them, no matter who they are or where they come from or what ideas they may have. That’s what’s always made this country great — embracing diversity of experience and opinion that surrounds us everywhere we go.” — Michelle Obama, Eastern Kentucky University, 5/11/13

Strive for first class character. “Always understand that first class in life has nothing to do with where you sit on an airplane. First class in life has nothing to do with the clothes you wear, the car you drive or the house you live in. First class is and always will be about the content of your character, the quality of your ideas, the kindness of your heart.” — Cory Booker, Yale University, 5/19/13

Cooperation is key. “Creating cooperation works better than constant conflict and we forget that at our peril. You can’t share the future unless you share the responsibility for building it.” — Bill Clinton, Howard University, 5/11/13

Pete Upham (TABS)

Two others — not on Atkin’s list — worthy of note:

Find a wise person. Be astonished.  “…if you seek out genuinely wise friends and mentors, you will receive a whole growing season of advice, a harvest you can store up in your memory and in your heart….Wise people reveal through their lives a kind of deep inner order, a peace, a solidness, and an authenticity….”

“Nourish the capacity for astonishment. Choose a life of surprise. In its absence, we are susceptible to the perilous spell that persuades us we have it all figured out, or will soon… In my experience, such certitude leads to jaded cynicism, a corrosive self-regard, the end of learning, and even, finally, the death of hope. However seemingly logical the journey, you arrive at a desolate country, the polar opposite of wisdom… Don’t go there. And if you do, come back.” — Pete Upham, Asheville School, 5/24/13

Richard Weissbourd (HGSE)

Love is not a Justin Bieber song. “We are infatuated in modern times with young love. Our songs and our movies…are about the intoxication of young love. If you are a really lucky teenager, you can be swept off your feet by a Vampire. And these images tell us that early stages of love are not only the peak stages of love but the most thrilling, pure, transcendent times of our life….”

“The older adults I know who have succeeded in love have figured something else out. They have different metrics. It’s less that they have different feelings, than that they interpret those feelings differently. Many of these adults see love not as a preoccupation or infatuation but as having the kind of deep trust and faith that allows them not to think about someone else all the time. In this way, real love enables them to give to those outside their relationship, to be better parents, educators, mentors or generative in other ways.” — Richard Weissbourd, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 5/30/13

And, finally, the pièce de résistance:

Take it all in: success and failure, pleasure and pain.

“I wish you the courage to be warm when the world would prefer that you be cool.
I wish you success sufficient to your needs; I wish you failure to temper that success.
I wish you joy in all your days; I wish you sadness so that you may better measure joy.
I wish you gladness to overbalance grief.
I wish you humor and a twinkle in the eye.
I wish you glory and the strength to bear its burdens.
I wish you sunshine on your path and storms to season your journey.
I wish you peace in the world in which you live and in the smallest corner of the heart where truth is kept.
I wish you faith to help define your living and your life.
More I cannot wish you except perhaps love to make all the rest worthwhile.”

— Robert Ward, Williston Northampton School, 1972-1979, carried forth since that time by other heads to other schools, including Cape Cod Academy and Crossroads College Preparatory School

When a Fork Won’t Do

Naomi Reynolds Photography

I tweet. I post on Facebook. I edit an association e-newsletter. I curate an association Ning. I manage an association website. Why add a blog?

I think it’s a bit like choosing the ball-peen over the claw-head hammer or the spatula over the fork. Each tool — or each medium — seems to have a purpose to which it is best suited.

Twitter, with its 140-character parameter, seems ideal for sharing a quick piece of information with colleagues: recommendations for reading, reactions to the day’s news, responses to a recent op ed piece. Other educators seem to agree, in that there is a robust exchange of information there. For me, it’s like entering a room filled with school folks carrying on dozens of conversations of interest to me. I find few heads of schools there, I’d note. This is the land of aspiring heads, communication directors, and technology integration specialists — the techno-comfortable.

Facebook seems most effective as a replacement for the once ubiquitous family holiday letter, now deliverable in multiple chapters throughout the year. That said, it seems a useful vehicle for blasting informal snippets of news about one’s organization, too. The most compelling school Facebook presences, I think, offer a glimpse into life at school — photos of student projects, a video clip of a few moments of a recent performance. From an association perspective, it’s a useful medium for continuing to heighten public awareness of our work.

But the blog? The opportunity to step out from behind the institution’s logo. Express a personal opinion. Thump the podium. Ponder aloud.

Henry James’ Tale of Resilience

Filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel have set Henry James’ 1897 novel, What Maisie Knew, in present-day Manhattan and portrayed it with nuance with the help of a first-rate cast including Julianne Moore and, in the title role, the young Onata Aprile.

In case you haven’t seen the newly-released film or read the book, what Maisie knew, ultimately, was whom to trust. A heart-wrenching story about a six-year-old coping with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage and their stunning-though-disconcertingly-believable self involvement, this is, in fact, a hopeful tale. We watch Maisie weather a series of disappointments and abandonments with considerable grit and compelling heart. With her, in a way, we come to the realization that parenting is, first of all, about showing up.

The film adaptation ties up the details a little too neatly for my taste. Without giving you enough information to spoil the story, I’d call the denouement for the adult characters sentimental. Yet I highly recommend both the film and the read. For those of you attached to the original version of the story, Gerald Peary’s review in The Arts Fuse, “Arts Fuse Film Review: ‘What Maisie Knew’ — Henry James’ Dark Screwball Comedy,” and David Denby’s New Yorker article, “Couples” (limited to subscribers), address the question of the transformation of James’ story in the film.

In their foreward to the 2013 reprint of the book, screenwriters Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne suggest that Maisie is “protected from the toxicity of her situation by her inability to fully grasp it — and by her sterling good nature” (p. viii). I’d argue that the key to Maisie’s survival is her ability to recognize and attach herself to adults who believe in her and champion her cause. The story brings me back to Robert Brooks’ Raising Resilient Children (2001, McGraw Hill). In Brooks’ terms, Maisie finds safety and comfort in the presence of “charismatic adults” other than her parents, leading all of us in the audience to cheer her on.

I’m reminded also of a recent pair of articles about affluent parenting in New York: one in the New York Post, “Poor Li’l Rich Kids: Posh Schools Scold Parents Who Send Nannies,” and a follow-up from the New York Observer, “Never Mind the Nannies, Drivers are the New Dads.” I detected a snarky tone in both of these, making me wish to shake a finger at the press to say that the absence of parents knows no socio-economic boundaries and is sad wherever it occurs.

We, as school leaders, need to make room in our hearts for all of the adults supporting the growth of the child. While we might not be pleased to accept the driver or nanny (or the older sibling or the grandparent) as parental substitute, let’s make room for them at the parent-teacher conference table! They may be the ones showing up.

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I encourage school leaders to blog. I believe the benefits are compelling. Putting thoughts to words can be clarifying. Framing ideas in clear language helps us articulate our beliefs and consider them from a slightly different angle. Generating dialogue among educators and within our school communities advances a thoughtful, informed, and collegial approach to our work. Increased visibility, in most cases, is good for our schools and organizations.

Yet, my own blogging has been limited to the travelogue variety, most often featuring my association’s global travel program (see ESHA’s Kenya Experience and China: Cities, Sights, and Schools). I’ve wrestled with the question of finding my own voice for this medium, mindful of my professional commitment, as the Elementary School Heads Association‘s Executive Director, to serve heads of schools with diverse sensibilities, sensitivities, and cultures. If reading, my family and friends are unable to hold back chuckles, just now, knowing that I have no shortage of passions and opinions.

Photo: Ekspansio/E+/Getty Images

So, in the interest of contributing further to thoughtful reflection on school leadership and practicing what I preach, here I go… taking the plunge.