Getting Out of the Way and Blending

The experienced practitioner of Aikido learns to blend with his attacker. Physically, it involves getting out of the way, then ‘blending’ or ‘shadowing’ (looking in the same direction as your attacker for a moment), while feeling the energy, power, and momentum that they’re bringing to the situation.

Blending allows us to move without direct conflict. We don’t overreact and add ‘fuel to the fire’, but use only the energy and power required for the situation, and nothing more. No one gets hurt. Once again, when we’re in the classroom, ‘blending’ isn’t a physical move, but a psychological one.

Several years ago, I watched in awe as a veteran principal blended with a disgruntled teacher who had been challenging some of the ideas being discussed during his school’s staff development program. The teacher was clearly frustrated, and eventually blurted out angrily,

“I’d like permission to leave. This program is stupid and it’s not relevant. I’d rather go back to my classroom and do some lesson planning.”

The presenter reacted as if he’d been punched in the stomach, and the entire staff looked stunned. The principal, who was sitting in the back of the room, broke the ensuing silence and spoke in a measured and sincere manner,

“We’re not asking for you to adopt every idea that’s being presented in the program. But why not give it till the lunch break and see if there might be a few things that you can use to help you?”

The teacher protested, “I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

The principal continued to blend, “You’ve already brought a lot to the program by challenging some of the ideas (the presenter) has brought forth. I think you surfaced a few thoughts that some in the group may have been thinking about, but weren’t willing to verbalize. We need people like you, with different points of view, to be active and vocal so that the learning here is real. The worst thing that could happen is we leave this session and have the real discussion and questions relegated to complaints in the teachers’ room.”

The principal sat quietly looking at the angry teacher, who was surprised by the principal’s openness. His face began to soften and the moment opened in possibility.

The teacher nodded his head, “If you think it will help, I’ll give it a try.”

The veteran principal smiled warmly, “It will. Thanks.”

I’d never seen a ‘blend’ done so well anywhere outside of an Aikido dojo.

The principal was clearly a master teacher.

pete

Sign Up to receive free whispers.

Soft Skills and Personal Development Are Key to Teaching Mastery

It should come as no surprise that great teaching has many components, and while schools are good at focusing their professional development efforts on the trainable aspects of teaching…knowledge and skills; the opportunities for us to focus on the more complex aspects of teaching…attitude, self-awareness, authenticity, and trust, are almost non-existent. These, and other personal attributes, are often referred to as ‘soft skills,’ inferring their lack of importance. However, extensive research (as well as our own experience) indicates that it’s our personality and presence that makes the greatest impact on learning in our classrooms. In essence, soft skills are ‘essential skills’, and our development as teachers challenges us to consider personal development as an important component of professional development; part of the path to professional mastery.

It’s who you are, your personality, your soft (essential) skills, that are the keys to teaching mastery; and it’s by bringing your best self to the classroom that you’ll experience the most success. Why? Because, by taking care of your own mind, body, and heart (your inner ‘self’), you’re also taking care of your students. After all, as Parker Palmer says,

“You teach who you are.”

I’ll be writing more about this in the coming weeks.

gratitude,

pete

Sign Up to receive free whispers.

The Calling

Image

 

I’m back after several years of an amazing journey. Welcome my friends. I hope you are all prospering, and that you’re letting your gifts shine bright in this world. There are lot’s of changes coming to this blog, but I want to offer you an excerpt from my latest book, “A Path With Heart: The Inner Journey to Teaching Mastery.” I hope you enjoy it, and I hope we get to re-connect soon. With gratitude, Pete

The Calling

Consciously, or unconsciously, when you chose a career in teaching, you chose a ‘calling,’ a ‘path with heart;’ for teaching is an invitation to a world of possibility… for your students, and if you’re open to it, for yourself. Though it may sound grandiose, it’s no less true, that who you are, your personality and character, are at the root of good teaching; for teaching is about big things, not little. And it’s by turning your own promise into practice that you’re able to unlock the potential of your students, and make a difference in the world.

Human beings are born with hearts that yearn for meaning. We want our lives to count for something, and our daily work to provide us with a life, as well as living. The classic story of three stonecutters helps us see that the true impact of our work goes far beyond the day to day tasks that consume so much of our time and energy.

One day a traveler came across three stonecutters working in a quarry. Each one was chipping away at a block of stone. Curious, he asked the first stone cutter what he was doing. “What? Are you blind?” the stone cutter shouted, “Can’t you see, I’m cutting this stupid piece of stone.”

The man walked near the second stonecutter, who seemed a little happier and asked him the same question. The stonecutter replied, “I’m cutting this block of stone so that the mason can build a straight wall.”

Finally, he approached the third stonecutter, who seemed to be the happiest of the three, and asked him what he was doing. “I’m building a cathedral,” he replied with a smile.

Like the third stonecutter, knowing that the work you do can make a positive impact on a child’s life, and sometimes, through that child, on the world writ large, makes your personal sacrifice and toil worthwhile. As an educator, you have the opportunity to build cathedrals, not just chip stones.

Sign Up to receive free whispers.

pete

Ed Tech Journeys Status

Below, find an excerpt from a chapter of one of my writing projects, “Zen and the Art of Teaching”. “My First Day” takes place in January of 1974. I offer this brief look at the beginning of my teaching career to my daughter Kate who will be student teaching this Fall, and to all aspiring educators who will someday step forward to lead their students on the incredible journey of learning.

If you enter the profession realizing that you are not just teaching a subject; but you are also teaching students; if you can grasp that you have as much to learn as your students do; if you can persevere through days like my first day, which was pretty much a blueprint for the rest of my horrible first year…

…then you will have taken the first, and maybe the most difficult, step on the path to professional mastery. There will be many lessons to learn as you progress through your career; but remember, you are not alone; many of us have shared your pain. If you open to self-reflection and learning; things will get  better.

My First Day

From “Zen and the Art of Teaching”

Pete Reilly

I remember vividly the forest of adolescent hands in the air, waving urgently at me, trying to get my attention during my first day in the classroom. It was mid-year and they had completely routed the young, female teacher who had preceded me. She had quit over the Christmas break.

I stood looking out at the class, pleased to be in charge, pleased to be in the front of the room, with all the authority. I called on one particularly harmless looking kid with jet-black hair that swung down to cover one eye and the side of his face.

He smiled nicely and asked, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

I knew this was a ruse. “No.” I replied.

“But I really have to go!” he said plaintively, clearly playing to his audience of peers.

“No” I repeated. “You had time to go between classes.” I was no fool. I knew the rules.

“But I Mrs. Rogers kept us after for a few minutes and my locker was stuck. I didn’t have time to go!”

I remained tough, “Not my problem. Just hold it for the rest of class!”

The class was clearly happy and entertained. I was not savvy enough to see that the longer this conversation went on, the more foolish I looked.

“Well, I have to go and I don’t think I can make it to the end of class!”

Now, how the Hell did I get myself into this, I thought to myself. There were giggles in the back of the class. This seemingly harmless student now pressed his advantage, effortlessly making an ass out of me.

“I have to go number one!”

Outright laughter from the class. I didn’t like being laughed at, “I said No, that’s enough! I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

I moved to call on one of the other hands that were waving to get my attention. I had gotten myself in a bit of a mess and it was time to get out; only I wasn’t really in control.

“Well if I go in my pants, then it’ll be your fault. You’re the one that’s gonna have to explain it to the Principal and my mother!”

Was it possible that I was making a mistake? What if he really did have to go? There truly wasn’t much time between classes. Why would he be so persistent about this if it wasn’t a real issue for him? Was it worth taking the risk with this student? This bathroom pass thing really was a bunch of bull anyway. There was silence in the classroom as I pondered Solomon-like in the front of the class. And then I broke down and blurted out in an exasperated tone,

“Okay! Go to the bathroom; but hurry up and get back here! No stopping anywhere.”

There, I had shown magnanimity and mercy, even though I didn’t have to. I looked into the face of my nemesis (what I could see of it) and I knew immediately I had been had. He had a vicious grin on his face, not the thankful look of one who had been saved from an embarrassing accident in class. He stood up, looked at the class victoriously, almost as if saying,

“Piece of cake! Too easy! We’re going to feed this guy to the dogs!”

He sauntered to the classroom door, opened it, and just before exiting smiled and waved to the class; who, for just a moment, were embarrassed for me. The door slammed shut behind him; a final insulting flourish.

I stood there breathless. I was aware that I had just been shown up, and humiliated, in front of the entire class. I gulped hard. Suddenly, a dozen hands shot up. The owner of one of the hands didn’t wait to be called on and shouted out,

“Can I go to the bathroom, too? I have to go! Real bad!”

Order had broken down. “Quiet! I shouted.

I was clearly frustrated. “No one else is going to the bathroom!”

“Why not? You let Tim go! How come he got to go and I can’t? I was in Mrs. Roger’s class too, and I got out late, too! It’s not fair!”

“Fairness has nothing to do with it! You’re supposed to go to the bathroom between classes, not during classes!” I spoke with all the authority I could muster.

“Well, I can’t help it if I have to go! My body doesn’t work on a bell schedule! When I need to go, I need to go!”

Actually, I had to hand it to this kid; he had a good point. “You didn’t have your hand up to go before I let Tim go. You can hold it.”

He shook his head, “Yeah, I guess I can hold it; but only for about 10 minutes or so. I ain’t gonna make it to the end of class. I know it.”

“That’s too bad!” I replied.

“Well you gotta explain to Mr. Ellis, (the Principal) why you let Tim go; but you made me stay and pee my pants!”

“No, problem! I’ll do that.” I said angrily.

“Yes, problem.” he replied. “You’ve got a double standard. Some kids can…”

“Stop it!” I shouted.

“I can’t help it. I gotta go!”

“I said, No. I mean, No!”

“Why? Why are you mad at me? I didn’t do anything. All I asked for was to…”

Suddenly, I cracked, “Go! Go! Get out of here! Hurry up!”

He jumped out of his seat and quickly left the room without any of the antics that Tim had displayed. I was definitely out played, out gunned, out smarted; and for the rest of the year I would pay the price.

Another student shouted out, “Can I go to my locker?”

Another, “What’s for lunch today?”

I felt like a surge of water swirling around the shiny porcelain before being swept down the toilet bowl. This may have been the high point of my first year of teaching. It got far worse, as the class continued to entertain themselves by torturing me, the way a cat toys with its prey, before killing it.

La Mancha and the Heart of a Teacher

When I think back to my days in the classroom the most important moments happened when I looked past the hardened sneer of a difficult student to see them as they really were. They were never what they seemed on the surface. Somewhere deep inside them there was something more. Of course, this inner spirit was often walled off and starved; and the more a student needed my help, the more they pushed me away. The one’s who needed love the most always seemed hardest to love. There were many, many days I lost sight of my students as people. I gave in and saw them as they wanted to be seen and not as they truly were.

I believe it is essential for teachers to have the heart of ‘Don Quixote’, the Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote sees the beauty in life; and he sees the inner beauty of the people around him including Aldonza, a hard hearted and angry whore. Quixote sees her as Dulcinea, a virtuous lady, and treats her as such. Aldonza rejects Quixote’s vision of her. She insists she is nothing. She can deal with anger but not with tenderness.

Quixote’s response? “Never deny that you are Dulcinea!”

I wish every teacher could see the best that lies hidden in their students. I wish every teacher would  do their best to bring that ‘best’ to the surface.

The classroom is a complex organism. It is composed of many, many unique individuals, each with their own set of experiences, each on a journey to find their place in the world. It’s easy to lose the heart of Don Quixote and to simply deal with the world as we see it. Near the end of his life even the Man of La Mancha lost faith in his own quest to see others as their best selves.

In fact, it is Aldonza, the most hardened of souls, that finally begins to see herself as Quixote has seen her. She feels the good soul within her. It is Aldonza, the student, who revives Quixote, the teacher, from his despair.

Don Quixote has touched the soul of Aldonza. She will never be the same. No longer a whore. She is Dulcinea, the lady.

May the heart of La Mancha burn in the heart of every teacher. May we open our eyes to the Dulcinea’s and the Quixote’s that enter our classrooms every day. May we help them see the goodness within them.

pete

Haiti

I rarely share personal information in my posts, but given the devastation in Haiti, I am making an exception. I traveled to Haiti in 1991. I was part of a work team that had raised money for materials and was going to build an addition to the teachers’ quarters outside an elementary school. The school was in Cabaret (formerly Duvalierville during Papa Doc’s time)  about a half hour from Port Au Prince.

This is how we found the job site. The teachers lived in those existing concrete squares outside the school with no electricity, bathrooms, or runnng water.

This was our Haitian forman. He was a formidable worker. He wore me to a frazzle.

The temperature was over 100 degrees each day and shade was coveted.

We poured a concrete floor and built the concrete columns that would carry the roof of the addition.

Unloading a truck full of precious (and heavy) construction materials.

Now were making progress.

The beautiful students who visited us whenever class was out.

They were super friendly and spending time with them helped reinforce why we were there.

I couldn’t get enough of these guys.

My first day in Haiti, touring Port au Prince. Found a nice basketball game in the park.

After work we visited the hospital in Port au Prince.

This little one was so small and so sick.

A dedicated young doctor educates us on the challenges she faces daily.

My prayers go out to all the Haitian people and especially to the children, the teachers, the men who labored with us in the sun, and the doctors who work so hard in such difficult conditions.

pete

Frank White

Sadness. Frank White passed away yesterday. I feel the loss personally and I know it will be a great professional loss for educators.

Frank has been around since the beginning of ed tech. He’s worked for a number of educational software companies. He had a penchant for finding really good startups, and he was always looking to help them find a way into the very complicated educational marketplace.

I think what defined Frank for me was his personal style. When you were with him you were with a human being not an ed tech “automotron”… dead sure that they have the ‘silver bullet’ in their hands. No, he wasn’t a know it all; but he knew everybody and was a welcome warm and friendly voice on the phone or in person.

Frank was always looking for ways to help kids. He was selling…but it was a warm sell, not a hard sell.

For years I took Frank for granted. I thought he would always be there. When he’d invite me out to lunch I’d be too busy. In my mind I thought there would always be time to reschedule. There would be other chances to get together. It’s so easy for us to take each other for granted.

I know I tend to deal with colleagues via the roles they play and not see the person for who they really are.

“This woman is a vendor, I don’t need to call her back.”

I’m not saying we need to spend time with everyone who calls on us; but how many Frank White’s do we miss when we do? Sad for us. We’re the one’s poorer for it.

I really got to know Frank better over the past year. I made time to get together. We began meeting at a local diner to have breakfast or lunch together. I wish I had begun doing this much sooner. I didn’t realize how much Frank had to offer until I got to know him this way.

We’ve lost a good one.

I’ll miss Frank White.

pete

The Mirror

preilly_small

Our local PBS station is having its annual fund drive and recently ran a lecture by Deepak Chopra. The entire show was thought provoking; but one concept stood out for me. The idea went something like this; I paraphrase…

“Your life is a reflection of you.”

Now that seems innocuous enough; but there is more to it than meets the eye. What I believe he is saying is that if your life has lots of drama, conflict, frustration, and anger. It’s a reflection…not of others; but of you.

Wow! Now that hit a nerve!

For the last month or so, I have found myself with a bit of a negative outlook. I’ve been complaining about some of the folks in the consulting engagements I’m leading. I can feel myself getting increasingly frustrated with the dysfunction I am finding in so many schools and school districts. I’m discouraged with the pace of educational change, and I have been more easily drawn into non-productive conversations.

Is this all a reflection of me?

I think it is. I have been out of touch with my daily leadership practices, so I find myself more easily falling back to my old and familiar, automatic behaviors. These old habits of thought and action don’t work for me anymore. In fact, when just a tiny bit of my old self-righteousness or arrogance shows up, it creates a big mess.

In truth, I have been restless with the pace of my own personal change. I keep getting close to breaking through with a book I am writing and then I choose to let myself get distracted with lots of commitments and consulting. Weeks go by and the book slips out of sight, except that my inner voice won’t let it disappear completely. The more I ignore it, the more I am aware of it. Sounds crazy; but that’s the way it is for me.

So, it’s a vicious cycle. If I let it, my mood gets very self-critical.

Which leads me back to ‘life as a mirror’. Is it any wonder that, when I am frustrated with myself, that I would express frustration with others? And, if I feel negative and discouraged with my own pace of change, that my dealings with others would mirror that negativity and discouragement? Yes, I believe the conflicts and the drama I am experiencing in my life right now, are simply expressions of my own inner drama. It is my own inner ‘critic’ wreaking its familiar havoc.

I know better than to let this happen, I guess that is part of my frustration. It’s so easy to blame the folks that seem so dysfunctional, because in some cases, they ARE. It’s easy to blame the bureaucracy of schools because they ARE bureaucratic and slow to change. It’s easy to blame the administrators who manage rather than lead, because there are so many of them.

All these problems and issues are very real. They exist on their own; but how I choose to deal with them is MY choice. I can be critical, angry, negative and discouraged; which creates conflict and closes doors; or I can choose to deal with these issues with an open heart, with understanding, self-confidence, and gratitude… which opens doors.

Fortunately, I can choose to take a different path at any time. Yesterday, I began my leadership practices again. I believe it was the return to those practices that opened the way for me to write this reflection. Each new day, each moment, is an opportunity to make a different choice for myself. I think that that is extremely empowering and filled with hope.

It’s very easy to get lost on our journey. Sometimes all we need to do is look in the mirror, the mirror that Deepak Chopra talked about… the mirror that is our life, for clues to locate ourselves in our travels.

pete

Thanks To Stager, Martinez, and Smith

I’m just back from this year’s NYSCATE Conference in Rochester, NY. Now I may be biased, because I am the current President of the organization; but this had to be one of the best conferences I have ever attended. There were plenty of educators providing high quality presentations, David Jakes and Gary Stager were excellent keynote bookends with additional talks by Marc Prensky and Don Knezek. Peter Reynolds of Fablevision was a constant presence and his art was everywhere. It was magnificent.

I am going to forego the ‘blow by blow’ and skip to one of the items that finally became real for me at this conference. Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, and Brian Smith did a wonderful presentation on the XO. For some reason, I was ready to feel the message in a different way…more in my heart I guess and less in my head. They offered these videos to help me understand on a deep level what is at stake. Thank you guys!

Please consider the “Buy 1 – Get 1” program this Holiday season. It is a very concrete way to make a difference in the world. Click here to get to participate.

On another note, here is a poem for the Thanksgiving Holidays:

Thanks
by W.S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals
back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a country up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

pete

Michael Pritchard

What are the chances that the kids in your school would stand up at an assembly and speak from their hearts about the pain that they are feeling? As educators, are we only interested in their minds? What place does the heart have in our profession?

Michael Pritchard is officially in my Educational Hero’s Hall of Fame. Check out this video to understand why.

I’m left with Michael’s last words on the video after a high school girl speaks about her father’s addiction:

The strength of character to get up, and to stand up for yourself and others… and to help others to be more compassionate; if we can tap into that resource for the world…this apathy, this neglect, this indifference is going to end…. and that’s the beginning of peace.

What kind of role models are we for our students? How well do we know our own hearts?

…and how do we share them?

pete