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Teaching is like cabinet-making!

This tweet (see right) was waiting for me on Monday morning when I switched the computer on. Tom is a teacher and administrator in Ontario, Canada and is a regular contributor to Twitter. His tweet leads to a research paper focussing on (obviously!) 21st Century Teaching and Learning. I have not read the entire paper (in fact, only skimmed the Executive Summary) and probably won’t, but it started me thinking. It brought into mind a number of observations I made last week as I was visiting classrooms and wandering the halls and helped me tie them together.

Teaching, like cabinet-making, is a lot about tools and how well they are used.
As I have shared with some of you, when given the chance, I love building furniture. The smell of fresh wood shavings, the satisfaction of taking a number of flat bits of timber and turning them into something useful, the challenge of creating something aesthetically beautiful, the joy of getting lost in the creative process.
As you begin to get lost in this process you soon come to realise the importance of good tools. A sharp saw. Fresh sandpaper. A straight rule. A solid workbench. A good broom. And sometimes, there are times when the design of the furniture has to be adjusted, simply because the right tool is not available.
Teaching is very similar. As teachers we have all sorts of tools available to us as we consider the creative process of leading students through their learning.
Sometimes we don’t recognise some of the most impactful tools we have at our disposal. For example, the humble classroom desk. It is so much more than something just to sit at. Used effectively, the humble classroom desk can be used for behaviour management, social dynamics modification, assisting student focus, keeping students on task, etc. And when we consider that many of our students are using laptops, classroom desks and how they are arranged, become an even more powerful teaching/learning tool.
Laptops, textbooks, classroom desks, tone of voice, where we stand in the room when we speak, wall charts, music playing, images shown on the Smartboard, room temperature, what we wear, classroom routines, expectations we have of students, online classroom spaces – these are all TOOLS that we have at our disposal to influence the learning environment of our students.

One of the biggest challenges as a teacher is to know what tool to use, when to use it and then finally, how to use it most effectively. Not an easy task by any means! Professional Development for teachers, at it’s heart, should be about expanding a teacher’s repertoire of tools and then about refining that teacher’s ability to use the right tool, in the right way, at the right time.

The research paper on 21st Century Teaching and Learning (which prompted this short article) highlights the use of digital tools in teaching, and the importance of learning digital skills (which I wholeheartedly agree with). At the same time, if I want to help a child learn how to add three and five, or the effect of static electricity, or how to throw a pot… a digital tool is not what I will be reaching for.
Famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow had a couple of words to say about tools. “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

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Building a bridge with care

Over the past few months I have had a real opportunity to learn about the culture of my new school. I have shared with a number of people that learning ones way through a culture is somewhat akin to tip-toeing through a field of land mines. It is not until you step on one that you find out it is there. Within the cultural context, it is not until you disturb a cultural norm that you being to understand how deeply that norm is felt.

What is obvious at my new school, is that everyone cares! Teachers care. Students care. Parents care. Finding out what each of these groups care about, and how deeply they care about it has been, and continues to be, the walk through the minefield, as these are the two variables so intimately connected to culture.

What we care about and the depth to which we care about it are extremely culturally connected, so much so that it is often difficult to articulate. It is not until those things we care about are brought under the microscope and become focussed topics of conversation that we begin to sense and understand the depth to which those things are cared about. Often it is a surprise. Sometimes it cannot be explained. We are all cultural beings.

A recent parent discussion I was a part of helped me understand in a very real sense the fact that sometimes we can care deeply about things that in the end are not helpful to solving problems or reaching resolution. When these pieces are deeply ingrained through our culture, the challenge to move beyond them is significant, and in all honesty, may seem to be impossible. Deep seated cultural “values” do not move easily, and sometimes, do not move at all.

The mission statement of my new school drives us to bridge the East and the West, which, from a cultural perspective is a significant challenge. While there are elements of East and West that are complimentary and even sometimes symbiotic, there are also elements that are oppositional, contradictory, and at times, adversarial. I deal on a daily basis with students and families for whom the world is framed through the cultural lens of the East. My school is bringing an educational philosophy and practice being framed through a Western lens, with Western voices. Moments of contradiction cannot be avoided.

It is these contradictory moments that should inform us most deliberately about how to build our bridge, because in it’s most real sense, a bridge links two different places. A bridge is a solution. A bridge allows movement from one point to another, most often over something that would normally prevent that movement. A river, a chasm, an ideal, a danger.
Bridging the differences between two cultures requires us to focus not on the differences, but the commonalities. By focussing on what is common to both cultures, a conversation can begin and work can start on building the bridge.

What is obvious at my new school is that everyone cares! It is obvious in the extra lengths that teachers take to know and support their students. It is obvious in the hours that teachers spend outside of their classrooms providing opportunities for students to be challenged in non-academic pursuits. It is obvious in the care and attention teachers give to providing feedback to students on their learning. It is obvious in the emails that teachers send to parents, eliciting support, sharing successes, requesting dialogue. It is obvious in the passionate advocacy parents show for their children. It is obvious in the conversations students have with their teachers about their learning. It is obvious in all that we do at this school.

And it strikes me, that as we go about building our bridge, we could not hope for a better foundation than “care”.

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A teacher’s most important job is to learn

It is not often I start a post with the title. Usually, I have an idea, spend a good amount of time thinking about it, sit down and let those rambling thoughts crystallise on the page, and then determine what the title of the post should be. This time, the idea and thinking have led me to a title first. So here come the rambling thoughts.

The best teachers start by learning.

And not their subject!

When meeting someone for the first time who is a teacher, I have begun the habit of asking them this question. “Who do you teach?” It is very interesting to see the responses. Some teachers come back straight away with, “I teach Social Studies and English”. I smile. I ask a clarifying question. “WHO do you teach?”. Often the response is a description including the name of the school or the grade level or a school division.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 6.22.27 AMSome teachers, on facing my initial question, get this somewhat puzzled look on their face. Usually THEY ask the clarifying question. “WHO do I teach?” “Yes,” I reply. “Who?” They take a moment. Think. And then tell me school names, grade levels, school division descriptions.

I can only think of one or two teachers to whom I have put that question who have paused for a moment, smiled, and launched into a description of individual students. Students who frustrate them. Students who are amazing. Students who are taking 5 advanced level courses, running the school whatever-club, volunteering for the whatever-group. Students who came into their classroom not knowing how to do whatever and are now teaching other kids in the class the whatever. Students who have persisted with something they find really difficult. Students who stand at their desk every single morning and tell them about something they find totally amazing. Students who know when the teacher needs a handmade card to let them know they are appreciated.

When I listen to these teachers respond to my question, I wish I could contact their Principal and tell him/her how lucky they are to have this person working in their school (but then they probably already know that!). I also hand them my business card. These are the teachers I want working for me!

Because the most important job a teacher has is to LEARN. About the students they are going to attempt to teach.

Some famous gentlemen wrote about blank slates and empty jugs and urged teachers to fill them up, saying that is what teaching is. At the risk of being precocious I’m going to suggest they missed a really important part of the whole process. Close examination of the slate, the chalk, the jug, the liquid, etc, etc. You are not going to get much into the jug if the neck is an inch wide and you pour from a bucket! If that slate is wet, then your chalk is going to disappear real quick. If your chalk is too hard, you are just going to leave scratch marks on the slate that are no good to nobody! (I’m dating myself with this intimate knowledge of chalk!)

Know your students first. Learn everything you can about them. And then teach. And don’t stop learning.

Did that work? Did he respond to that? Did she understand that approach? Did they collaborate well in that setting? Was that assessment task interesting to those over there? Do they understand me when I speak? Do they think deeply when I pose questions in this manner? How can I reach that one kid over there who is dealing with some really heavy stuff?

Know. Your. Students!

Only when you REALLY know your students can you really begin to teach them.

Don’t be the teacher complaining that most of what you are pouring from the bucket isn’t going in. Learn all you can about the jug!

 

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10 lessons from the first 100 days

Today marked the 100th day of my first year as a principal. Twelve months ago I thought I was heading for the chair in the soon-to-be-empty Elementary Principal’s office, but as it turned out, that chair was rolled into the workshop. It was disassembled and combined with the Secondary Principal chair and rolled back into service for me as the the new K-12 Principal. Tonight, for the one hundredth time, I turned off the light, shut the door and left that chair in a darkened, wintery office illuminated only by the pulsating green light of the Nespresso machine waiting in the corner. It is starting to become a little more comfortable, but at times has been the last place I wanted to sit.

So 100 days in seemed like a poignant moment to take a rhetorical lean back in that chair and jot down some thoughts on what I have learned in those 100 days. I address you as if you are about to move into a Principal’s chair…

Restraint. This is the first big lesson of my 100 days.

Be restrained. Think carefully about everything you say. Think carefully about who you say the things you want to say to. Think carefully if “saying” is really what is needed. Spend twice as much time listening. Most people know what they need to hear. Let your speaking help them listen… to themselves!

Learn. This is the second big lesson of my 100 days.

A new leader in a new school has a LOT to learn. Tell others around you that you are in the PROCESS of learning. Let them know how they can help you learn. ASK for help. Be thankful when it is given. Apologise when you get it wrong (and never by email!).

Write with a pen. This is the third big lesson of my 100 days.

Thanks written in your hand with blue ink on a small piece of paper communicates a message that reading is not required for, that is remembered for a long time, that others mention. It takes time. It is time well spent!

Reflect. This is the fourth big lesson of my 100 days.

Mistakes will become more regular, more obvious and more impactful. Take time to notice them, ponder them and act on them. Find a person you can trust. Let them listen to your story. You know what you need to hear. Let them help you say it.

Hold on and breathe. This is the fifth big lesson of my 100 days.

There are no such things as slow days. There are fast days and there are are REALLY fast days. There are days when someone has broken their leg, the fire alarm goes off, a school bus crashes on the way to school, three students get caught smoking in class, a parent wants to know whey their child received a B+ and not an A (can he retest???) and a teacher decides today is her last day. These are every days. They don’t get any slower!

Spend a part of your day with students. This is the sixth big lesson of my 100 days.

Without fail… it will be the best part of your day!

Make teachers smile. This is the seventh big lesson of my 100 days.

Sometimes teaching is the toughest job in the world, so do all you can to make teachers smile. When teachers smile, they feel good. When teachers feel good, they teach well. When teachers teach well, students learn well. It’s not rocket science. Make teachers smile.

Grow a pair. This is the eighth big lesson of my 100 days.

If calling a meeting with a teacher who is not doing a good job is going to be tough for you, get some training on having hard conversations or rethink your movement into school administration. Bad teaching needs to be addressed. Address it. Or frame an apology to the class full of students (and their parents) who have been subjected to Mr I’m-doing-my-best-but-it-is-still-really-crap!

Love your work. This is the ninth big lesson of my 100 days.

If you don’t obviously love doing the job you are doing, students will notice. Teachers will notice. Parents will notice. And no words you say will dissuade those folks from believing what they think they have already noticed.

Get your calendaring system organised. This is the tenth big lesson of my 100 days.

You will begin to live by your calendar. If it is not set up properly and others cannot add appointments to your calendar for you, you will look stupid.

And that rounds out my Top Ten. Please take a moment comment and add anything you think I might have missed.

 

 

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Learning on the yellow couch!

I’ve been at the Lucy Calkins Writers Workshop for this past week and have learned more about how to write this week than I have in 42 years, which is concerning because I have been a teacher for 22 of those years, and most of them have included teaching writing!

The through-line of the workshop was to write, which in itself I found surprising. To go to a writing workshop and write! The surprising-ness surprised me too. We always say “practice what you preach”. This has been a week of “practice WHEN you preach” (or at least when you are being preached to!). So, practice I did.

We had session after session and learned, session by session, how to improve our writing. Focus on small things. Stretch the heart. Add dialogue. Use descriptive language. Most of all… write.

Write a lot. Cross things out. Write like you are possessed. Take risks. Use words you haven’t used before. Read it out aloud. Really loud! Shout your story.

So I wrote. And here it is. Enjoy.

SMILING

It’s Thursday morning, the sky is grey and unhappy and I’m smiling to myself.

I’m sitting in a stuffy classroom in Columbia Teachers College, New York City, listening to a how-to-teach-writing expert and an air conditioner.

Simultaneously droning.

I’m thinking about my daughter.

We’re snuggled closely on a slightly worn yellow couch. She’s freshly bathed and smells of the apple bubble bath I bought her last week and she’s playing with her loose tooth. “The third one!” she’s unhesitatingly proud to tell me. She wiggles it with her tongue like the cat flap on our back door.

“That’s going to need a pull soon”, I think to myself. Mum’s job. I don’t do teeth.

She’s just spent two minutes on her hands and knees at the book shelf. The shelf on the bottom. The one with all HER books. HER shelf. “Not this one.” “This one’s boring.” “I don’t like him!” “OK Daddy, this one,” as she bounced onto the couch like Tigger running to Pooh. Big eyes. Legs everywhere. Beaming. I thought I saw a tail.

Snuggled in, we’re on the third page. We’ve read the cover, “Oh, The PLACES You Will Go.” We’ve read the cover page, “Oh! The places YOU will go.” We’ve even read the title page, “Oh the places you WILL go.” Her eagerness to get to the story has us three pages in and I haven’t been listening. She’s been reading each page, at least what she calls reading. She points to a word, sounds it out, “P…L…A…CK… E… S”. “Plackess” she says triumphantly.

“Places”. I correct her.

“Places”, she says and reads on. I’m not listening. I’m far, far away.

I’m wondering if I’ll be able to do this with her children. If she’ll even decide to have children. Where will we all be in however many years between now and her having children? I’m wondering how long this will last. Will we still do this when she’s twelve? Sixteen? And suddenly I find myself listening again.

“Steer”, I correct her.

“Steer”, she says and reads on. And then I’m away again.

Will she remember snuggling up to Daddy on the yellow couch smelling of apples, reading HER books from HER shelf? Will she remember when she couldn’t read and twisted the corner of her pillowslip as her Daddy made the stories come to life? Does she know that I read to her every night as she lay in her crib? Looking up at me with big eyes and wriggly legs? I find myself listening, again.

“And… you… will… know… what… you… know!,” she reads, turning to look up at me because she knows she read the whole line without a mistake. I smile and brush her hair back from her forehead. She falls back into the story and I think to myself, “Yes, you WILL know what you know.” She reads on.

Ding, dong. The doorbell rings. She leaps up, book clattering to the floor, legs everywhere, tail swishing, and races to the door.
I reach to pick up the book. Her Mum calls out, “ Look through the peep hole to make sure you know who it is first.” The door is opened and there is mumbled this and that and Mum goes to find out who’s visiting.

My smell of apples is gone but I’m still warm from the little body that was reading beside me. There’s even a small imprint in the couch where that swishing tail was stilled for a moment by the pages of a book.

And then the visitors have gone and Mum has decided now is a good time to head to bed and I’m suddenly alone downstairs, sitting on a slightly worn yellow couch, holding a book in my hand. I absently turn the first pages, keenly aware of the fading warmth and the bedtime noises upstairs and find myself looking at the first page.

“Congratulations!” it reads. “Today is your day, you’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”

And I’m smiling to myself, again.

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The singing fish in the cupboard

When my daughter goes to bed I lie beside her and ask her about her day. She tells me about play time, circle time, what she had for lunch and who told her she wasn’t their friend. Oh the trials of a six year old! And then she asks for a story. And generally, I make one up.

I like to lead with a nonsensical sentence. Something like “The small unhappy girl reached into the cupboard and pulled out a green fish. It was singing.” At that point there is usually an interjection. My small daughter, listening with big eyes and distracted fingers says something. Maybe its a, “Daddy, fish can’t sing!” which then leads the story down the singing fish alley. Or its a,”Daddy, fish don’t live in a cupboard!” which leads me down the cupboard-fish story alley. Or maybe it’s, “Daddy, was there another fish?”, at which point, it becomes a story about a school of fish in the cupboard. It generally gets more and more nonsensical (big ups to Dr Seuss!) and ends in a hanging climax. Maybe the fish was about to leap out of the cupboard but the cat walked in… The more insistent the, “Tell me the next bit Daddy!”, the better!

Five and a half years ago, in a small town called Bangkok, we signed a contract to go and work at a school. In Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t actually built at that point, but there were grand visions. It was to become a beacon of educational hope for the country. It was going to offer a coeducational environment for Saudi boys and girls. To a large extent, it was like opening the story with a sentence about a singing fish in a cupboard. And my signature was on the contract!

Well, the story has developed, the opening sentence has turned into a page, and a chapter and a book. The first of many in a series.

And now, I find myself sitting in an airport sky-bar with excess luggage and “between jobs”. That first-book-in-the-series is done, at least where my character figures. The few chapters where my character weaves in and out, hoping that the sub-plot to which I am tied might eventually tie into the central theme of the series so that eventually, when the rights are sold for the big screen release of the story my character is played by Jeff Bridges rather than Steve Buscemi.

And it is only now, now that my character has been temporarily written out of the story and a new actor has been contracted to play my part that I begin to realise that what we leave on the stage has nothing to do with what needed to be done. It’s all about how we did it.

And having now featured in the stories of five schools, I can name a lot of characters whose parts have been rewritten. For many of them I can remember what it is they did. Mostly though, I can remember how they did it. They were funny. They were very serious. They didn’t really care very much. The were passionate. And the list goes on.

For a few of them, I remember how they treated their students, how they treated their colleagues, how they treated themselves. And for a fewer few of them I look forward to costarring at some point in the future.

So while all our stories continue to be written, consider “how” you go about playing your part, because that above all is what is remembered.

Be the singing fish in the cupboard!

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Gems from the past…

We are right in the middle of relocating from one middle-eastern country to one east-asian country and I have been cleaning out my main computer to sell before we leave. In the process, I have discovered some musings that I am fairly sure are yet to see the light of day.

Consider this the light being shone!

No Snipping! – (Mused on October 8, 2009)

Today I drove all the way to Jeddah to visit the hospital to prepare for an impending operation, a drive fraught with much rumination and consternation in relation to the operation. Arriving ten minutes late for the appointment I was somewhat breathless as I entered, more with hesitation than anticipation as the moment to meet the knife was quite viscerally near!
After five minutes of, “please come with me sir,” for the introductory check-everything-works tour, I was ushered with hushed tones into Consulting Room 8, a stock standard consulting room familiar to any seasoned or even part-time ER or Scrubs watcher.  Dr Abdulmalik Al Fayid sat at his desk, speaking earnestly with someone on the other end of the phone, alternating between remonstration, practised bedside manner and fatalistic resignation, with a “so be it” simultaneously ending the call and signalling my moment to shine.
Obviously accustomed to dealing with matters of the involuntary nature he opened with a smile and a pleasant, “What is your problem?” Taking a large breath and meeting his gaze, I replied with a level of confidence not ordinarily associated with a request for voluntary mutilation of ones most treasureds and politely replied, “I’m in for the snip!”
Realising the effort these five words obviously took, Dr Abdulmalik Al Fayid looked me square in the face and with an adjustment of his spectacles replied in measured tone, “This is not permitted in the Kingdom.” A big doctor smile. “I am sorry but this I cannot be doing. It is against the law and I am unable to change the law.” A big doctor smile again.
Having been considering the voluntary tackle snipping for some time (read ONE YEAR!), Dr Abdulmalik Al Fayid was seemingly unprepared for my response, as in some respects was I. “Are you joking! Illegal! Why?” Not only was this rather blunt and direct but it bespoke of the fortitude with which this most difficult of decisions had been made. Illegal! I was stunned!
I had driven one hundred kilometres through the burning deserts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, fought with the mad drivers of the city of Jeddah, navigated the highways and byways of the old town to arrive at the hospital and be told that unfortunately it was not allowed! Beggars and homeless people on the street – no problem. Driving at two hundred kilometres per hour – no problem. A small snip of the Vas Deferens (and a voluntary one at that!) – no way buddy – ILLEGAL!
Appealing to the big smile of Dr Abdulmalik Al Fayid I awaited his answer to my anguished “Why?”
“Others before you have asked, but it is something not to be done in the Kingdom.” Big doctor smile.
I left, slightly angered, slightly amused and amidst everything else, quite possibly slightly relieved. My Jatz Crackers lived to fight another day and a trip to the hub of world health tourism, Bangkok, was now on the cards.
As I continue to adjust to the ways of this new culture and country I will regularly remind myself of the prohibitions.
No Drugs
No Alcohol
No Pork…
No snipping!

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Be the paintbrush!

At a recent staff meeting we discussed the departure of a staff member. The departure was unexpected and unexplained, and understandably, there was a low rumble around the various offices and staff rooms of the school. The weekly staff meeting failed to raise the topic until one of the more concerned staff members brought it up. “Can you elaborate on the departure of this person?” For once, the room was all ears. All laptop tinkering ceased and the audience was captive.

After the meeting I had the good fortune to chat with a good colleague who shared the concerns of the question raiser. He was looking for some feedback on what I saw in the meeting. “Could I see the anger in the room?” or something like that.

Rewind 24 hours.

Golf is an interesting game. Most of the time you spend playing golf you don’t actually play golf. You walk. You talk. You reflect. You analyse. You plan. And then you play golf. For about 30 seconds as you stand over the ball and try to condense all that reflection and analysis and planning. Inhale. Exhale. Focus. Swing. Strike. Watch. And then you stop playing golf. You walk and talk and reflect and so on until the next 30 seconds. And it was last night, as I was walking and reflecting that I was presented with the opportunity to reflect on the general tone of conversations happening in and around my office and in the school in general. From some quarters the tone is dark. From others the tone is golden. In between are the rest of the shades, and it was on this continuum that I attempted to plot myself. What shade is my tone. And then the next 30 seconds of golf interrupted my musings. I’m wasn’t sure I reached a conclusion until my colleague asked me about the anger in the room.

My response was, “You see what you look for.”

I shared that if I was looking for the angry people in the room they would have been plainly visible. If I had been looking for the happy people I would have seen them just as clearly. Darkness is just as easy to see as light if you are looking for it.

So as I revisit the “What tone are my conversations?” question I have decided my conversations are a paintbrush and I have the power to choose whatever colour I want to paint with.

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Hockey, Principalships and Space

Below is a recent picture of my first foray into the world of ice hockey as a player.

Growing up in the land of sunshine, beaches and big patches of green grass, my formative years involved a lot of water sports, running around chasing an assortment of different shaped footballs and hitting smaller balls with different shaped lumps of timber or stringed things. So now, at the age of 42, I can give you a good run for your money with any of those types of sports. I’ll take a game or two off you, score a couple of goals, land a try, hit a six, kick a point, sink a long 3 or drop into a nice curling right hander. Hitting a small solid rubber thingy with a long flat stick whilst sliding on ice on two thin blades is ANOTHER THING ENTIRELY!

The process of me diving into this “other thing entirely” has been a most interesting leap.hockey

It all began with some encouragement. “C’mon Knox. Join us for some ice hockey. It’s not that hard. You’ll love it!” and it continued with some more encouragement. “C’mon Knox. You’re an athlete. You’ll be a natural! You’ll love it!” Then it dropped a notch and continued with challenges. “C’mon Knox. If Smith can get out there, so can you!”, before devolving in to common school-boy taunts. “C’mon Knox. You’re being a pussy! If you think you’re a man, get out there and play!”

I rode the taunts and challenges and found myself watching a bit more hockey on TV. Following the puck was the first challenge. Where the hell was that bloody thing? Then, as I began to see the puck, I began to see the positions and began to ask questions about the rules, the plays, the coaching and the refereeing. I was beginning to understand how the game worked, from a spectator level. At that point I began to consider having a go at it.

While my formative years in Australia saw my sporting focus elsewhere, I had been roller-skating (during junior high at Skateland on a Friday night) and on the ice on a handfull of occasions. Not really enough to answer in the affirmative when my taunting colleagues asked if I could skate, but just enough to know that if I did get out there, I would not be completely useless.

So I borrowed all the required equipment (which is considerable), joined my now-relentlessly-taunting colleagues and headed off to “IceLand” to play in my first game of Ice Hockey. And then the reduction began. My first question was, “How do I get dressed?” My next question was, “How do I stop?”. Then it was, “How do I turn?”. The one I worked out for myself pretty quickly was, “How do I get up?”. I had a lot of practice at that! While I was correct in presuming I would not be completely useless, I was not completely (or even partially) useFUL either. By the time I was heading in the direction of the puck, the puck was already heading back in the direction it had originally come from, with three of my taunting colleagues dangling or dribbling or whatever they call it with I’ve-done-this-since-I-was-three aplomb. On the few occasions that my random orbit was interrupted by the trajectory of the puck, some very interesting scenarios transpired.

Scenario 1: My still-taunting-colleague slammed me like the noob I was, relieved me of the puck with shaming simplicity and sped off like Mr Ovetchkin to perform an even more heroic ice hockey manouvre.

Scenario 2: My still-taunting-colleague slowed his/her motion, counted to three to see if my interaction with the puck was going to result in anything magical… and then slammed me like the noob I was (because there was no magic!)

Scenario 3: My still-taunting colleague slowed his/her motion, counted to ten to see if I could summon some magic, hoping that I might (by some stroke of random happenstance) do something useful with the puck.

This continued for a good hour, by which time I had thoroughly experienced the game from the player level.

The theory had been put into practice and I had been completely reduced to the point where I understood, better than ever, how much more I had to learn. I was bruised, wet, sweaty, sore and smelled awful… and loved every minute of it!

As I continued to reflect on the whole first hockey (not “Ice” hockey! There is “Hockey” and there is “Field Hockey”. There is NOT “Ice Hockey” and “Hockey”!) experience, it occurred to me that my move into my first principal role is going to be strikingly similar.

There will be elements of being a principal that I will presume I will be useful at. There will be moments when I will not know what to do. There will be moments when I will need someone to pick me up. There will be staff members just waiting for a chance to jump in, while others will give me a starting chance. And there will be some who will just sit back and watch.

With some form of humility I will contend that I will be stepping out onto the ice that is being a principal with a lot more training and experience than onto the ice of a hockey game. I will also contend that my understanding of the “rules” and the “plays” of an elementary school is somewhat more sophistocated than those of hockey, where dropping the gloves is the equivalent to having a difficult conversation!

But consistent throughout both experiences is the space in which all of this happens.

The space where I am standing in different shoes, looking back at the comfort zone I have left behind, being stretched in ways in which both my body and my mind have not been stretched before, learning things about who I am and what I can accomplish.

And in all that I do, that is where I want to be standing.

 

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What Evil looks like!

A few things have been swirling around in the media over the past few days and weeks have gradually coalesced into something worth writing about, and this morning over breakfast, my beautiful wife summed it all up in a single sentence, “Zombies aren’t the face of evil, this is!” Cue swirling…

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Last weekend I had the privilege of joining some very good North American friends for their Thanksgiving dinner. Not being of a nation that celebrates Thanksgiving, I was interested to learn more about what it is, what it stands for, what families do, what the traditions are, etc, etc and left their home with a full belly and a much better appreciation of the celebration. Family, togetherness, thankfulness. All wrapped up in a big cooked bird and some stuffing, of which the secret family recipe shall never be revealed!

And then we woke to learn that Nelson Mandela had died.

If ever there was a person who epitomised “thanks” it was this incredible man. Having had the chance some years ago to stand outside the cell on Robbin Island in which he was held for 27 years, that thankfulness is even more incredible. So incredible that through him, and through him alone, a whole nation is healing.

Sustainability Milestone Meeting March 17th 2011

And then this week there has been a media flurry around WalMart. For 2013, Walmart posted a net income of US$17 billion (source here), up from 15 and some change the year before. Now that is a lot of coin. A. Lot. And the flurry was surrounding the fact that one store plonked a couple of buckets down by the front door with a sign on them, asking employees to donate food to fellow employees so that they could “enjoy thanksgiving dinner”.

And then… (yes, another “And then…”), this morning as I sat with my daughter reading the news together over our bowls of cereal, we found a news article reporting a possible nation-wide (USA nation!) strike across fast food outlets, in protest of low minimum wages. The aim of the protesters was to raise the minimum wage from $7 and some to $15 and some.

I was shocked!

Not by the effrontery of the protesters, but at the amount of the current minimum wage. 25 years ago I was just about to turn 17, and McDonalds (yes, that fast food megalith) sacked me because I was about to jump to the next step on the pay scale. Apparently I wasn’t meeting targets (whatever that was!). It was the best thing that happened to me because I then found a job as a cleaner and started earning $12 an hour. That was in 1989. I was 17, unskilled and uneducated.

Kayne West

2013 is now drawing to a close and companies that are earning B.I.L.L.I.O.N.S! are paying their staff a wage that doesn’t allow them to provide a Thanksgiving dinner, and are asking their employees to donate food to help them lay a table.

This is the face of evil. Not vampires, or zombies, or Kayne West’s latest excuse for a song. THIS is the face of evil.

As my daughter grows up, THIS is the type of thing she needs to be scared of. This is the sort of approach to people that should truly frighten her. And like those protesting the minimum wage, she (and anyone else who cares about others) should be standing up and lending their voice to the chorus demanding respect. Respect for individuals, respect for what someone is worth, and running a business with that respect at its core.

For 27 years a man stood behind bars espousing respect. He was eventually heard.

Apparently Walmart still isn’t listening.