This is a post about education for the mere fact that it is about life. If you can bear with the length, you’ll see the points at the end (or jump right there). Nearly 20 years ago, I had a dream of being on the Mr. Olympia stage. Life has a funny way of working out and I took my athletic talents to the football field. But my dream never left me.
Three years ago, that dream began to haunt me. But I was 34 so I decided to get healthy. This past October, I saw how well my body was reacting so I set my sights on Men’s Physique bodybuilding Master’s class. A spinal injury brought things into perspective but also wasted away a lot of hard work as I sat dormant for months.
Entering Precontest Mode
With the doctors’ okay to begin, I recalculated with the help of an amazing coach and my lifelong mentor/father figure. We plotted a 16-week course and went to work with reckless abandonment. I started at a solid 248lbs, a bodyfat well into 20%, and a waste line nearing 40. Bottom line: I was strong and carried a good dose of muscle BUT I was an old School, off-season bodybuilder who was not in the ideal condition to begin a contest prep nor hit the Physique stage. However, hunger, focus, and passion can do amazing things.
Stress and Struggles
Precontest athletes are told and pushed to minimize stress, change, and problems as greatly as possible. It is the only way most say to be successful. As an agile person who thrives on problem-solving, evolving, and change managing, stress was something unavoidable. I just never realized the impact on one’s health, physique, and quality of life. That is, until this precontest phase where I saw dreams being destroyed by stress.
Mine was the antithesis of smooth:
- 14 Weeks Out: Pneumonia
- 11 Weeks Out: Bicep/Tricep muscle tears
- 10 Weeks Out: Pinch nerve rendering left arm out of commission for 10 days and even then it came back with up to 70% reduction in strength on lifts. Not to mention, could not use dumbells for final 6 weeks leading up to show.
- 10 Weeks Out: Interviewed and accepted new job
- 8 Weeks Out: Take on technical department along with already assigned instructional tech during transition
- 5 Weeks Out: We discover there is no Master’s class. I either stay the course and go into the Open (all ages and primarily young, talented folks) or drop out for a later show.
- 3 Weeks Out: Family member in accident and left on life support for 10 days. Two inches went on my waist during those 10 days despite no changes to training nor diet. Coritsol came visiting in a big way.
- 12 Days Out: We are ready to pull the plug. Body isn’t responding and continues to go in the other direction. Injuries making things unbearable for everyone.
- 10 Days Out: Minor fracture of left shin bone (unable to put significant weight on left leg while on stage)
Despite all of this, we still managed to get on stage…
Getting On Stage
The morning of the show, I weighed roughly 185lbs, had a 28in waist, and carried a bodyfat around 4% (estimated). I felt great the night before (photos in green) but we had a spill over the day of the show. I was furious and upset with myself for not listening to my body. So much work after so many setbacks only to have one small change cause water retention.
Right after prejudging, 1st, 2nd, and 5th hit a backstage shot together. You can see the water retention on my waste compared to 9 hours prior (photos in green).
Shots from the show after making a water/sodium manipulation error and then 90 minutes later after correcting it.
Evening show and the crowing of those that placed, the Top 5, who are now nationally qualified!
And The Results Mean…
I’m proud. My team is proud. I never expected to place in the Open. I was confident going into a Master’s competition but the Open is a different story. But I’m not satisfied nor am I happy. At 37, I chased down a dream despite every possible setback. But there is unfinished business. I have bigger dreams and I entered this precontest mode knowing this was a starter, a warm-up given 20 years off.
I sit now at 205lbs, nearly healed, holding bodyfat in check, and gaining strength every day. I’m going for it in a big way! Three years until 40 and I am giving it all I’ve got as I make a run at the Nationals.
I will also move forward with a much more transparent and active social media campaign during my run at the Nationals. I was confused, concerned, and reserved this time out of fear that personally and professional people wouldn’t understand. However, the outpouring of support personally and professionally tells me the journey can and should be shared.
Advice and Lessons Learned
- Build a Team #livelaughlove
- Contest Coach to Guide You (Mine, Bethany Halperin, is a master!)
- Nutrition Coach
- Stage Coach
- Posing Coach
- Stylist Coach
- Tanning Coach
- Chiropractic Coach (Dr. Clemens got me back in the gym and kept me there. Amazing!)
- Family Foundation
- Go To Person Over Everyone
- Trust and articulate the unique attributes of your body
- If you hire someone on your team, follow their program. If you have concerns, express them but never leave your coaches to believe you are following the program to the letter and your not
- Remove all stress.
- Patience! Patience! Patience!
- Don’t fix what isn’t broken
- Your mind and heart are your greatest enemies BUT the source of your greatest strength. Learn to be in harmony with these two
- Capture the entire experience in words, photos, sketches, and videos. I include a mood scale that I tackled daily
- Create a plan of action using Google and share with Team for ongoing tweaks, collaborations, and concerns
- Do a photoshoot a 1-2 after the show
- How do we create conditions for students to dream chase?
- How do we help students understand setbacks, failing forward, resilience, and focus?
- How do we minimize student stress, a silent killer of dreams?
- How do we discover, embrace, and grow the unique passions of each student?
- How do we coach students through mistakes and setbacks so they come out stronger?
- How do we come to understand things seen as different, counter or sub cultures, that students have found interests and sparks?
- How do we encourage students to find themselves and mentors/life coaches to guide them?
- How will you create conditions for teachers to dream chase?
- How will you help teachers to understand setbacks, failing forward, resilience, and focus?
- How do we minimize student and teacher stress, a silent killer of dreams?
- How will you discover, embrace, and grow the unique passions of each teacher?
- How will you come to understand things seen as different, counter or sub cultures, that teachers have found interests and sparks?
- How will you encourage teachers to find themselves and mentors/life coaches to guide them?
- How will you share and support your teachers’ passions that extend beyond the school – those living life-long learning but unable to model it?
A big thank you to Coach Halperin, Dr. Clemens, Capitol Nutrition, AllMax, Met-Rx, Billabong, and X-Sport Fitness. And without question, my family, my mentor Jeff, my friends, and my colleagues #horizon #livelaughlove
I’ve been sitting here thinking about this idea of quality feedback. In education, it is nearly impossible to discuss assessments, homework, professional development, coaching, etc. without hearing it.
Timely, relevant, specific, targeted, etc. are all descriptors associated with quality feedback. But in an age of speed where feedback is +1, Like, Retweet, favorite, and so forth, how are we adjusting our approach to quality feedback? How are we managing expectations for that quality feedback?
Worthwhile discussion for teachers with students, administrators with teachers, and professional development specialists/coaches with peers.
I’ve heard it murmured a time or two: “he will leave education for some big private sector role”. I didn’t know that this was a “widely” held belief until the past few months when I heard it over and over.
I don’t know which is sadder: 1) that speculation or 2) I didn’t know it was there.
Truth be told, I almost did leave a few years ago. In fact, I neared the main office to turn in my resignation and accept an #edtech position within the private sector. Funny thing happen though that was the wake-up slap I needed: a student stopped me to share what a difference I had made in her high school career and that she had made it to the college she wanted. I turned around, walked into my office, and shredded the resignation letter.
I haven’t and never will look back on the best professional decision of my life.
So let’s put this speculation to bed publicly. I’m writing my story and our story in the walls of schools. What is that story? Like I’ve said in so many ways, my mission is to make this change…
Innovation, Happiness and Smiles. I want the spirit of schools to be such that everyone is happy and smiling. If everyone was happy and smiling, I’d know the conditions for engagement, passion, interests, agency, agility, human-centered, loving, and living were in place. I’d know that these were capable of being alive and well. I’d know that education wouldn’t be about just content and skills but mindsets, dispositions, and experiences. When I look at educational leadership, I’m worried. I see hyper-standardization. I see a focus on the mundane and trivial. I see a landing mindset that fears changes, fears risk-taking, and fears innovation. Very, very few are smiling in that type of environment.
The only way that I believe and want to do this is by being in schools, in education. I am an #educator4life.
When I get in full-blown Ryan mode and the edubabble starts flowing, one question I’m often asked is, “what the heck does ethnography mean in relation to leadership”?
I admit. It sounds a bit awkward and definitely not a common word tossed around when pontificating about leadership.
To put it simply, I’m saying…
- Learning about and from people is core
- Balancing heart and mind keeps us soulful
- “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”
- Decision-making is first and foremost human-centered
- Exploring, questioning, and wondering should never cease
- Empathy reigns supreme
- “Data with a heart is a story” (boy, oh, boy have we forgotten this one in leadership)
That’s it. It isn’t magical. It is just being deeply curious about people, cultures, climates, and environments. Because that curiosity and “learning from people” (Spradley) can grow a better world.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view …
until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” To Kill a Mockingbird
Leadership is not about mandates, processes, nor standardizations. It is about a meaningful community that thrives on happiness, innovation, love, and smiles. When I look at educational leadership , I’m more convinced than ever about this point: our past models of leadership can inform us but they are dated. In a world that is rapidly changing and shifting, leadership is about a continuous state of renewal and avoidance of complacency. What if we led as fast as the world is changing? How might we create conditions for this type of leadership?
Beyond all of the management pieces and the given qualities of effective administration, relevant leadership is about creating conditions for others to excel. I believe those conditions are rooted in agility, agency, and joyfulness if our students and teachers are to benefit from our leadership:
– What If We Empowered and Fostered Ownership
– What If We Developed a Designer and Ethnographer Mindset
– What If We Focused on Design Thinking for Decisions
– What If We Put Wheels On Other People’s Ideas Not Our Own
– What If We Embraced the Wild Ones in the Organization
– What If We Build Experiences Not Products, Programs, or Tools
– What If We Rapid Release Tech and Professional Development
– What If We De-Privatized Our Departments
– What If We Shortened the Yes Change
– What If We Focused on Spaces (cognitive, digital, and physical) for Engagement and Renewal
– What If We Fueled and Sustained Innovation, Growth, and Excitement
– What If We Kept Passions Ignited in the Soul, Smiles on Faces, and Hunger in Hearts
– What If We Connected and Celebrated Ideas in Order to Create Ripples
– What If We Honored Today while Never Losing Focus on Tomorrow
This list of conditions is not exhaustive but speaks to minimizing standardization and maximizing autonomy. When we hire outstanding people and encourage individuality within a spirit of collaboration and when we trust, support and encourage our people to do great things, our students and teachers have the right conditions for amazing things to happen. This fosters the autonomy, love, passion, happiness, and innovation needed for today and tomorrow.
Defining an excellent administrator does not come from a list of textbook traits. It is about beliefs and actions that encourage and inspire people to move individually and collectively. It is about walking into a learning environment and seeing love, joy, and smiles within a changing, innovative environment. This is what defines an excellent leader, the ability to create conditions for constant renewal without those they serve losing ownership and happiness.
Our world today provides unprecedented opportunities for learning and inventiveness limited only by our own curiosity, imagination, and wonder. But to create those opportunities, we need to design the learner experience around agency, empowerment, engagement, and inventiveness. This means exploring and experimenting as we reimagine learning as engagement of the heart, mind, and body. This is where deep, transferable learning lives. This is where our educators feel the empowerment and the freedom to ignite and support the passions of learners.
All of this begins with questioning and asking what if:
– How do we amplify the creative thoughts, sparks, and passions of each student with the conditions, people, and resources in an organization to bring those ideas to life?
– How might we make schooling worthy of student engagement?
– What does it mean to be well-educated for today and tomorrow?
– What are the qualities that define the learners when they depart from our community?
– What if we created conditions for agency, agility, and people that led to engagement and inventiveness?
– What if we shifted our beliefs and actions of our classrooms towards a garage studio concept?
– What if we focused on joy, love, and passions over policies, procedures, and standardization?
– What if we were able to tell our story instead of it being told for us?
– What if we unleashed the power of learning through the opportunities afforded by the combination of student, teacher, and technology?
While there are many paths towards a learning environment where agency, agility, engagement, and inventiveness rule, there are four experiences at the heart of this transformation:
* Pencil and Pixel
* People and Places
* Pause and Perspective
* Play and Produce
Today, we need to reimagine learning around more than skills, more than content. It is about co-designing experiences for knowledge, skills, and mindsets that foster the whole child and qualities of genius. It is about getting beyond saying and starting the doing. It is about more than ideas but watching those ideas come to life when wrapped around resources, people, and time.
Technology is but one significant force in reimagining the learning environment. What I bring is less about technology and more about a scope of understanding that technology is a piece of this great journey. With that piece, all facets of the learning environment are touched. This is the importance of technology in education and it requires us to see those layers in order to create the conditions ripe for student and teacher success.
Yesterday, we had a day long think tank with nearly 40 teachers around the idea of how our technologies can best support and push the district vision of learning and teaching.
Being knee deep in synthesis and ideation that allowed a first prototype to emerge all day is cognitively and physically exhausting.
But I sit here energized. I sit here motivated. Because in a design thinking process, the facilitator is a deep, deep observer and a sustainer of flow so I was able to let the voices of educators wash over me: their ideas, passions, challenges, hopes, and joys.
Quite simply, I can’t sleep because I’m inspired. It reinforces my strong belief that leadership is about breaking down walls, removing obstacles, creating conditions, and putting beliefs into action.
But a dull ache sits with me. Do we as leaders provide them with the same inspiration and energy? Do we as leaders foster happiness and joy? Do we as leaders ignite action and passion?
Teachers and students do that for me each and every time. Isn’t it time we do the same?
Almost everything begins and ends with our staff. If we keep them happy and engaged, they will keep our students happy and engaged. This will then reward the organization with growth, loyalty, and renewal. And it is this that helps fuel our conditions for agency, agility, innovation, joy, and learning that creates the ultimate value for our community.
It is the human factor and it is the greatest goal of leadership: create the best conditions for people to thrive individually and collectively.
Not easy to create and perhaps even more difficult to sustain. Yet essential!
Honestly, show me a school without this and you’ll see the failures of leadership. Programs, projects, plans, and protocols are the unwavering focus. Compliance and fear are the themes. “They” (over we) is the language. Buy-in (over believe in) is the strategy. Mandates are the norm.
In other words, it is the difference between leadership that grows and rejuvenates versus one that rules and governs.
As a colleague of mine often quotes from :
“A leader is best when people barely knows he exists. Not so good when people obey or acclaim him. Worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled they will say, ‘ we did it ourselves'(Lao-Tsu).”
I can think of no greater accomplishment in leadership: living up to that last line, protecting happiness and engagement, and creating conditions for agency, agility, innovation, joy, and learning.
What If These Are Lacking
Scott Glass, another terrific colleague, recently expressed the irony that as , “an institution focused on people, education can be quite dehumanizing.” One of our greatest leadership imperatives is to fight against this reality and to keep the human-centric focus that is at the foundation of meaningful and relevant organizations.
So that answer to the question of what to do if the climate is a mess: stop everything you are doing, stand in front of your faculty, and say, “let’s pause and regain our focus on what matters: Us! Our happiness and engagement”. Is it admitting failure? Is it admitting wasted time? Yes. Will people not believe you? Probably. End by telling them that you’ll spend as much time as it takes proving that your actions align with your stated beliefs.
Then, live and walk those very words in each action you take. If you can’t, be open about why.
I’m not sure why it bothered me so much. I’ve seen in time and time before. But this past trip to Disney World at Thanksgiving shed the greatest light on the societal obsession with mobile devices. But I’m not talking about children. I’m talking about adults.
Line after line was full of illuminated adult faces as children danced around the mysteries that emerged around each corner. And the adults were missing it. They were missing out on the moment just to do what: pass the time, to connect to those not near, to disconnect from… Disney World?
It is hard to imagine how we’ve gotten here. It is hard to imagine the impact all of this will have on this generation of kids whose parents are often more concerned with the glow of a screen than the glow of their child.
I disconnected from my device more on this trip than I’ve ever done in the past. The glow of my children was simply more important than the glow of a screen.
It was an honor to share insights on “Creating the Conditions for School Innovation” with the Google Team. Without question, the genesis of these ideas emerge from the great mentorship that I’ve been blessed to receive. With that said, I’ve received a plethora of requests seeking pragmatic ways of bringing these conditions to life. In coming weeks, I’ll post these in a series of writings knowing that so much of it is
- about shifting mindset not completing specific tasks
- about removing the obstacles so that others can innovate not owning innovation
- about embracing the discomfort of the messiness that is ethnographic leadership not striving for order and predictability
- about reimagining change management not holding to what has always been
As a starting point, here are my top ten recommended books for you to read in the area of organizational innovation.
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball: There are few books that I read annually. This is one of them. It focuses on how to navigate the paralyzing conditions that all organizations inherently foster that stifle creativity and growth.
- The Power to Transform: This is one of those books that you need to read five pages and then chew on for a few hours. However, it is one of the most impactful and thoughtful looks at the conditions for sustained transformation. It is a head of its times.
- Mindset: I’m not sure there is a better book that tackles agency and agility more than this one. It is simply a must read. Two things to do while reading: 1. evaluate yourself 2. evaluate the things you do in your role asking, “do I promote a fixed or growth mindset”.
- Coaches of Chicago: This is written by one of my mentors and dives deeply into this topic from a leadership lens. It is a tremendous read for those working to understand the conditions that foster ongoing growth but not at the expense of a joyful environment.
- Disney U: How does a huge organization rooted in a picture of perfection develop and sustain a culture of performance? This book tells the tale of Disney University and the approaches they take to ensure personal and professional growth for all employees.
- Where Good Ideas Come From: This is one of those must reads. I encourage you to write down how you generate ideas currently both as an individual and as an organization (or team). As you read it, compare and contrast. For me, this book opened doors on idea generation that I never fully understood and was doing a terrific job on facilitating (you’ll get the problem with that very word upon reading it).
- Creativity, Flow and Psychology of Discovery: Creating the conditions for organizational Flow is my goal and ultimately how my worth should be judged.
- Switch: Change management. It is not easy. There is no script. It is at the heart of the work to get an organization rooted in innovation.
- Better, A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance: While on the surface designed for those facing the challenges of the medical profession, it provides indispensable lessons for anyone in a complex profession where risk are frowned upon but needed to evolve.
- The Dip and Tribes: These quick reads written by the same author tackle two aspects you are bound to face when shifting: “I want to give up” and “How do I start”. Dip helps you understand the change management cycle and the inevitable doubt stage. Tribes resonated with me from how do I move even the smallest of groups and then empower them to create their own tribes.
Bonus Reads (new pieces that I’ve just finished that are now foundational)
- How Google Works: I actually just finished this book in the past couple of days, but it felt like everything I’ve written, shared, done and presented was captured on those pages. The difference is that it comes with much greater depth, experience, and success than what I offer in my writings
- Creativity, INC.: A recent book that I initially struggled to read. However, I went into it wanting to know specifics about Pixar and didn’t let the book have its own approach. The real value of this book is in the specifics on addressing roadblocks facing organizational innovation. As you read, focus on the roadblocks that resonates as something you face.
- Creative Confidence and The Art of Innovation: Both by the same author, these dive into specific strategies that foster mindsets that believe in agency, agility, and innovation. While vignette based like many business books, you can draw the lessons from the stories told.