Sunday, May 20, 2018

We Just Know...

While listening to a podcast this week, I heard a story about Bill Bradley. Bradley is the former New Jersey senator (1979 - 1997), who earned a Gold Medal in 1964, and prior to that was a professional basketball player. As the story is told by John McPhee in a New Yorker article, later turned into a book, Bradley was practicing shooting on a basket at a prep school. While doing so, he announced that the basket was an inch and a half lower than the regulation 10 feet. Bradley was off by three-eighths of an inch...

Just by taking some practice shots, Bill Bradley knew there was something off about that basket. He did not need to get a ladder and a tape measure. And while his assessment was not 100% accurate (although pretty darn close), nonetheless he was correct: something was not right with that basket.

Because of how deeply personal almost every element of teaching and education is, we depend on our knowledge of our students and their families in order to be even remotely successful. We can have all the content knowledge available to us (and to our students these days through the power of the internet) but if we cannot make connections to their lives, to what they're going through, to who they are, we simply will not be successful.

And as a result of these relationships, we know our students and what makes them tick. We understand them and instinctively know when something is not right. Perhaps it's a failure to make eye contact, not the typical upbeat response to the first verbal interaction, or simply a gut feeling that something is not right.

In that moment, we do not need a coordinated service plan, we do not need an assessment from a mental health practitioner, nor a note from a doctor. In that moment we just know...

And it is what we do next that matters.






Sunday, May 13, 2018

Two Powerful Words

I'm sorry.

Two powerful words.

Two incredibly powerful words.

This week the phone rang in our home. It was our landline. Yes we still have a landline.

My Wife answered the phone and stepped out of the room. I heard none of the conversation. When she came back into the room, she was beaming. "I just got an unsolicited apology."

We had been dealing with a situation with some friends - from our perspective it was a misunderstanding from an e-mail we had received. Our instinct was to respond to it right away and instead, we let it sit for a couple of days. We were still not sure about how best to respond when the phone rang that night.  As it turned out, it was best that we had not responded.

It took a great deal of humility and integrity to call and say those words. No "but" accompanied the apology. An unsolicited apology heals.

I'm absolutely inspired by this and hoping to share at least one unsolicited apology this week with someone who deserves it.

Who in your life needs an unsolicited apology?

It's always about #relationships.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

This is What We Were Trained to Do

One of the things I am passionate about besides education is aviation. I remember taking my first flight when I was four or five years old, and at that time, you were able to visit the cockpit in flight. I was hooked! For awhile, I thought about being a pilot but when I realized the schedule was incredibly demanding and required days away from family, I knew it would not be for me. I even have several hours of practice on a single-engine aircraft, with some of those hours coming at the Burlington International Airport. 

I still follow aviation closely. Recently a Southwest flight needed to make an emergency landing after an engine failure damaged the fuselage of the plane. Tragically, one person lost their life during this accident. What I was struck by was how calm the pilot (Tammie Jo Shults) and co-pilot (Darren Ellisor) were during the entire event. Listen to their communication with the air traffic controllers who helped to guide the plane down safely to the Philadelphia International Airport. 

It made me think of an even more heroic event in recent aviation history, dubbed "The Miracle on the Hudson," that was even made into major motion picture Sully. In this instance, a bird strike caused both engines to fail shortly after take off. Listening to the communication between now famous Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and air traffic control, again I am awed by the incredibly calm and professional nature of the interaction, despite the even higher demands of the pilot. 

Both pilots when interviewed following the events stated: This is what we were trained to do. Having only minimal training as a pilot (with a professional on my right), I cannot even comprehend how they all were able to do what they did - and communicate as if everything that was happening was perfectly routine. I've listened to plenty of communication between air traffic controllers and pilots and those two examples above relatively normal, except for the dire circumstances that both flights were facing. 

I have often wondered why the professional nature of educations is overlooked from time to time. Is it because nearly everyone has gone to school for portions of their life? I don't think so - that logic fails when you consider that we all go to the doctor and to the dentist, and we don't presume that we can perform those skills. Is it because we are working with children? Again, I don't think so as their are plenty of specialized fields that deal with children that don't have their profession questioned.

Day after day, professional educators and leaders work to engage an increasingly diverse student body, provide them with a full range of access to materials as a part of that engagement, and design ways to assess their learning. More often than not, this happens routinely and does not receive substantial consideration. From time to time though, we do have our own moments of scrutiny and attention.

Education is what we were trained to do. 99 times out of 100 we do it well. For the times we don't, please know we are harder on ourselves than anyone else. I am in no way comparing what we do in the classrooms, to landing a crippled airplane. That said, I would not want to be in the cockpit of an airplane experiencing an emergency any more than Tammie Jo Shults would want to be in a classroom of twenty-four first graders.

This is what we were trained to do.