Connect, Commit, Contribute: Lessons on Leadership, Basketball Edition

Upon the passing of basketball icon Dean Smith Sunday morning, I have been reflecting on the impact that athletic coaches (specifically basketball coaches) have had on my own practice. While what I do for a living is “a totally different ballgame” than theirs, I noticed that I have pulled something from each of these leaders that I aspire to apply to my own work in leading learning.

Below are those 5 coaches, ordered chronologically by the time I noticed their effect on my own philosophy:

Mike Hardiman, Varina Rams and Varina Bulls

Coach Hardiman was the first coach I ever played for. As a 12-year old first trying out organized basketball, I lucked out into being drafted on his team. We were the Rams that year, and we won the championship of the league. Being that it was literally my first time playing “real” basketball, I spent most of the time watching (though I did get to play a fair amount).

In watching that year, I noticed that our team was uniquely different than that of our competitors. While our team was talented, no one player on our “starting five” was necessarily the best player on the court. Each, however, had the perfect skills to fit their role in what I later found out was a modified version of the Triangle Offense (which I have since learned a lot about from #2 on my list). All five of those players were on the league’s All-Star team that year, predominantly because of the WE BEFORE ME approach that Coach Hardiman instilled in us.

My role was relatively specific on that team. I could hit a pretty consistent jump shot from the corner, so Coach put me at our baseline forward position on offense. His suggestion? “If you get the ball here, and you’re open, square up and shoot it. You’ll knock it down, and it’ll be the best shot for us to score. Otherwise, keep moving the ball to swing the defense.” His confidence in me made me feel comfortable in playing the role that our team needed me to play.

Defensively, I played a forward in our 2-3 zone, charged first and foremost with the job of getting myself between the basket and my opponents every time a shot went up. Rebounding position was really important to Coach Hardiman- there was nothing less defensible than letting someone else beat you to the spot on the floor most likely to hold the other team to one shot.

Over the years, I played on three other teams under Coach Hardiman’s lead, eventually moving from that baseline forward position to a more versatile offside wing position. He saw me as a creative asset that could make the big baskets when our team needed it, so that’s what I became. While we made it deep in the playoffs every year and I made several All-Star teams of my own, it wasn’t necessarily that success that drove me and my teammates to come back every year: it was the way we felt when we were playing together. Coach Hardiman made us feel like anything was possible so long as we went after it together as a team.

Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers

Like most young men my age, I was a huge fan of the Chicago Bulls. HUGE. To illustrate that fact, I’ll make a confession: for upwards of 5 years, I made it a personal mission to wear some piece of clothing that declared to the world my dedication to the team.

Every day. For five years. By a kid living in Richmond, Virginia, 804 miles away from Midtown.

At the time, I attributed my affiliation to the team to an appreciation of Michael Jordan, and for good reason: he was my first favorite basketball player. I had followed him since the moment when I first opened a pack of Fleer basketball cards, flipped through the deck, and said, “Michael Jordan…I’ve heard of him. Isn’t he good?” I then watched the next Bulls game on TV and decided, “Yes. He’s good. He’s REALLY good.” My dad tells me that my fandom began when I saw his first big moment: the open jumper from the left wing when he hit “The Shot” against Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Championships, but I really don’t remember all of that.

Of course, I was a huge fan of Jordan. What I learned years later was that I was actually a fan of Phil Jackson.

I loved watching the Bulls play. Every nationally televised game was a holiday in my house, one where everyone knew what I would be doing. (I still remember when our cable provider offered WGN- I’m shocked that I ever made it out of the house after that time.) But it wasn’t just Jordan: it was the team. Like my own Rams teams, I used to love all of the different roles that each of the Bulls played on the team. As incredible as Jordan was on the court, it was guys like Cliff Levingston that I appreciated most. “Good News” would provide a spark to the team with his hustle and energy, always keeping the team in good spirits. Every player on those teams had that kind of voice, that kind of story. Every player had a role.

Coach Jackson caused that WE BEFORE ME mentality with his approach to the game. He instilled a much more nuanced version of the Triangle Offense than Coach Hardiman had used, the similarities of which I did not notice until years later. Jordan used to call it an “equal opportunity” offense, one that kept every player in the flow of the game. While Jordan would often take over the reins as necessary (as one would expect the arguably greatest competitor in the history of the game might), some of the best moments in those historic runs took place when everyone on the team was involved (including this championship-winning three-pointer against the Suns in 1993, when all five players on the court touched the ball).

Those Bulls went on to win 6 championships in 8 years, after which time the team went its separate ways. Phil Jackson made his way to Hollywood, leading the LA Lakers to 5 more championships and 7 NBA Finals in his 11 seasons with the team. I’ve since read several of Jackson’s books (my favorites being Sacred Hoops and Eleven Rings), and what I’ve learned about the Zen Master is how much he values knowing his players, knowing their strengths, and knowing how he can support them not just as basketball players, but as human beings.

Julie Strong, Albemarle Patriots

During my early years as a teacher, I joined the coaching staff of the JV girls basketball team in the school I worked under the tutelage of a neighboring Government teacher seeking a partner in her efforts. She knew I liked basketball, and she knew that I liked teaching, and so I guess she thought I’d fit right in.

Over our three years together as a coaching staff, I no doubt learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of coaching a team from Coach Strong. She taught me a lot about situational offenses and full-court presses, about running practices and organizing plays in the huddle. But what I’ll carry with me the most was the time that we spent building individuals into a team.

Our first year together, we were in a unique position where several students who would generally play JV had been called up to varsity. That meant that several of our players were having their own first opportunity with organized basketball as a part of our team. We won one game all year that season, and few times in life have I been as proud. The same went for Coach Strong- it was the only losing season in her career as a coach, and you would have never known it from the pride she exuded in each player’s growth. That team rallied together and pushed each other to improve, and each grew tremendously over the year as a result. They could have given up at any time, but Coach Strong never gave up on them, and they never gave up on each other.

(That one win was by 20 points, which is significant given that many of the games that year never made it far past 20 points total. With each basket that fell, the team erupted in excitement. Coach Strong has the conscientious nature to talk with the opposing coach to ensure they knew this was their first win of the season, which helped smooth things over.)

What I remember most about those years: we built deep relationships with these athletes, not just as players but as people. Coach Strong helped me to see the importance of getting to know the whole child, not just the student in the classroom of the one subject you happen to teach. These connections outside of the classroom led to significant connections inside the classroom, generating some of the most personally meaningful and inspirational stories of my educational career.

Tony Bennett, University of Virginia

I have been collecting articles about Tony Bennett and UVA Basketball for the past 18 months or so, waiting for the right time to “unveil” them in a post about leadership and teamwork. Instead of doing a lot of writing, I’ll just drop those articles here, along with a few relevant quotes from the articles that reflect why I am so drawn to Coach Bennett’s approach. (Side note: I cannot wait to add many, many more.)

After winning the ACC Championship in 2014 (quoting Justin Anderson):

Following UVA’s 2014’s exit from the NCAA Tournament (quoting Matt Norlander):

  • Some coaches are able to discover threads that tie men together through different motivations, and for whatever reason, they simply work in the macro. Honesty and earnestness is a part of it with some people, and Bennett is one of those guys.
  • He doesn’t do swift and pretty. His program projects reflect the way his teams play: slow, methodical, with purpose — and without arrogance or presumption.
  • Cavaliers basketball is now based on five pillars: unity, thankfulness, praise, humility and servanthood.

Describing UVA’s as-yet-unbeaten streak during the 2014-15 season (quoting Jeff White):

  • By the time the `Hoos took the court for practice…the latest polls were out, but there was no mention of the No. 2 ranking, and Bennett offered his players no extra praise.
  • On the ACC coaches’ teleconference early Monday afternoon, Bennett was asked about the national spotlight that’s now shining so brightly on his program: “It’s really irrelevant to how we play, what we do,” he said. “It just comes when you’ve won some games, and it’s there. I think the biggest thing is, whether the talk’s there or not…it’s how you process it, your young men, and what you do with it. But our job is to certainly be vigilant and say, `Hey, are we going to work?’ We always say, `Don’t believe the hype and all those things.’ “

Following this past week’s loss to Duke and the following wins against UNC and Louisville (quoting Tony Bennett):

  • After Saturday night’s 52-47 win over Louisville: “When you whip a donkey, it kicks… but when you whip a thoroughbred, it responds.”
  • “We learned some valuable lessons against Duke. After winning at Carolina, I didn’t want our guys to assume, ‘Oh, OK, we’re back on track.’ No, you’re going to have to scrap for everything. We played for each other and that’s our way. [I told them that] when we do that, I’ll take [this team] against most anybody.”

Dean Smith, University of North Carolina

Finally, I get to the man that inspired this post in the first place. Coach Smith’s place on this list shouldn’t be mistaken for not knowing who he was. I may have graduated a Wahoo, but I grew up a Tarheel. Some of it was my dad’s influence, some of it was Michael Jordan’s – as after watching Come Fly With Me surely close to a hundred times, it’d be hard not to have Coach Smith as a favorite coach.

No, Coach Smith is this far down the list because until now I have not spent a lot of time learning about him. He is this far down the list as a reminder that I still have much to learn from him, even if he has since passed.

What I know of him up to this point? He originated the Four Corners, which led to the adoption of the shot clock. He coached (almost) all of my favorite Tarheels, including Michael Jordan. He is famously credited with being the only person that could hold Jordan under 20 points per game. (Not even Father Time could do that, as Jordan did not have a single season in the NBA where he averaged less than 20 ppg, even with the Wizards.) He won a championship with that 1982 team, as well as another against Michigan and the Fab Five in the famed “Webber Called Time-Out!” game in 1993. He retired in 1997 with 879 wins, which at the time was the most in NCAA history. (He’s since been past by at least two others.) And he had an arena named after him: The Dean Dome, where I remember seeing a preseason game between the Bulls and Nets (which has its own story), as well as a regular season UNC game when I was visiting the university with a childhood friend.

That’s pretty much it. My knowledge of Dean Smith in a nutshell.

Even just after a cursory glance at his Wikipedia page and around Google, I’m learning (and remembering) more:

  • He is credited with the popularization of encouraging players who scored a basket to point to the teammate who passed them the ball, in honor of the passer’s selflessness. That’s so cool!
  • Also attributed to him: the practice of getting players to huddle at the free throw line before a foul shot. Never missing an opportunity to help the team get on the same page.
  • He instituted the practice of starting all his team’s seniors on the last home game of the season (“Senior Day”) as a way of honoring the contributions of the subs as well as the stars.
  • That last factoid reminded me of “Big Blue,” a practice where Coach Smith would bring in five new players off the bench (often walk-ons as opposed to the scholarship players) whenever he felt like the team needed some energy. It wasn’t a punitive measure for the “regulars,” but a sign that he trusted all of his players to do what was needed.
  • Someone posted Coach Smith’s recruitment letter of Michael Jordan, scanned into this story on FanSided. Such a small gesture, and yet such a huge one.
  • What’s even bigger: this article from the Huffington Post laying out 15 inspiring stories that prove he was more than just Michael Jordan’s coach. Chief among them: Smith’s push for racial integration throughout his career, his support of civil rights in general, and his “one firm rule” that he would drop anything if any of his players ever needed to talk to him, no matter how important it seemed.

I cannot wait to spend more time learning about the life and legacy of this man.

What I have learned so far

What I noticed in reflecting on these coaches is that their impact on me ultimately has very little to do with basketball. It’s a given that I’m a big basketball fan, that each was a coach of one of my favorite teams, and each was an incredible basketball coach at his or her core. All that being said, while each has a firm grasp on the X’s and O’s of the game, that’s not why they come to mind. I’m not that kind of coach anymore.

They resonate the most with me because they all placed an equally high value on their concern for people as they did on their concern for production.Photo Feb 09, 11 27 45 PM (1)

I first ran across this concept as a Managerial Grid model developed by Blake and Mouton back in the 1960s. While it’s gone through several phases in its life cycle, the essence remains true: the approach that gets people connected, committed, and contributing to a mission involves both a high concern for people as well as a high concern for production.

It’s not enough to push for production and expect greatness to happen, just as it’s not enough to care about people and expect anything more than sunshine and rainbows. Effective leaders must do both. And not both in an alternating fashion (which is described as a Paternalistic Style)- they must show high concern for both production and for people at the same time.

What are my own personal next steps to push myself toward embracing the Team style? Here are a few:

  • Help those I serve find where they fit, and vocalize the trust I have in them to succeed, just as Coach Hardiman did for me when I was just learning how to play.
  • Remember that “The road to freedom is a beautiful system,” as Coach Jackson once said in his Mindful Leadership practices. Help people identify clear structures within which they can work together seamlessly, which will allow their individual greatness to blossom to more than the sum of its parts.
  • Get to know people not as students, teachers, and administrators, but as people, as Coach Strong inspired me to do. Listen for those passions that make people’s eyes light up, and connect with them in order to learn from them.
  • Embody into everyday practice the five pillars that Coach Bennett has instilled: unity, thankfulness, praise, humility, and servanthood. Last week, my teammate used similar language: “The tension between unconscious competence and conscious competence? That’s humility.” Definitely something to reflect on.
  • Point to thank those who “pass the ball” such that it leads to success, as Coach Smith encouraged his players to do. Celebrate the selflessness of the team, and contribute to it by looking to pass to those who have the best shot available.
  • Commit to the mission, commit to the team, and contribute every day.

“For the strength in the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength in the Wolf is the Pack.”

PS Closing with that Rudyard Kipling quote felt just about right, until I realized that it indirectly sings the praises of crosstown rival NC State. No matter, it’s just a little too good to pass up.

RIP Coach Smith. Thanks for the memories, both old, new, and yet to be.

Year In Review: My Most Popular Storifys of 2014

Inspired by Patrick Larkin‘s reminder from the “Blogger’s Rulebook” about the annual requirement to highlight the most-viewed posts of the year, it seemed appropriate to do the same here on Learning to Lead Learning. Sometimes there’s nothing better than looking back and reminding yourself of where you’ve been in order to figure out exactly where it is you might be going.

Earlier this month, I shared my 14 most retweeted and faved tweets of 2014 (as well as a post that shares how you can make your own list), and I’ll likely do a Year In Review post of the most-read posts of 2014 sometime later this week. For now though, I’ll focus on Storify.

2014’s Most Viewed Storifys

2014 might as well be known as “The Year of the Storify” for me, as it quickly became my go-to digital curation tool. If you haven’t used it, it’s a pretty powerful resource for collecting content from diverse media – twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Getty images, Flickr, and Instagram, among others. I tend to use the site whenever I’m collecting a variety of content sources, as I find its searchable drag-and-drop interface to be pretty easy to use.

Without further ado, here are the 10 most-viewed Storifys I created in 2014:

1) #EdLeader21 4th Annual Event – Atlanta 2014 (October) - This year’s EdLeader21 event focused on student voice, empathy in design thinking, learning spaces, and performance assessment as levers toward promoting the 4Cs. I’ll remember it fondly as a great reconnection with colleagues from across the USA, a valued “bi-coastal” collaborative presentation with teammates, and the time I almost won $5 from Steve Saunders for taking a selfie with 5 Seconds Of Summer.

2) More Important: Questions or Answers? (January) – A collection of contexts (predominantly from January 19th’s #sunchat) in which I asked educators to agree or disagree with the following statement: As teachers, having the right questions is more important than having the right answers. Seeing this post reminds me of the need to ask this question in more contexts, as well as the need to ask more questions.

An image from #ACPSCAI14 displaying the importance of focusing on both what students know and what they can do.

3) #PowerofPLN: The Power of a Personal Learning Network (published in July, most recently updated in November) – A collection of “Why Connect?” responses based on a serendipitously-timed trio of PD sessions. On July 9, 2014, Chad Smith in Gastonia NC, Kerri Williams at #EVSCREV14 in Evansville, IN, and I were all leading PD sessions around the power of professional learning networks, and engaging our PLNs in the session. This PD session was a reinvigorating one in many ways, and I still have many “next steps” to tend to based on what I learned from facilitating these sessions.

4) #ACPSCAI14: Changing Our Perspective When Assessing Student Work (June) – A collection of tweets, links, and posts shared during Albemarle County’s Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction (CAI) Institute, in which interdisciplinary teams across multiple grade levels collaboratively assessed student work as evidence of relative mastery of lifelong learning competencies. I promise: it was a LOT more fun than it may sound!

5) #PubPriBridge: The Inaugural Chat (January) – The archive of the inaugural #PubPriBridge chat, a connection of public & private school educators connecting to make a difference for the benefit of learners everywhere. Moderated by Peter Gow, it was a connection with Chris Thinnes from 2013’s EdLeader21 event that brought me to the discussion.

#ACPS selfie: MESA representatives cheesing with Del. David Toscano

6) AHS’s MESA at VMSC’s Programs That Work reception (January) – Director Jeff Prillaman and recent alum Eric Hahn represented Albemarle High School’s Math, Engineering, and Science Academy (MESA) as recipients of Virginia Math & Science Coalition’s Programs That Work award in Richmond, VA. So many of my favorite pictures are in here, including this selfie of all of us with Delegate David Toscano, and this painstakingly staged “physicsy” pic of the award.

7) #AVIDchat: Summer WICOR HW (June) - The archive of the June 25th #AVIDchat where educators came together to focus on ways of incorporating WICOR into their summer professional learning. The conversation was inspired by this post by Craig McKinney on AVID’s Adventures in College and Career Readiness blog.

8) 14 for ’14: My Top Tweets from 2014 (December) – The aforementioned reflection on “the year that’s been” by looking back through my most favorited & retweeted tweets of 2014. This post is a great collection of people & ideas focused on leadership, teaching, and learning.

9) #AVIDchat: Valuing WICOR process skills (February) – An archive of the February 5th #AVIDchat, inspired by @alyssa_ruther’s question: How do we help students value the WICOR process skills that they develop in the AVID elective?

10) My First Graphic Recording (August) – Tweets around the creation of a graphic recording of ACPS Superintendent Pam Moran‘s welcome message to Albemarle County Public School’s new teachers at New Teacher Academy 2014. This Storify includes tips on #graphicrecording from members of the #sketchnotes community like verbaltovisual’s Doug Neill, Sketchnotes Handbook author Mike Rohde, and noted graphic facilitator Rachel Smith.

That’s the year in a nutshell – thanks for everyone who has been a part of it!

How To: Curate a List of Your Year’s Top Tweets

Every year around the winter break, I seek to stop and pause, reflecting on a year that seems to have flown by even faster than the last. This year, I decided to do so by looking back at tweets. So much of the power of twitter is its “right now” immediacy that it’s easy to forget how looking at past tweets can remind us of what we have learned over the course of the year.

So I went back and remembered, collecting the tweets along with the memories around them in this Storify of my Top 14 Tweets of 2014. And with just a few easy steps, you can make a list of your own! There are probably easier automated ways to accomplish a similar task, but I prefer a certain level of customization in the process, or else for me it’s not quite reflection.

Here’s how I made mine:

1. Make the place where you will curate your list. I used Storify because of the ease with which it integrates tweets, links, and various other media from around the web. It’s pretty easy to use- click “New Story” and you’re ready to get started!

2. Find your top tweets. I used favstar‘s “Best Of” feature to find my most faved & retweeted tweets. While there are several other tools that do something similar, I found the favstar’s quick clicking when showing Favs & Retweets the easiest to use for this specific purpose. (Note: I’d recommend opening a new tab in your browser, with Storify in one tab and Favstar in another. This will make the process of curating tweets much easier.)

Screenshot 2014-12-24 09.25.123. Find the URLs of those tweets. I did so by copying and pasting key strings of words from the tweets shown on favstar into the twitter search engine. Finding the original tweets helped me remember the context of each of these tweets, which was a fun trip down memory lane. More importantly, clicking on “Details” also brought up the specific URL of each tweet, which is important for the next step.

Screenshot 2014-12-24 09.48.114. Add the tweet to your list. By copying and pasting the URL of the tweet into the “Embed URL” option on Storify’s wide array of media options, you will be given the option of embedding each of these tweets into your curated list of top tweets. It’s a little bit counter-intuitive, but the Embed URL option works much better in this instance than the Embed Tweet option because in my experience the twitter search engine on Storify only looks back 1 week into the past.

From there, add any flourishes, additional context, or memories that will help you remember the context of your learning long after 2014 has passed.

5. Publish and publicize your list. Once you’ve completed your list of top tweets, click Publish and it will be accessible to anyone on the web. What’s more, when connected with twitter you’re given the option to publicize the story on your tweet stream. I found that Notifying all of those who have been mentioned in these top tweets helped me to reconnect with some “tweeps” I hadn’t talked with in a while. Hopefully, they saw the shout-out as the “Thank You” it was intended to be.

So, to recap:

  1. Make a new post using Storify.
  2. Find a list of your top tweets using favstar.
  3. Get the URL for each of your top tweets on twitter.
  4. Embed the URL for each tweet into your Storify.
  5. Publish and publicize your list using Storify’s connection to twitter.

I hope you find as much benefit to the reflective pause that comes from looking back at your year that I did. Happy holidays to everyone out there in the PLN that makes learning together so rewarding. Here’s to the great learning opportunities that 2015 will provide!

O Captain My Captain: Lessons in Leadership from Derek Jeter

It’s official. After 20 years on the diamond, Yankee captain Derek Jeter has officially played his last Major League game. (Note that I didn’t say, “his last game in pinstripes,” as he’ll surely be back on the field for Old Timers’ Day one of these days.) We can all ask that he “say it ain’t so,” but it’s so.

That all being said, there’s a lot to learn about leadership from diving just a little bit into this one man’s career. It should go without saying, I guess…I mean, his nickname is The Captain, after all. And it must be true if Forbes has beaten me to the punch. I’ll leave a few of the easy ones alone for right now (e.g. Dive in head first, Be in the right place at the right time even if it’s not the right place to be, etc.) and focus on a couple that have jumped out at me over the last few weeks/months:

Sometimes you’re born with it: Joe Torre has told some great stories over the last few months about Derek Jeter, in particular his ever-present leadership skills as noted over the course of his career:
  • What will the Yankees miss most when Jeter is gone? “Leadership is [generally] something that has to be nurtured. It doesn’t happen right away. Derek was very unusual. Someone like Derek doesn’t come down the pike very often. To be at a young age very responsible and very comfortable in your own skin doesn’t happen very often.”
  • Joe Torre on Derek Jeter’s legacy: “He was a lot more mature at 21 than I was. That’s the one thing that hits me first. He had great parenting…he’s a remarkable human being. I used the one word, which is ‘trustworthy’ to describe him, based on the fact that everybody around him was better because of him and he’d always be there for them.”
  • During an interview during today’s game: “When did we start looking to Jeter for his leadership? Guys like Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, everyone- we started looking to him during the 1996 season – his rookie season.”

All of these stories remind me: each of us has to be the type of leader that we are. As much as leadership practices can be learned, it’s also something that’s a part of you- and so much of that success is just about being comfortable in your own skin.

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My dad and me nerding out at a NYY@BAL game this year. Yes, we’re wearing the same Jeter shirt. No, it wasn’t planned.

Every team member matters: On my own family’s visit to see Jeter’s “Farewell Tour,” my father shot this video capturing Jeter’s pre-game dugout ritual. In it, you see Jeter walk from one end of the dugout to the other, giving a fist-bump to each and every one of the players, coaches, and batboys prepping for the game. No one gets left out- I even see him try to “dap” the security guard at one point, though my guess is they’re generally supposed to avoid that kind of contact with the players (especially the visiting team).

What it shows me: it’s important to this leader that every member of the team get that show of support, that reminder that they’re all part of something bigger. Their captain is the one who connects them together.

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“Hate the Yankees, love the Captain.” –Trevor Przyuski (photo credit Jude Przyuski)

You might be The Captain, but it’s really about everybody else: A good friend of mine went on a baseball trip with his son in 2012 to see the Nationals play the Yankees. During the game, his son was able to take this photo to the right. According to my friend, Jeter “noticed [the young boy] with the camera, stopped, took off his helmet, and smiled – in the middle of the game.” Life is full of these little moments- I had one of my own with my childhood hero Michael Jordan at a pre-season Bulls’ game- and it’s incredible when these larger-than-life figures notice that you’re there, and that you’re connected.

That’s a huge lesson for leaders: Notice people. Stay connected. No matter how busy the world gets in your specific sphere, recognize that ultimately it’s not all about you and your experience- it’s about everyone else. These seemingly small connections on your own part may last a lifetime for all of those with whom you are connected.

Note: Published just a few weeks ago, this Gatorade ad pretty much summed up that same idea:

Find out what people are thinking: I ran across a series on MLB.com called “One Word For 2″, where they shared what amounts to a 360 evaluation on Jeter just by asking a simple question of players in the league: “What’s one word that comes to mind when you think of Derek Jeter?” I love that you can disaggregate responses from his teammates, from his opponents, and from alumni of the game. Their variety of responses tells you all you need to know about who this leader is and what he’s about.

This little post reminds me to consider how you’re known in the eyes of those around you, not just how you think you are. However you’re remembered in those people’s eyes, that’s ultimately how you’ll live on. I wrote a post once before about that concept called Gone, But Not Forgotten that might be an appropriately interesting reflective piece in the same vein.

Lessons from his last at-bat: Jeter’s last at-bats (both home and away) are tough acts to follow, but I’ll try:

  • It ain’t over ’til it’s over. You have to come through in the clutch. Over the course of Jeter’s career, he has come through when it counted for his team, and his last home at-bat was no exception.
  • It doesn’t have to be pretty. In his last home at-bat, Jeets hit a standard, run-of-the-mill single to right field. His last at-bat in Boston was even less picturesque: a real Baltimore chop that bounced off of home plate and stayed in play just long enough to allow him to reach first (and drive in a run). Neither were especially pretty, and both got the job done for the team.
  • It’s not about the accolades. Jeter took himself out of the game after that infield single, accepting the cheers that would follow his last moment on the field. What’s unique: exiting the game at that time left him with 149 hits for the year, which with one more hit would have tied him with Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Pete Rose for the most all-time seasons with 150 or more base hits. His response? “I’ve never played this game for numbers, so why start now?”
  • Everything ends, and everything begins anew. One of the most moving parts of the last home at-bat is the sight of the rest of the Core Four waiting alongside former manager Joe Torre for Jeter to join the fold. It moved me on a variety of levels, but I hadn’t landed on the full extent of why. I read that this Core Four had played together for 17 seasons. Through good times and bad. Through championships and early exits. Through it all, they are family. And seeing Jeter walk off that field into their arms meant that the days of that family on the field have officially come to an end, so that a new era can officially begin.

Those shared moments during the last at-bats reminded me of something a mentor of mine once said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Every once in a while, these special moments in time happen when everything and everyone just fits together. You get this level of collaboration and synergy that is so infectious and energizing, and you never want it to stop. And eventually, like everything, there comes a time when that moment passes. What’s powerful about it is, once you’ve experienced it, you’ll look for it everywhere you go, no matter where it is that you end up.”

What sticks with me is ultimately that’s a leader’s job: to shape the spaces for these potential moments of seeming perfection, and help people realize that moment and “seize the day” while it’s there. Here’s to hoping we can learn from Jeter’s example.

#RE2PECT.

Half Empty? Half Full? That’s Only Half The Story

Photo Sep 11, 10 37 46 PMIt’s the age-old “optimist or pessimist” question: do you see this glass as half-empty or half-full? As it turns out, there are a variety of ways to answer that question outside of the “either/or” choice provided, and that could tell you a lot more about how you (and those around you) perceive the world.

For instance, this website contains a collection of funny one-liners imagining different professions answering the question. An engineer might see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be, while an entrepreneur sees a glass undervalued by half its potential.

West Wing fans may remember White House speech writer (and noted grumpy-pants) Toby Ziegler’s passionate response: “Half-full, half-empty- can we at least agree it’s not full yet?”

And when I’m asked that question, I generally respond with a smarty-pants science guy answer: “You know, the glass is ENTIRELY full. It’s just half-filled with water, and half-filled with air!” #nerdalert, I know.

Those who know me (and have read other posts on this blog, like this one and this one) know that I think about organizational change a lot, specifically through a reasonable facsimile of Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation work. This metaphor recently came to mind, and I thought it might be interesting to consider how I would imagine five aforementioned “adopter types” responding to this question:

If you had this glass of water, what would you do with it?

  • The Daredevil: “We’ve got some water- let’s drink it! Or splash it! Or pour it on our heads! Or we could float something in it! Wait- AND WE’VE GOT A GLASS, TOO? Let’s see what we could do with that!”
  • The Early Adopter: “I say we drink the water so we can keep on pressing forward and be better hydrated. And I heard that guy over there talk about what he was going to do with the glass- I hadn’t thought of that as a resource. Once we finish our water, let’s keep the glass and fill it the next chance we get!”
  • The Pragmatist: “Well, let’s see. It’s looking like it’s half-empty…but it’s also half-full. What are we going to do with this water? I’m really not sure. I want to make sure I’m putting it to good use, so if I could see someone else use this water successfully, then I’d feel a lot better about doing anything with it.”
  • The Skeptic: “You know, it’s not really THAT much water. I mean, we could drink it, but then it would all be gone! I’m thinking we hold on to it- keep the water we have, and make sure we have it available when the time strikes. I’d hate to be in a situation where I really needed water and there was none to be had.”
  • The Cynic: “Wait…you call that A GLASS OF WATER? That’s NOTHING. And besides, I can’t believe someone would dirty an entire glass, drink a half of it, and then just leave the rest sitting out. What is their problem? I seriously do not understand why people can’t just well enough alone.”

It’s kind of funny to read in this context, but I really do think that this little vignette encapsulates the wide variety of perceptions that different people tend to have about the exact same reality in the face of potential change.

Writing this post was inspired by an Oscar Wilde quote: “What is a cynic? Someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” My contention is that change adoption types tends to correlate to their recognition of perceived value versus perceived cost. My thinking is that this continuum of adoption types follows a relatively linear progression that balances perceived value and perceive cost in a given situation:

Screenshot 2014-09-12 07.22.19

So, what does this all mean for leaders wrestling with organizational change?

  • Come to grips with your own lens. How do you tend to perceive the situations your organization faces? Are you more of a Daredevil, seeing only the value of change without any of the costs? Or perhaps more like the Skeptic, noticing many more of the costs from the outset? Understanding yourself may become a window into your own values when it comes to leading change, and could help you uncover potential blind spots you might not naturally see.
  • Incorporate the viewpoints of counter-perspectives into your own vision. It can be a challenge to let your inner voice be quiet enough to recognize the truths in what you hear in viewpoints opposing your ideas for change. That does not make these viewpoints any less valid. If you tend to see the “glass half full,” go find a Skeptic who easily sees inherent costs, and present them with your idea for change. Holes will be poked, no doubt. But these are holes that you can fill, which will make your plan much richer as a result.
  • Listen for the lens that others are using, and let it inform your communications. The better you can understand others, the more likely you know how to engage them in the change process. Know a Daredevil who always tends to “jump right in”? Recognize that they’ll jump right in (though be wary if they don’t, and ask them why they didn’t). Pragmatists, however, may need a model before they’ll consider changing- consider enrolling your Early Adopters to help you build one. And the Cynics? They may never enroll- not until the change no longer looks like a change.

When considering this post through another lens, a different kind of “change” came to mind: Which to choose, Heads or Tails? A quippy quote:

Let’s stop arguing “either/ors” of heads & tails and realize what we have is one coin. Then we can spend our time figuring out what that coin is worth.

Smartphones, Inquiry, and Falconry: The Role of Technology in Supporting Science Education

(Note: This post is an approximation of the welcome speech I gave as part of the Supporting Science Inquiry With Technology Conference, a partnership between Learning Forward VA, VASCD, VAST, VSTE, and VSUP offered in Albemarle County, Virginia on July 24, 2014. Check out the accompanying presentation created with Haiku Deck.)

In considering how to get the ball rolling during a conference focused on supporting science inquiry using technology, this question came to mind: What is technology’s role in science education?

Technology in science education

I recently heard a stand-up bit by a comedian named Pete Holmes about “having Google in your pocket” that encapsulates exactly where I think we as educators tend to misstep. While I recognize that I’m painting with a broad brush, I would contend that many in the educational setting have a propensity to think of technology’s role as a highway to the internet, which students can then use as a place to get answers:

To borrow from Holmes’ bit, use of technology in this way means “there’s no time for wonder or mystery…the time between knowing and not knowing is so brief that knowing feels exactly like not knowing.” I don’t know about you, but a sense of curiosity and wonder is pretty high on my list of science education’s most valuable outcomes, so I’m not too keen on letting it get trampled if I don’t have to.

So I guess it stands to reason that my personal stance is to eschew technology’s role as “the sole provider of immediate answers.” If that’s not it, than what is? In order to answer this question fully, we have to start from the other end of the conversation. Instead of considering the tools, let’s consider the purpose: what do we believe about science education and what it should cause?

Inquiry in science education

As a big proponent of inquiry as a central pillar of an ideal science education, I refer back to one of my favorite definitions of the concept, written by Dr. Randy Bell in this NSTA article about Simplifying Inquiry Instruction:

Simplifying Inquiry InstructionThere’s something about this definition that is so simple and yet so powerful that I refer back to it often when centering myself on what to look for in science education. Unpacking the definition, what does it say?

  • Learning is a process.
  • Our students need to be active learners engaged in that process.
  • Our students need to ask research questions.
  • Our students need to answer research questions.
  • Our students need to analyze data to answer those questions.

So simple, and yet so many implications.

Full disclosure: Randy Bell was my advisor while attending UVA’s Curry School of Education. There’s a story about Dr. Bell that years later I recognize as having a huge impact on me as an educator, and it also also seems to apply to this conversation about the role of technology in science education.

Randy Bell (photo: “Curry Professor Helps Charlottesville Teachers Hone Science Skills,” Curry School of Education)

While Dr. Bell had comprehensive experience in working in all of the sciences from an educational perspective, he tended toward a “critter-focused” lens when it came to his passions. He would always point out a variety of facets of life science around us, especially when it came to hawks.

On each of the trips that our cohort group would take across the state for conferences and field studies, he would point out every one of the animals that was flying these central Virginia skies. “Look- a red-tailed hawk!” he would point and exclaim, as we chuckled and shrugged in reply. As I was a physics education major, “critters” were not exactly one of my passions, so it was only years later that I began to appreciate what I learned as a result of his interest.

You see, Dr. Bell had a pet hawk, and I always thought that was pretty strange.

I found out that Dr. Bell was a card-carrying falconer, which meant (or so I thought) that he kept hawks that he captured as “pets” at his house. While it helped me to understand his recognition of the red-tailed hawks as they soared above our heads, knowing this about Dr. Bell also made me think he was taking the whole “science guy” identity to an unnecessary new level. At its root, I guess I just thought that a hawk was one strange pet to keep.

Upwards of a decade later, I got the chance to have a longer conversation with Dr. Bell about the concept of being a falconer. I found out that in his mind, the role wasn’t really about keeping the animal as a pet, nor was it just about having an interesting “science guy” hobby. Being a falconer for him was more about serving as a trusting partner with the hawks in order to meet their life needs and ultimately help them survive.

Falconry as a metaphor for education

Many falconers, he explained, capture younger birds of prey in the late summer / early fall who have not yet fully developed their hunting skills. During the colder winter months, the falconer keeps the bird safe from the elements, while also helping it develop these important life skills. When falconers take these birds out into the wild, they’re not just doing it to have a good time- they are bringing the birds out in order to rustle up prey that the bird can eat. Ultimately, it is a partnership between the young bird and the falconer.

During trips into the wild, the falconer’s job is to find places where “food” for these birds might be living: small rodents, amphibians, insects, things like that. By rustling around in piles of leaves and brush, the falconer “flushes out the game” by moving some of the ground cover that might be obscuring these small animals. Once the would-be prey emerges from its hiding spot, the hawk spots it, catches it, and eats it.

Randy Bell with an American Kestrel, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, January 20, 2006 (from http://george.loper.org/trends/2006/Jan/961.html)

Over the course of their partnership, the falconer and falcon repeat these trips together, helping the bird develop both its strength and its hunting skills. As the bird builds its capacity for self-sufficiency, it then learns to live independent of the falconer, and eventually flies back out into the wild. Ultimately, without the falconer’s assistance, the hawk may not have survived the winter. In fact, research shows that up to 60% of juvenile raptors do not make it through their first winter.

Once I finally understood the role of the falconer, Dr. Bell’s interest in the animal finally made sense to me. It wasn’t being a “science guy” that made him into a falconer- it was being an educator.

This image of the falconer flushing out game for the hawk learning to fly reminds me of the role of the teacher in science education, with one key exception. It’s not game we as science educators are flushing out: it’s understanding.

Our job is to try to identify what it is that obscures understanding for our learners. With our questions, we poke and prod at the barriers and obstacles that cover up students’ understanding until one of those questions is able to force the “would-be prey” out from its hiding place. Consequently, the developing learner can now see the understanding, which allows them to catch it and swallow it whole.

Over the course of a relationship together with a trusted educator, the student starts to learn how to uncover that understanding for themselves. In their metaphorical spring, they fly away, now skilled enough and strong enough to hunt for understanding on their own.

Now that I have recognized this approach to teaching and learning, I can’t help but see that it surrounds me. It’s central to the tutorial process within the AVID system for learning, within which I have found myself as a tutor trainer and district supporter. It’s central to the process of instructional coaching, within which I have found myself as a model designer and “coach of coaches”. And as it relates to this context, it’s central to inquiry-based learning in science instruction, within which I have found myself as a “lead learner” and district team facilitator. When I think about the metaphor through that lens, it looks to me as if Dr. Bell has been a falconer in many more ways than just that literal card-carrying sense.

Technology in science education…redux

So how does this story help to answer the original question: What is technology’s role in science education?

If science education is, at its heart, an active learning process where students answer research questions through data analysis, then technology needs to serve as a tool to help in all aspects of that process. Not just access to others’ discoveries, but also to tools that help us make new discoveries. Not just in the providence of answers, but also in development of wonder. Technology needs to help our students to ask better questions. Technology needs to help our students plan and conduct investigations. Technology needs to help our students evaluate and communicate information. And of course, technology needs to help our students construct explanations.

To borrow the falconry metaphor, these tools need to help our students become better hunters, and not just do all of the hunting for them. Using the tools to circumvent the learning process means that those students may not be equipped to survive those metaphorical winter months on their own.

Crossing the Chasm of Change

Organizational change from both sides of the chasmIt’s been in various stages of development from anywhere between the past several months and several years, and I think it’s finally in a place to publish officially here on the blog.

The image above employs a variation of Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations (referenced previously in Indiana Jones and the Early Adopter’s Dilemma), exploring how five different types of people within a group approach change (signified here and in many other org change models as “Crossing The Chasm”).

Note: I have purposely changed the names of these “adopter categories” from those I’ve seen in references to Rogers’ work, who uses the terms Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards.  For a variety of reasons, I prefer the titles of The Daredevils, The Early Adopters, The Pragmatists, The Skeptics, and The Cynics. More on that later.

There will be plenty of time for expounding on various components of this post over the days and weeks to come. For now:

  • What do you like about this model? What would you change?
  • How do your own experiences match up to this model?
  • How do you envision using this way of thinking in considering change within your own organization?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.