I’ve spoken about finding and pushing one’s passion for over a decade including numerous posts here on this blog. Whether it is speaking about adults or students, the idea of following your passion is vital to a happy and joyful framework of life.
But I get a lot of pushback mostly in two areas:
1. Passion is a buzz word and it is difficult to speak about it in pragmatic ways.
I understand this and have over the years focused this blog on actual ways to focus on passion in education as well as life.
2. Recently, I’ve heard over and over that passion is overrated and that people can’t always do what they love.
This brings me to my knees. If I’m exploring and pushing something I’m passionate about, I’m practically unstoppable. I wake up with unmatched hunger and focus. I live, laugh, and love.
If I’m doing something outside of my passion or even a potential passion (an interest), I am merely average. Yes, we all have to do these things but I tend to know that a) I need to link them to a larger vision of life or b) just get through them.
And that’s just it. I don’t want to just get through. I can’t imagine a life where complacency and settling are the foundations of what I do. I want to wake up each and every morning alive. I want to prioritize around my passions. I want to be comfortable saying “no” because it isn’t moving me closer to bringing to life my vision. I want others to support and help me grow my passions, find new ones (expose me to new things), and breakdown barriers preventing growth within my passions.
And I want this for students. Strengths and passions maximized! Interests and possibilities explored. Wonderlust, a word I heard today, honored!!
Passion, after all, propels!
You have to stop talking and start doing or else be comfortable with always saying, “I was going to do that.” And that statement, no matter how good it makes you feel, is actually a statement of weakness.
Whether good or bad, I find it hard to stand still. Ideas are constantly flowing through my head at a rapid pace. While most I let flow past awaiting a possible future return with greater clarity, there are others that align so well with observations, needs, potential, and push that drives action.
Ideation and innovation, in other words, is one thing but execution is another. And on a daily basis, I hear some iteration of “I was thinking about doing that”.
The thing is that maybe you were, maybe you had the exact same idea. Yet, you didn’t act. You didn’t take the leap. You played it safe. You didn’t invest the time. You didn’t prioritize.
So I have little time for those that think it is positive or some how self assuring to let others know they had the same idea, the same intent, the same awareness but didn’t act. I believe in do now, fail forward, and work collectively to improve. I believe dream are important but dream chasing is the ultimate.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many ideas that I don’t act upon and then I watch someone else come up with something almost identical, execute it, and make the difference I knew was possible. In this situation, I don’t spend time letting him or her and the world know “I thought of that too” or “I was going to do that”.
No, I support them. I put wheels on his or her idea(s).
And I remind myself that at any given moment someone else is coming up with a great idea and it is the action, execution, and implementation that sets us apart. Become the person known for innovation and execution not the person known for never bringing dreams to life but feeling the air with wasted words of “was going to”.
As we wrapped up our new teacher orientation today, I gave our teachers a letter and three simple yet meaningful gifts connected to the themes of the week: engagement of the heart, mind, and body; you are not alone; the power of happiness and passion.
1. A Doorstop
These are hot commodities in schools so there is an immense practicality to a doorstop. But there is a metaphorical significance that is at the heart of teachers who are outstanding: opening and keeping your door open both physically and metaphorically. Keeping his or her door open physically let’s the world know what is happening in the classroom. It allows people to see the risks, rewards, failures, and successes. It is a welcome sign for visitors who can provide insights, share ideas, and offer perspective. This is an open invitation that waves colleagues into the room where their wisdom can be pulled.
But it is also a sign of being open to others, open to new ideas, open to feedback, open to growth. An open door is an open, growth mindset that is at the heart of the most successful, long-term educators.
We have too many one-room schoolhouses that are doing wonderful things that few know about. A doorstop is a sign of breaking down those walls. It is a gift that I hope each of them will someday give to someone else.
2. Letters from Students about their Favorite Teachers
Passion, joy, happiness… creative, energetic, and a little whacky… empathetic, aware, and caring… These are just some of the words that emerge with almost each and every teacher identified by students as most impactful. The gift of last year’s letters from students nominating impactful teachers serve as reminders that the classroom is about the engagement of heart, mind, and body. It is a human-centric endeavor. When we remember that and we focus on the service of all three aspects, the classroom becomes a powerful environment — one in which you walk in and feel the energy, the vibe.
These letters also serve as a connector. These are the teachers that are making a difference. Get to know them. Connect with them. Reach out to them. Go see them in and out of the classroom. Learn from and with them!
Education can be lonely. When things get challenging, we too often close our doors and go it alone. Why? There is a sense of pride, a sense of not wanting to admit that things are challenging. When we free ourselves of the belief of perfection, we recognize that an extended hand will be met with many smiles. We are not alone unless we choose to be alone. The lifesavers serve as that reminder.
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?