Monday, February 13, 2017

SASHET and the Human Spirit

This is a blog I must write. And yet, it is one of those blogs where I am neither smart enough to know exactly what is best to say, or naive enough to think I am the only one that feels the way I do.

And honesty I am feeling all of the human emotions of the moment. You know, like the acronym SASHET: Sad, Angry, Scared, Happy, Excited, Tender. I have been feeling them all for the past week. I suspect you are too. It is just what happens to us when someone we love is no longer directly in our lives. 

Last Wednesday our friend, colleague, mentor, and inspirational educational thought leader died. Age 69, and after a two and half year battle with an unexplainable Stage IV lung cancer for a career athlete and non-smoker. Far too young. And far too courageous to become a footnote.

Rick DuFour was one of those rare humans whose being made our profession significantly better. He uplifted the lives of thousands of educators like you and me, and never did he think it was about him. It was always about the mission. 

Like some, I had the benefit of growing up with him as our professional journey unfolded, and perhaps the most fascinating and fundamental aspect of his human being, was how surprised he always was by his success. And, how much he delighted in the success and growth of others.

There was this larger than life aura about him and then you met him, and you thought, "Gosh he’s just a normal guy." Only he wasn’t. There was not a lot about Rick that was normal. Being around him elevated us. He called us to act as professionals, and to be "above and beyond normal" every day. 

Because in his words:

The very lives of the students we teach depend upon us

He had a way to make you think about your work within the profession with increased clarity and reason, without being judgmental. Other than being incredibly competitive no matter the game played (like catch-phrase) he had a down to earth openness and interest in you. You felt as if your being, when with him, was one of those experiences to embrace. Your work and effort mattered to him. 

During the early 90’s at Stevenson, the faculty and staff were starting to rock the house. We are on fire and pursuing what would eventually become known as the PLC At Work culture Rick pioneered with Bob Eaker. Rick was intense and driven toward the pursuit of excellence, and had several job offers to leave Stevenson, as you might imagine. And in a quiet breakfast moment with him, on a Saturday morning in Evanston, IL he had to make his choice. To stay or to leave? 

I never forgot his answer.

“I can't leave Stevenson”. “It is not so much the place as it is the people. I love the commitment of our faculty and staff, our community and the Board; and our experiences together to figure out how to educate our students in unprecedented ways. How do you replace our people?”

Well, that explains this mish mash of emotions we are going through right now. We don’t replace them… especially the good ones, like Rick. But we can extend the spirit of his life’s work and always remember how he experienced life with us. Our professional experiences with him, can and should  be passed on to the next generation's experiences with us.  

In 2013, USC Professor Dallas Willard stated:  

The human spirit is an inescapable, fundamental aspect of every human being; and it takes on whichever character it has from the experiences and the choices we have lived through or made in our past. A person is essentially a collection of conscious experiences. Far more than just bodies or just appetites, we are our experiences. That is why we treasure the good ones.

Rick was far more than just his body, thoughts, and words. His spirit is in each of us because when we had experiences with him, he noticed us. Like so many, I am grateful that my lifetime "collection of experiences" included Rick. Despite the the gauntlet of SASHET emotions I feel today. 
Rick’s heartprint is on all of us that experienced his path – directly or indirectly, brief or otherwise. May we cherish it, and carry on his work, in the service of our profession and the learning of children. 

It will be his legacy and become ours; and I suspect it would both delight and surprise him.

In the words of renown philosopher Dr. Suess, Rick would be the first one to tell us: Don't cry because it is over; smile because it happened.  

In memoriam and with love, may we smile today. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Finding the Niche of Your Technology Voice in 2017!

I had a great phone call with Eric Twadell this morning. Eric is the current School Superintendent at Adlai E. Stevenson HSD 125: A public high school district in the state of Illinois and the place I became more fully formed as a professional for 22 years. It had occurred to me over the weekend that this coming June, I will be gone from the district for 10 years. A decade has passed!

We laughed about how it seemed both a short and a long time ago. In some ways, I was just the placeholder (5 years as superintendent) between two great leaders - Rick DuFour of PLC At Work fame  (ten years) and now Eric for ten too. For a brief time, in the late 90's, we all three had the privilege of working together.

What Eric, and the entire faculty and staff at Stevenson have been able to do in the past decade is simply short of amazing. They have raised the roof on the learning for each and every student that graces the halls of the school. Recently, Stevenson was rated the 2017 #1 best public high schoolin America by Niche.

One of the more silent features of that success is the willingness of the faculty and staff to embrace technology in the service of learning. They speak with a voice of wisdom that recognizes their responsibility to learn about technology as an expected aspect of professional growth, and as a student right to learn issue.

When I wrote HEART! I realized I must address the idea of our "voice' as teachers. When we speak, whose voice is it speaking? And, is it a voice filled with deep thought and wisdom?

In part 5 of the book (Ch. 30 to be exact), I reveal five critical elements for our voice of wisdom. The fourth element of wisdom is a lesson I learned very early during my time at Stevenson:

Each and every student has the right to learn with technology…

We viewed the use of technology as just as a way of life at Stevenson. We decided early on that student learning with technology, should not be happenstance. We believed so much in the technology serving student learning voice for our professional work, that it became an integrated and intentional aspect of each teacher and leaders’ professional development plan.  

As adults teaching and leading in the school, we asked the equity voice question: How is it acceptable that students in the same grade level or course could receive an incredible learning experience with technology, while students in the room next store received none? 

Today there is this explosion of technology choices. The impact of social media, from blogs to Snapchat, Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to Periscope, and so much more... technology swims like a shark all around us.

And we have three choices: Ignore it, embrace it or understand the technology within the service of learning - moving forward together.

So, at first glimpse, I may seem as a bit of an odd character to be the opening keynote address speaker for the upcoming Teachers Teaching with Technology conference- TI3C in Chicago onMarch 10th.

Sure my background is in mathematics, and yes, I was an early advocate of graphing calculator technology with TI, but maybe what drew the most attention was a claim I made about our failure to teach without technology. I simply stated in 2007:  “To teach without technology in this modern era, should be considered educational malpractice.”

And yet, the whole point of a commitment to technology is to understand its value and its limits. No responsible professional would ignore teaching with technology. Wise professionals understand technology is not an  “OR” proposition.

Technology, according to my middle school teacher colleague and tech guru Bill Ferriter, is one of those “Genius of AND” issues: How can I use of technology and ensure it serves student learning?

Thus the point of the T3IC conference, I suppose. 

Also, no responsible professional would embrace everything about technology. In the best schools there is a healthy skepticism about how to use the technology in a way that serves the reflect, refine and act cycle of student learning, while at the same time ensuring every member of the teacher team understands how to use the technology well, in order to ensure the standards for learning are achieved.

To that end, this Thursday- February 9th at 8 p.m. Eastern, I will address a few elements of my keynote address at the TI3C international conference in our Reaching your potential as an educator and leader webinar for TI. You can register for the webinar here and follow us at the #t3learns twitter hashtag as we get ready for the conference launch on March 10th!

During the webinar I define a word I describe in Heart! I indicate, “Your heartprint is the distinctive impression and marked impact your heart leaves on others —your students and your colleagues, as your career and your school seasons unfold.”

You and I are leaving a technology heartprint too. One way or the other. Which technology choice are you making, today? Ignoring it? Embracing it? Or using it with purpose?

What indeed is the niche of your technology voice?  

Know this, technology runs deep in the voice of wisdom for the teachers at Stevenson. They know no other way.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Be Mindful of your HEART! in 2017

In Atlanta, Georgia on February 4th, 1968, as part of his message, The Drum Major Instinct, Martin Luther King stated:

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve...You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

Last week, I was working in the southwestern section of the state of Washington. I was about one hour into a 3-hour professional development session with a group of K-8 teachers and leaders, and I was not receiving a “heart full of grace” from one of the grade level teacher leaders.

She consistently interrupted, at times was rude, and appeared extremely attacking and defensive at the same time. Clearly, something was wrong. I did not know her of course, as this was my first visit to the school, but I knew I needed to find out why she seemed so stressed.

After all, there is still a lot left to this school season, and her students and her colleagues need her to demonstrate a  “heart full of grace”, I was thinking. 

About the same time, a colleague of mine sent me a link to an NPR article on teacher stress written by Cory Turner. I provide the link here, but a quick summary reveals Turner connecting the words of Penn State professor Mark Greenberg with a stress fix “that is well within each teacher’s control”. The fix?


Turner then goes on to describe the book Mindfulness for Teachers by Patricia Jennings. She reveals mindfulness as attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance.

This takes me back to my stressed out teacher from last week. We took a break, only she did not. She sat at her table and graded papers, while other colleagues took the break. I sat down next to her, ready for a potential battle. Instead, she looked at me and started to cry.

Not sure what to do, I waited and stayed silent. My close friends know that neither behavior is a strength for me. She finally broke the silence and though she never once used the word stress, she had all of the symptoms of being overwhelmed by her daily work. A flood of thoughts poured out of her heart…

She was falling behind the curriculum guide and the expected pacing. She did not have enough time to get all of her grading completed. She was using a new textbook. She was doing all of the work for the team and getting no help in return. They were not grateful. She was the team leader, and she was failing. Her kids will not be ready for the state tests in April, and she hated her job at the moment. And, although she was a stranger, she indicated there were some complications with her three year old at home.

And now, “she was wasting three hours with me, when she could be getting other work done.” My response was not of course, “you need to be more mindful” but it was something really close.

Take a look at Jennings definition of mindfulness again:

Attending to things in the moment with curiosity and acceptance

Certainly when we are rushed, when we are knee deep in the daily grind, it is tough to demonstrate curiosity or acceptance to the circumstances that surround us. Yet, when I wrote HEART! that was exactly my intent. That we would slow down, and internally balance our lives so that we could be less stressed at work and at home. Corralling stress at work is less about time, and more about the requisite energy to be mindful practitioners.

In HEART! I describe elements of our educational heartprint that might help you or I to become more aware of why we are stressed. One example occurs at the end of PART 3 of the book on Alliances (the A in HEART) as I describe Wharton School Professor Adam Grant’s NYT Bestselling book Give and Take.

In the book, Grant establishes three fundamental styles of social interaction: giving, taking, and matching. Grant describes each of these reciprocity styles as having a descriptive signature.

1.     Takers like to get more than they give. They place their own interests ahead of others’ needs.

2.     Givers prefer to give more than they get. They are other-focused, placing more attention on what other people need from them.

3.     Matchers prefer to keep a score and keep things balanced. They are focused on a principal of fairness and an even exchange of favors.

The least successful relational style is the givers. Does that surprise you?

Givers (like the stressed team leader at my workshop) on a team achieve less success because they place making others better off ahead of their own self-interests. They also set themselves up for burnout and potential resentment.

So, who is at the top of the success ladder then? Get ready!

It also is the givers.

However, if you are to be a successful giver, and not one of those that falls on the stress trash heap, then heed this caution: Embrace high other-interest and high self-interest. As Grant indicates, “Successful givers weren’t just more other-oriented than their peers; they were also more self-interested . . . just as ambitious as takers and matchers”.

In the Grant quote we discover that to be successful professionals we need to collaborate, but to also be mindful of not being taken advantage of by our students or colleagues. I asked my workshop friend what she had done for herself lately. What did she do for herself on a daily basis that allowed her to protect some low energy state self-interest Quadrant II time?

What is Quadrant II time? Well, that is Ch. 13 of HEART! Another story for another day.

For now, be mindful of your work in this 2017 school season and remember it is okay to give to your students and colleagues, but stay balanced and give to yourself too, so you can do so with a heart filled with acceptance and grace - not just for others, but for yourself too. 

Ask your best friend how you are doing these days. He or she will let you know!


Monday, January 9, 2017

What’s In Your Wallet?

I carry these words in my wallet. 

They have served me well during my entire teaching career. They serve as a reminder on my darkest days to never, never, never give up—the professional path we chose is never easy, but it can be so worth it  - for us, our students and our colleagues.
The words give me perspective on this January 9th, 2017. As we launch into the second half of another school season of our professional lives, there are two realities we face as educators.

One overriding reality is that life is short. 

Where does the time, energy, and effort of ending one school year in June and starting another one in August go? Pretty soon, all those school years become a blur of sorts. Your career becomes this connected series of school-year segments as thousands of students roll through the kaleidoscope of your work.

And, those students we have this year, pass through just this once. We do not get a 2nd shot at them.

And another reality we know from experience—life is uncertain. The single adjective that best describes future events is unexpected. There will be unexpected stuff—illnesses, accomplishments, transfers, promotions, surgeries, triumphs, and tragedies. The events sure to follow in the rest of this school season are indeed uncertain, will drain your energy, and often only be fully understood in reflection once the season ends.

As I write this blog, my wife and I are being slammed by some unexpected and difficult life events. Life indeed is uncertain. How will we respond? It is a measure of our character.

You and I, as we face these winter and sometimes darker days, build the story of how we will be remembered this coming year, every day, one brick at a time—by the way we choose to respond to the stuff of our life.

Here are the words in my wallet:
We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face the reality of [our work] and still strive for every ounce of energy to prevail. Every important battle will need to be fought and re-fought. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose the path will be easy. It’s tough and rain falls on the just.

It is the last line that hits me the hardest. The hardest. 

“Rain falls on the just”. 

We are in a flood as I am writing this. It is raining. And there most likely will be some rain in your professional life the rest of this school year too. It happens.

It is why I wrote HEART! I want us to connect to our work in a way that helps us to survive the rain. To understand the heartprint and the impact we leave on students and colleagues alike even during the dreariest of months for our work – the middle of the season doldrums that can set in upon us during January and February.

The author of the words in my wallet is former presidential advisor, educational author and leader John Gardner.He summed up the goal of our journey by reminding us there is a certain toughness required to do the difficult and deliberate work of our profession. I never met Dr. Gardner, but his words have had a profound impact on my life as an educator, and my choices each day. 

It can be a long second half to this school season. But we will look back in May and realize it was short. This school season is over. Did we choose to prevail? 

We will also look to the next few months and realize they are uncertain. Unexpected events will happen to us – with a student, with a colleague, with family.  The path may not be easy. 

What’s in your wallet, this school season?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

2016 Is Over! Where Did The Time Go?

Dear Friends and Colleagues! 

“You still alive?” “Everything OK?” “Did you move?” “ I need a new post!” “ What’s going on?” “Did you stop blogging?” “Are you retired?”  “Can I use your blog title now that you are not using it?” “ Did you run out of ideas or thoughts?” “ Where did you go?”

These are just some of the messages I received from you in 2016. Apparently only writing 3 blog entries for the year (counting this one), qualifies as a cause for alarm. You may even be in a bit of a shock if you are reading this blog post. You too might have wondered where have I been in 2016? What happened to him? No blog posts in over 9 months creates a bit of a void.

Close friends and followers emailed me or texted. Some were worried because my email address went down too…it changed for the first time in 20 years – at least that is what I told people, until I realized I did not actually have an email address back in 1996! Guess it was closer to 18 years.

Gee, how time flies.

If you still need it, my new email is Not too original, but it works.

Well, we are 14 days from the end of 2016. And what a year it has been, filled with joy and sorrow in the journey. And I bet the same is true for you!

First, I was staggered for a bit by the loss of my best friend of 35 years, Jerry Cummins in January of 2016. If you allow your self to reflect on the depth of feeling and emotion that comes from the best friend in your professional or personal life – the person who is like a brother or sister to you, then you will and can understand the pain and sorrow of losing the benefit of their love for you and their friendship with you.

Jerry’s death and a few other “Stuff of Life” family and friendship events caused me to “get urgent” about going into a deep and reflective time for writing my latest book. The real reason there has been no blog entries is that I have spent the past 11 months in the inner sanctum of a manuscript, that I hope will have an impact on your life, the way Jerry had an impact on mine.

Simply called HEART! and quite largely displayed over to the right of this entry (I am in awe of the cover design for the book!) this manuscript has been an effort of deliberate practice (Angela Duckworth would call it Grit) – a personal writing practice that has undergone writing, feedback, reflection, and refinement with more than 90 drafts of the book. I called on over 42 colleagues during 2016 to provide meaningful feedback and criticism, and in many cases I embedded their very words and actual voice into the book as well.

This exhausting writing effort is essentially where I have been.

I am a very visual person so, when I write, I need to post pages on walls, and look at the story as it unfolds- literally touching the pages in a way. It is funny too, because when I am in my office and deep into the writing process, our Golden Retrievers (Kutya and Fibonacci) would often join me. With my door closed it could get a bit gamey in there. The picture at the right shows you how they would try to help.

Consider too, that I am not a very gifted writer. I am not sure how quickly for you lessons design elements occur, but for me, the writing process is painfully slow. It takes lots of repetition and eventual organization of my thoughts in the hope those very thoughts will eventually connect for the reader.

Perhaps the greatest heroes of the writing story for this book are the two people that gave me the gift of confidence and time to take on such a work. So, a big shout out of thanks to Douglas Rife – who when first approached about the book never flinched in his belief in me, and in the idea of HEART! And my wife Susan, who tolerated more than her fair share of hours in which I was either completely detached from family into the writing process, or in a constant state of angst about one of its chapters – even while on vacation.

HEART! will be released on March 16th, 2017 if all goes well, and it will only be because of the efforts of so many at Solution Tree, even as we are in final edits. I want to tell you more about the book, and its ideas, but will reserve those thoughts for my early blogs in 2017. Soon enough we will have a landing page for the book, and lots of information about its hope to help every educator find the happiness, and the energy to fully engage in his or her work life.

I promise this much, HEART! will be different than any other book dedicated to those of us that call education our profession! Ultimately, you will decide if my 2016 hiatus was worth it or not!

With all of my heart, wishing each of you a happy holiday season and blessed beginning to 2017! I need to go take a break! See you in the New Year!

Tim Kanold