Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sisters from Another Mother

Trying to spend my time wisely at the NSTA conference, I schedule a couple of school visits with folks in the Kansas City area. The first was Seton High, a hybrid public, private school, at 23rd and Benton, and the second one was St. Teresa's Academy, located a 55th and Brookside. Both of the these visits were an incredible experience with incredibly passionate teachers in both locations, but two schools less than five miles apart couldn't be any different.

Seton High is a new urban high school that has 80 students who come looking for hope everyday. Students take the city bus, sometimes 45 minutes to reach a place that could end the cycle of poverty for their family. I entered the building through the door designated for the health clinic. The energy of this facility run by the Seton Center, a Catholic community organization, was evident. Though students had left for the day, it was clear that this was a place of learning driven by a passion to serve. Not unlike the concept of the Harlem Children's Zone, Seton provides students with access to dental care, a food pantry, and a thrift store. The opportunity to succeed is growing at Seton High. Even with all of this hope, there was a need for resources: computers, books, Internet access, and the little things that can pave the road to success on those mornings when life has dealt another setback. I feel the need to help, contribute, and be a part of this solution. Leaving the school left me with a feeling of turning my back on justice, equality, and my role in alleviating poverty.

The next five miles of my drive were images of poverty, both sad and true. Poverty is the same, but unique to its location, and I realized the unique nature of Kansas City poverty as I crossed over The Paseo on 55th. I was drawing closer to St. Teresa's, and suddenly things changed, no longer were the boards on the windows, they were on the fences, painted and groomed. I arrived on campus, historic, quiet, peaceful, and filled with signs that said "assisting the poor...saint teresa's academy since 1866." Really?

I saved judgment as I slid into the first academic building. It was clear that the girls were comfortable, and there was excellent learning taking place. I had a chance to talk to a number of students in the school. They reminded me of my friends in high school, happy and unburdened by life. There were certainly warts below the surface, but smiles were easy to find, the joy of childhood still circled the campus. I love tradition, but I really love tradition that builds excellence. I truly hope that these girls will take their genetic success and family opportunity and look East a few blocks to examine their role in the greater community.

The mission of the sisters of these organizations are the same in that they are looking to serve the community from basic needs to building values of awareness. I can't help but wish that Saint Teresa's would send some resources in the way of technology, books, and basic school supplies down the road. I'm never sure the best way to address poverty is to throw money at it, but there is a basic level of need that I would love to see addressed.

Is it possible that two random friends, connected through me could grow something that would benefit both schools? I hope so. I know that it would be easier to drive home and forget about this idea, just let it be because I have plenty to do at home, but this experience has shifted my soul for the moment.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Looking for a Leadership Model?

I found this article to be dead-on. I work each day to try to build capacity in each of these areas, but it is a long road.

The Four Capacities Every Great Leader Needs (and Very Few Have)
This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert's views alone.

When I was a very young journalist, full of bravado and barely concealed insecurity, Ed Kosner, editor of Newsweek, hired me to do a job I wasn't sure I was capable of doing. Thrown into deep water, I had no choice but to swim. But I also knew he wouldn't let me drown. His confidence buoyed me.

Some years later, I was hired away by Arthur Gelb, the managing editor of The New York Times. This time, I was seduced by Gelb's contagious exuberance about being part of a noble fraternity committed to putting out the world's greatest newspaper.
Over the last dozen years, I've worked with scores of CEOs and senior executives to help them build more engaged, high performance cultures by energizing their employees. Along the way, I've landed on four key capacities that show up, to one degree or another, in the most inspiring leaders I've met.

1. Great leaders recognize strengths in us that we don't always yet fully see in ourselves.
This is precisely what Kosner did with me. He provided belief where I didn't yet have it, and I trusted his judgment more than my own. It's the Pygmalion effect: expectations become self-fulfilling.
Both positive and negative emotions feed on themselves. In the absence of Kosner's confidence, I simply wouldn't have assumed I was ready to write at that level.
Because he seemed so sure I could--he saw better than I did how my ambition and relentlessness would eventually help me prevail--I wasted little energy in corrosive worry and doubt.
Instead, I simply invested myself in getting better, day by day, step by step. Because we can achieve excellent in almost anything we practice with sufficient focus and intention, I did get better, which fed my own confidence and satisfaction, and my willingness to keep pushing myself.

2. Rather than simply trying to get more out of us, great leaders seek to understand and meet our needs, above all a compelling mission beyond our immediate self-interest, or theirs.
Great leaders understand that how they make people feel, day in and day out, has a profound influence on how they perform.
We each have a range of core needs--physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Great leaders focus on helping their employees meet each of these needs, recognizing that it helps them to perform better and more sustainably.
Arthur Gelb helped my meet not just my emotional need to be valued, but also my spiritual need to be engaged in a mission bigger than my own success. Far too few leaders take the time to figure out what they truly stand for, beyond the bottom line, and why we should feel excited to work for them.

3. Great leaders take the time to clearly define what success looks like, and then empower and trust us to figure out the best way to achieve it.
One of our core needs is for self-expression. One of the most demoralizing and infantilizing experiences at work is to feel micromanaged.
The job of leaders is not to do the work of those they lead, but to serve as Chief Energy Officer -- to free and fuel us to bring the best of ourselves to work every day.
Part of that responsibility is defining, in the clearest possible way, what's expected of us--our concrete deliverables. This is a time-consuming and challenging process, and most leaders I've met do very little of it. When they do it effectively, the next step for leaders is to get out of the way.
That requires trusting that employees will figure out for themselves the best way to get their work done, and that even though they'll take wrong turns and make mistakes, they learn and grow stronger along the way.

4. The best of all leaders--a tiny fraction--have the capacity to embrace their own opposites, most notably vulnerability alongside strength, and confidence balanced by humility.
This capacity is uniquely powerful because all of us struggle, whether we're aware of it or not, with our self worth. We're each vulnerable to believing, at any given moment, that we're not good enough.
Great leaders don't feel the need to be right, or to be perfect, because they've learned to value themselves in spite of shortcomings they freely acknowledge. In turn, they bring this generous spirit to those they lead.
The more leaders make us feel valued, in spite of our imperfections, the less energy we will spend asserting, defending and restoring our value, and the more energy we have available to create value.
All four capacities are grounded in one overarching insight. Great leaders recognize that the best way to get the highest value is to give the highest value.

Reprinted from
Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Tony's most recent book, The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance, was published in May 2010 and became an immediate The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Follow him on Twitter @TonySchwartz.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Introduction of Patch

The cities of Maplewood and Brentwood have a new media partner in They are a local-only news feed that are nowing filling the void left by the Suburban Journals since they took on a new business model. I love have this vehicle to be transparent with. Our middle school is doing incredible things for kids, but it has seemed for a long time that we have been screaming about our work into a vacuum. Let's' hope that Patch takes hold, and the local media folks can ride sidecar to this experiment turned reality @mrhmiddleschool.

Do These Numbers Matter?

This video is cute, well-designed, and points to numbers that show United States students struggling in the teens on a number of lists, but do these numbers matter? There are a thousand ways to skin a cat, but these international measures are tough to follow and believe. I truly think that I would believe this if we were number one on the list. This year, we were selected to give the NAEP exam to our eighth graders. We are giving the test, but the results are returned to us in anyway that can be used for future learning. If learning is a life-long process, it would be nice to have feedback on how to focus our instruction.

Technology Rich- Now Be Effective, Strategic, Amazing

This infographic places MRH Middle School's effort to empower students with technology in perspective. Each of our seventh and eighth grade students have a laptop computer that they can use 24-hours a day. Our challenge is to make this usage effective, strategic, and amazing.

Technology in the Classroom

Monday, October 11, 2010

Playing Superman

I'm just before a meeting where I get to act like Superman and adjust student schedules so that they may have the best success in high school. These are the high-stakes decisions. How much longer can we wait for these students to fail before trying something different? It is easier to maintain the status quo and hope, but it is morally irresponsible. I'll let you know how it turns out in a decade or so, but until then, enjoy the stats.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Five for Friday- Links and Ideas

I know that it is Thursday, but it feels good to actually be ahead of schedule a bit for once. Thanks to all of the wonderful folks at the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals for having me as a presenter on Monday. This blog is an extensive of my effort to put awesome resources in people's hand within the context of the learning that we are doing, sort of a wheat versus chaff effort on my part. Have a great weekend. Go Tigers MIZ...

Seth Godin is a great outside the box thinker, and this link is a ton of fun to watch. It got me thinking though. What is broken around here? What systems, signs, ways of doing things are broken? I'm ready to fix them before they become ingrained in my way of doing things. Please send your ideas or thoughts about things to fix at MRH after watching the video.

There was a new TED conference recently that featured only student speakers. I love this idea, and it would be great to share the stories of some of these wonderful kids with our students. They are truly inspiring, and it is hard to think that these efforts wouldn't inspire our kids.

I have always thought that it was difficult to wedge math into our expeditions and interdisciplinary units, but the folks at Plus magazine may have some resources that allow for some windows into our world via MATH.

Though we talked about 21st century skills in TLC, (maybe we should be talking about 22nd century skills and be 90 years ahead as opposed to 21st century skills and by 10 years behind), we didn't really touch on the skills that middle school, high school and college professors need to include. Our friends at Wired Magazine do an excellent job with this article.

This is an incredible visual resource for social studies classes. How incredible to watch the maps shift based on variables like energy resources, religion, and food supplies.

I think this is a great resource. This is volume two of Project PLN.

RSA Animate

This method of learning has moved its way to the top of my list. I love the visuals as it completely fits into my learning style. It seems like a way to bring complex ideas to students also. Enjoy.