WHAT I’VE LEARNED AFTER ONE YEAR AS A PRINCIPAL

Last spring is when it all began–before the words self-quarantining and social distancing became commonly used within our vocabularies. Springtime in Bakersfield is when fans are kept on throughout the night, and a light blanket is all that’s required while sleeping.

It was on one of those nights I awoke around 2:00 A.M. My heart was racing and my stomach was churning, which surprised me even though the reason for why I felt this way wasn’t a mystery. I left my bed, walked to the living room, and sat on the couch telling myself to chill. I stared at the fireplace. My breathing was fast until it settled into a comfortable rhythm. “In through the nose, out through the mouth,” I whispered, having been coached well by various meditation apps. This helped calm my pounding heart, but my mind wouldn’t stop.

What did I get myself into?

How did I think I could do this?

I have no idea where to start.

I have so much to learn.

This last statement was discomforting, but it also framed what I had to begin doing.

I needed to learn how to be a principal, and I had to begin now.

This episode of raw nerves occurred the night after my principalship was announced. Those first few days after the announcement were hard because of my worrying, and my main concern was how much there was to learn.

Reading is important for becoming an effective leader, and I tore through books. I also cornered veteran principals and asked many questions, which was helpful. The truth, however, is books and conversations are merely companions to what’s really important: hard-earned experience.

I’ve had little time to reflect during this school year, but COVID-19 took a stick of dynamite and launched it into my hectic schedule, temporarily disrupting many responsibilities, which resulted in an unexpected respite.* I’ve seized this opportunity to share seven things I’ve learned as a principal this past school year. Granted, I’ve learned a lot more than seven things, but what I’m offering are non-technical items. They’re lessons for which I’m grateful.

I can’t promise groundbreaking insight. Maybe you’ll read the following items and think, I already knew all of that. It’s also possible this post won’t be helpful because you’ll have to learn on your own. As stated previously, hard-earned experience is the best teacher.

But maybe–just maybe–what I’m about to share will be of help.

1. That which hinders your task is your task.

I have one main to-do list, and it never runs out. It’s a constant race just to keep the list manageable.

My email inbox is another to-do list, which is true for all of us. Every time another message appears, it requires a response. Some email messages can be dealt with quickly, while others take a while.

There are also phone calls, district mail envelopes, and admin meetings–all of which require attention, and most importantly, time.

In a perfect world I could just start checking off the list. “OK, I’ll knock out some of my to-dos and clear my inbox after which I’ll call back those parents, go through the mail, and then drive to my meeting at the district office.”

That’s a nice plan, but there’s a problem: all my tasks will undoubtedly be hindered by what someone brings me, which means those items won’t be accomplished. The issue brought before me, whatever it is, has just become my task.

I know what some readers are thinking: Prioritize! Add this new task to your list! It’ll all get done, just do the most important thing first.

That’s true, and it very well is the case that whatever someone brings me should be put on the backburner. However, it’s also true they wouldn’t have come to their principal if they didn’t need help right now. A student is tearing up a room. An angry parent just entered the office. Johnny is lost somewhere on campus. A person needs to be coached, counseled, or uplifted in some way. A disagreement has to be smoothed over.

The job of a principal is to be a problem solver, and this is often accomplished by ignoring premeditated to-do lists, confronting the current reality, and realizing, as Sanford Meisner once said, “That which hinders your task is your task.”

2. It doesn’t matter who’s right at first, it matters that the best choice is made for students.

The most common advice shared with me before I became a principal was, “At the end of the day, do whatever’s best for students.” This adage is no doubt true, but oftentimes it’s hard to determine what’s best for students–especially when people have different opinions.

As a principal, it’s important to have strong opinions, weakly held. This idea helps me not only make decisions with incomplete information, but it also opens my mind to other opinions. Although it’s nice to feel like the sage who knows what’s best all the time, in reality it’s impossible, and that’s why it’s important to be familiar with what David Cote stated: “It is more important to be right at the end of the meeting than the beginning.”

You can go into a meeting, or even just a conversation, with strong opinions–that’s totally fine. Your mind, however, must be agile enough to drop preconceived convictions and side with a different opinion that’s better. To do what’s best for students is to engage in something you may not 1) understand, 2) be aware of, and/or 3) agree with–at least at first.

Holding strong opinions while being open to changing your mind is the only surefire way to support students. It’s OK to be wrong or not know a solution at the beginning of the meeting. What’s unacceptable is sticking to your first idea when evidence proves you were wrong.

3. Keep it simple–but not too simple.

Things get complicated quickly when discussing how best to teach kids. This is evident when trying to reach a consensus. Every grade level is different, and each student is unique. Combine this with curriculum, consultants, varying levels of expertise and experience, and systems can become complicated.

We must strive for simplicity, and in doing so, remember what Bill Graham said: “Make the complicated simple and the simple powerful.” As a principal, it’s my job to bring clarity to teachers. At the same time, even though breaking down complex strategies, systems, and ideas is important, these components shouldn’t be made too simple. It’s a balancing act. There are times when people should struggle through the difficulty of a complex task, and there are opportunities when leaders can make something easier to digest by simplifying.

If you’re wondering why more leaders don’t do this effectively, I’ll tell you why: it’s extremely hard.

4. Care for people even when they’re mad.

Spend one day as principal, and you’ll discover sometimes people get angry.

Often anger comes from a place of pain. When people yell, threaten, and accuse, they are reacting to emotions that may have nothing to do with you. That’s not to say they aren’t mad at you, because sometimes they will be. I’m referring to the common occurrence of someone overreacting to the situation. In those instances, it’s best to assume they are hurting and need to be cared for. This is easier said than done, but it’s important if you’re going to operate within the field of educational leadership. This quote by Krista Tippett sums it up best: “Anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public.”

When you hear gossip or negative things said about you, you must care about the people who are being negative. What they’re saying is most likely coming from a place of frustration and possibly pain–even if they’re just being mean. If you’re working hard and making sure you’re right at the end of the meeting (see above), you can rest in the knowledge that caring for others and remaining optimistic is the best course of action.

5. Being a principal is the most painful position on campus.

Number five isn’t popular. People want to hear how amazing being an educational leader is–and it is. Sometimes. Not all the time. Some days, it’s extremely painful.

I’ve been presented with this reality often the past year, but it wasn’t until I read Patrick Lencioni’s book The Motive that I realized the principalship has to be the most painful job. There’s no way to escape this fact. The principal is the one who makes the tough decisions. The principal has to think of the budget and sometimes say “no,” to good ideas. The principal has to deal with people who are upset but may not have all the facts. And oftentimes, the principal can’t divulge all the facts.

“Painful” is the best way to describe it. But then again, what did I expect? If I allow a scorpion to rest on my hand, can I blame it for stinging me? Of course being the leader at a school site will be painful–it’s the name of the game. So why do it?

Because it’s needed. It’s important. Someone has to lead and stay positive. Not in a false, optimistic sense of the word, but more in line with the Stockdale Paradox–unwavering faith in success while at the same time confronting the brutal facts.

There’s nothing easy about this. The best thing you can do is what another principal once told me: “Walk into the fire. It’ll be fine.” Yes, walking into the fire is important, and I’d add you must stand within the flames even when everything inside is telling you to get the hell out.

This crystallized in my mind while I read the following excerpt from Trillion Dollar Coach. The book is about Silicon Valley business coach Bill Campell, but the following excerpt is about Bill Walsh, former coach of the 49ers. At the end, you’ll find the balm for the fire.

Love is part of what makes a great team great. Yes, this was a natural part of Bill’s personality—he was way more ebullient than most of us! But it was also something he likely learned from football. Steve Young, a Hall of Fame quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, spoke of team love at a conference honoring Bill in September 2017. “Great coaches look beyond,” Steve said. “[49ers coach Bill Walsh] would get the team together every year and say, ‘Hey, guys, we’re going to integrate this team.’ There were all these little cliques—the safeties hang together, guys from different schools, socioeconomic backgrounds, geography, language, religion. He says, ‘I’m going to break all of those . . .’ “He wanted us to get integrated with each other so when you’re at Lambeau Field, down by four, with a minute and a half left and it’s third-and-ten, it’s sleeting, you’re soaking wet and the wind is blowing and eighty thousand people are screaming at you. Human nature is saying get me out of here, I just want to get to the bus, get this over with. “Now you’re in the huddle and it’s that moment. Everyone looks at each other and it’s like, we are integrated, we have a reason, we have a depth, we have a love for each other, a respect . . . “Why did the 49ers do so great from 1981 to 1998? It’s because we had a love for each other.”

Love. That’s the answer for surviving the pain. Love for the students. Love for the staff. Love for the parents. Teamwork is what will help you endure those moments when your brain is screaming at you to run.

Love may not be all you need to be a successful principal, but it’s a critical antidote for the pain.

6. Sometimes what you do well isn’t needed for the job.

Everyone’s good at something. If you’re lucky, you’re good at a few things. When what you’re good at coincides with the task at hand, it’s a wonderful feeling. When you’re in the flow state and everything slows down like you’re Neo in The Matrix, things are looking pretty good. I actually can’t think of a better professional state in which to be.

That’s why it feels horrible when faced with the fact that what you’re good at isn’t what’s needed for the job. You could feel like a fraud. You could feel subpar. You could quit. You could blame others or get angry. You could get jealous. Worst of all, you could stick to only what you know.

Oftentimes we think what we’re good at is the most important thing. So if our expertise is all about technology, edtech trumps all. If our passion is English Language Development, academic conversations are the focus. If we understand the science underlying early literacy, we’re champions of phonemic awareness and all else pales. If we’re knowledgeable about systems, all that matters is the structures we build.

These are good things; the problem arises when we’re good at one or two of these items and we neglect the rest. Even worse, it’s a shame when leaders are good at one of these topics and make the whole organization focus only on that.

So here’s what I’ve learned: I must get really good at as many things as possible, help people improve in those areas, and remember what I’m good at may not be the most important thing at a given time. In those instances, it’s best to find someone who is gifted at solving the problem.

Which leads me to number seven.

7. The learning never stops.

Within the crucible of the principalship, it’s easy to simply survive–especially as a new principal. You must build relationships, plan and attend meetings, provide professional development, meet various deadlines, address student discipline, take care of parent phone calls… and that just scratches the surface when there aren’t ransomware viruses or pandemics to contend with.

It’s important to remember a principal is first and foremost an instructional leader. That’s easy to say and hard to do. It takes a great deal of focus, compartmentalizing, and prioritizing in order to be an effective instructional leader and also take care of the fires that must be put out. Because of this, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming good at just a few things and then remaining good at only those things. While that may work for a year (or two… or three), weaknesses will begin to negatively affect the organization. The job is simply too big and important for a person to be good at only a few things. Instead, a principal must be good at many things: early literacy, math instruction, leading meetings, managing people, building teams, technology, social media, having hard conversations, attending to a budget, public speaking, 90 Day Plan, SPSA, SSC, NGSS, PBIS, AVID, LCAP, PD, CAASPP, ELPAC… and many more acronyms.

It’s important to realize a principal will never “arrive.” This acknowledgement is freeing and sobering at the same time. It’s OK to not be perfect, but it’s not OK to give up. As Abigail Adams stated, learning must be “sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” That sounds so tiring, so you need a purpose–not just passion–in order to not stop.**

I’ve learned so much within the field of education, and it’s humbling to see how far I still have to go. It’s even more humbling to realize the journey will never end. I do comfort myself with knowing I don’t have to be perfect to help others. I can still provide feedback and coaching without being the all-knowing guru I wish I was. The following excerpt from The Education of a Coach, a book about Bill Belichick, captures this idea well.

The NFL was filled with coaches with weak arms themselves, who could see things quickly on the field but who were doomed to work with quarterbacks who had great arms, but whose ability to read the defense was less impressive.

Belichick can’t throw like Tom Brady, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t help Brady become better. Similarly, I’ll never be able to teach students specific skills as well as some teachers, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide them with helpful support and feedback. It also means I need to keep refining my craft because I can always be a better instructor and leader.

And that’s life, my friends: striving to be a little better each day and remembering the competition is only with yourself.

There’s actually one more lesson.

Sorry, this makes eight items. Or, if you prefer, consider this a bonus.

Working from 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. on weekdays, working on your computer before bed (approximately two hours per night), and going into work on the weekend for four hours isn’t sustainable–especially if you want to have the energy to connect with students, teachers, and families and perform the daily high energy activities required of a principal.

More importantly, family trumps all. This means trips to the park are essential. Bike rides are essential. Jumping on the trampoline, drawing, playing board games, joking, talking, connecting, and being present (physical and mentally) with the ones you love are essential.

Of course there are times work life will take up a larger percentage of time than family life, but the pendulum has to swing the other way and rest there for a while. Your family and close friends are the ones who will be there for you. They love you for who you are, and more importantly, they’re the ones who need you. You could become the most influential leader in the whole world, but who will you be thinking about when it’s all said and done? What will your regrets be?

In conclusion…

The nights are warming up again, the current school year is coming to a close, and I still have a lot to learn as a principal. However, am I sleeping better at night?

Yes. Yes I am.

*Before COVID-19, on average I arrived to work at 6:15 A.M. and left around 6:00 P.M. every weekday, and I would go in on Saturday or Sunday for at least four hours. Of course, I would work at home, too. During COVID-19, my schedule has become less intense.

**I’ve been a proponent of purpose over passion for a while now. I recommend clicking here if this controversial idea interests you. (To be honest, I haven’t met a person who agrees with me.)

BOOKS I READ IN 2019

Below are the books I read in 2019. There are many more books I started and either haven’t finished yet (A Dance with Dragons) or I stopped reading altogether (Ask the Dust). I believe it’s important to discard a book if it bores you, and I did that many times over the past twelve months. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish reading twenty-six books.

While I enjoyed all the books on this list, none of them stood out as my absolute favorite. There’s one novel I liked the most out of the fiction I read, but nothing captivated me as much as my favorite books from 2018.

I added some commentary below to the books I especially liked. I hope you find this list helpful; let me know if you have any questions! (FYI: These books are in the order I read them–only backwards. In other words, Awareness is the last book I read.)

1. Awareness by Anthony de Mello

A lot of helpful ideas are shared for being aware and disconnecting from everything that makes us unhappy.

2. Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

Great book; I’ll read anything by Holiday.

3. New X-Men by Grant Morrison: Ultimate Collection, Book 1

4. A Summer with Montaigne: On the Art of Living Well by Antoine Compagnon

5. Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

Not as good as his first book, but definitely worth reading.

6. Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon

I read this in one afternoon in Barnes & Noble. It was the perfect book for me in the moment that I needed it. I love it when books are there for us like that.

7. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

This book really helped me understand the value in pursuing knowledge within multiple fields. I like the idea of following interests, no matter how divergent they may be.

8. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt

9. Leverage Leadership 2.0: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

The most influential book on this list that’s influenced my approach to instructional leadership over the past year. The two most important items to focus on for new principals is data driven instruction and student culture. This book taught me that and more.

10. The Lessons of History by Will Durant and Ariel Durant

11. Driven by Data 2.0: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

I liked it, but you can get by with reading just Leverage Leadership 2.0.

12. Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan

Not as good as Coherence, but still really good.

13. Don’t Suspend Me! An Alternative Discipline Toolkit by Jessica Hannigan and John E. Hannigan

An important book in that it gave me a good start in developing my own alternative discipline toolkit.

14. Cherry by Nico Walker

The best novel I read in 2019. I really enjoyed this, although it’s definitely not for everyone. I heard they’re making a movie out of it, and I can’t wait to see it.

15. The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey

I’ve used excerpts from this book for quite a few conversations and meetings recently. I have a feeling this book will be a resource I return to for years to come.

16. Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins

Not really a book (it’s a monograph), but I’ll include it here anyways. I found myself almost a year later referring to this book during a recent meeting. You know a book is pretty good if that happens.

17. The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan

Fullan is the only Edu-Hero I have.

18. The One Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller

19. Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology by Cal Newport

If there is one book I could force every person in the modern world to read, this would be it.

20. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

I’m ashamed to say this is the only autobiography I read in 2019. The good news is if I only could read one, this would be at the top of my list.

21. Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People From Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker

This is a must-read for all school administrators. The main idea Whitaker teaches is something that’s taking me a while to develop within my own leadership capacity.

22. Pet Semetary by Stephen King

The 1989 version of this movie petrified me. I have vivid memories of being frighted on the trundle bed in my friends room back when I was ten-years-old. Finally reading this book at thirty-eight-years-old was no where near as horrifying, but it was damn creepy.

23. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald A. Heifetz

This book is probably one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read–primarily because it focuses on the difficulty of being a leader and the importance of knowing what you’re getting into when you lead people.

24. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Patrick Lencioni

It was interesting reading this after reading The Ideal Team Player; some of the main characters are in both.

25. Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

This book can be viewed as a cautionary tale, exploitative, entertaining… possibly all three. I think it’s a good book to read as a parent. I finished it before Tiger’s comeback in 2019, so I think it’s a complete different read now.

26. Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov

Great resources. I wouldn’t recommend reading this cover to cover–better to understand the structure and refer to the strategies you want to learn about at any given moment.


That’s it! I hope you found this list helpful. As always, let me know if you have any questions. Here’s to a great year of reading in 2020!

WHAT MAKES A GREAT TEAM GREAT?

Toward the end of the book Trillion Dollar Coach, the authors discuss the ingredient Bill Campbell believed made a great team great. In their explanation they use the words of Steve Young, one of my favorite football players growing up.

Love is part of what makes a great team great. Yes, this was a natural part of Bill’s (Campbell) personality—he was way more ebullient than most of us! But it was also something he likely learned from football. Steve Young, a Hall of Fame quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, spoke of team love at a conference honoring Bill in September 2017. “Great coaches look beyond,” Steve said. “[49ers coach Bill Walsh] would get the team together every year and say, ‘Hey, guys, we’re going to integrate this team.’ There were all these little cliques—the safeties hang together, guys from different schools, socioeconomic backgrounds, geography, language, religion. He says, ‘I’m going to break all of those . . .’ “He wanted us to get integrated with each other so when you’re at Lambeau Field, down by four, with a minute and a half left and it’s third-and-ten, it’s sleeting, you’re soaking wet and the wind is blowing and eighty thousand people are screaming at you. Human nature is saying get me out of here, I just want to get to the bus, get this over with. “Now you’re in the huddle and it’s that moment. Everyone looks at each other and it’s like, we are integrated, we have a reason, we have a depth, we have a love for each other, a respect . . . “Why did the 49ers do so great from 1981 to 1998? It’s because we had a love for each other.”

Young talks about being wet and cold with 80,000 people screaming, and the natural inclination was to get to safety. I think everyone would have the same initial feeling in that situation. What was the factor that helped the 49ers withstand both the physical and emotional obstacles to success on the gridiron? It was love. Great teams have a bond that’s formed before stressful situations occur, and it’s that connection that aids people in reaching a goal. To use popular verbiage within the field of education, it’s collective efficacy.

WHAT THE FIELD OF EDUCATION CAN LEARN FROM COSTCO

Costco has a brilliant business model, and this slideshow explains the company’s success. I highly recommend clicking the link for a great read.

In this post, I’ve taken some of the information shared in the slideshow and compared it to the field of education. Again, I’d like to reiterate how informative the slideshow is because there’s a lot of data I didn’t include below, but for those who would like some edu-related takeaways–read away.

Let’s start with three facts from the aforementioned slideshow.

  • Costco is the second-largest retailer in the world.
  • Costco’s sales and profit continue to climb.
  • Instead of closing stores, Costco is opening them. (Even with Amazon breathing down its neck.)

Let’s dive into seven of the ways Costco has accomplished this success.

First, “Costco sells a limited number of high quality items in bulk size. The products arrive from suppliers in custom packaging, and are then sold through non-frills warehouses staffed by highly compensated employees… This approach is unique among retailers.”

Think about this: “Costco sells a limited number of high quality items in bulk size.” Costco makes the decision to say “yes” to certain products and “no” to other products. Some of the products that receive a “no” are good, but they’re not good enough. Since Costco can’t sell everything, they have to say “no” to good items that don’t make the cut. From the slideshow: “… customers get one choice of ketchup, one choice of shaving cream, etc.” By doing this, Costco avoids the paradox of choice. Customers don’t feel overwhelmed, and they’re receiving the best value possible.

Takeaway for education: Conventional wisdom states that choice is preferable, but there are a number of benefits for providing a limited approach.

  • People have time to get good at a few important things.
  • People don’t feel overwhelmed, which helps protect and strengthen morale.
  • People have a small number of powerful strategies to wield.
  • Feeling good at one’s job builds efficacy (which paves the way for collective efficacy).

The benefits above are focused on the adults within the organization. How about students?

  • They are provided a curated repertoire of strategies they can use to write papers, solve problems, and think critically.
  • There is a sense of order to what they’re learning, and connections between content areas are highlighted.
  • There’s more depth and less breadth.

Second, “Because Costco carries fewer items, their employees spend far less time ordering from suppliers, coordinating shipping and receiving, paying invoices, stocking shelves, etc. That’s why Costco has the highest revenue and profit per employee of all major retailers.”

Takeaway for education: Time is all-important. There’s no other resource that trumps time. Every initiative, every program, and every meeting is paid for by everyone’s time. When something new is added (and nothing is taken away), everything and everyone suffers. If Costco says, “You know what, I think we should carry two types of fruit snacks,” then they have to cram the extra fruit snacks next to the preexisting brand (which means less aisle space), or they cut some other product from a nearby pallet and place the new fruit snacks in its place.

Educators obviously don’t operate in terms of retail floor space, they operate in terms of time. When a new initiative is adopted, we sacrifice time (i.e. forcing more inventory into the aisle), or we must cut something (i.e. discontinue an older product). Imagine a Costco filled with so much “good” stuff, a customer can’t walk around the warehouse. The number of potential buyers would drastically drop.

Third, “Costco only sell high-quality items.” In this way, customers know their purchase has high value. This means less money is spent on advertising, but it also means customers trust Costco to curate and provide only the best.

Takeaway for education: We must curate what’s used in the classroom and throughout school sites.

I like the word “curate.” Google’s definition is “select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge.” Of course museums do this, but they also do something that is not included in the definition: they purge. This means after a while, they place certain pieces of art back in storage or send them to another museum. There is not enough wall or floor space for every painting and sculpture; some good works of art need to be retired. The same goes for education. This means if you’re trying to build capacity in NGSS, perhaps you cut something else. You have to pick your battles.

Fourth, “Costco sells products straight off the shipping pallets.” This is cheaper for Costco because it reduces labor costs. Is it pretty? Not in the sense we’ve grown accustomed while we shop. (Although the aesthetic might be pleasing to some.) Be that as it may, this strategy is working for Costco.

Takeaway for education: Selling products right off of shipping pallets isn’t pretty, but it get the job done. Does this mean we need flashy new core and supplemental curriculum, or can we use strategies and texts that have withstood the test of time and been around forever? An understanding of the Lindy Effect can answer this question for us.

Fifth, “Costco stores are cavernous, barebones warehouses–designed to efficiently sell, store, and handle high volumes of bulk-sized items.” Costco knows how much they can sell down to the square foot.

Takeaway for education: Education is different in many ways from Costco’s operations, but is it possible to do something similar to what’s described above at school sites? I don’t think learning per square foot at a school is possible, but it may be in terms of time. So let me rephrase: What is our learning per minute? 

Sixth, “Costco treats their employees well. They pay the highest wages and provide the best benefits in the industry.”

Takeaway for education: The slideshow states that Costco employees make $7 more per hour than Amazon employees and $8 more than Walmart employees. This results in low attrition and access to a better talent pool.

The takeaway for education is simple: treat employees well, and the majority will work harder. Also, our industry will attract the high-quality candidates we need for our students.

Seventh (Conclusion from the slideshow), “For 40 years, Costco has succeeded with a simple formula: reinvest merchandising profits into lower prices and better products; be a disciplined operator; and treat customers and employees well.”

Takeaway for education: Let’s restate the formula for educators: “Our industry must use time effectively by choosing high-leverage and time-tested materials and strategies, be disciplined enough to say “no” to shiny objects and things that are merely good, and treat all adults and students well.”

This seems easy, but as we’ve seen in all industries, oftentimes the simple ideals are the hardest to attain.

BE LIKE LEBRON JAMES

Two years ago I wrote this blog post comparing Steph Curry’s impact on basketball to John Hattie’s impact on education. From the post:

Just as Curry has forced basketball players to strategically think about how they can more effectively make points for their teams, Hattie is helping educators rethink how to be more effective in the classroom. Every strategy has an effect (just like every made shot within the three-point line is two points)–what’s important is using precious instructional time to choose the strategies that reap the greatest rewards.

My goal was to begin a discussion of Curry’s gameplay in which he shoots as often as possible behind the three-point line because, well, three points are more than two points. I wanted to explore how this is similar to incorporating strategies in one’s teaching practice that data has shown provides schools with the best results in student learning.

I’d like to reopen this dialogue because of an article I read recently about LeBron James on The Ringer, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Before we discuss King James, I have a question: Why didn’t NBA, college, high school, and club coaches stress the importance of setting up an offense that fosters more shots behind the three-point line before Curry’s recent dominance? Practicing three-point shots is essential, but setting up plays that open up a shot from downtown changes the fundamentals of how a team operates. When I was in high school (late ’90s), the strategy was all about penetration, which included lay ups, dunks, jump shots around the key, and the occasional three. It didn’t occur to many coaches that preparing all players to be proficient at threes, while at the same time providing offenses with the most strategic opportunities to hit threes instead of twos, would defeat opposing teams–many of whom were primarily going for the low-hanging two pointer.

Here are a couple answers to the above question:

  1. Coaches were teaching players to do what they themselves were taught.
  2. Coaches were caught up in the zeitgeist of aerial gameplay over the practical philosophy of getting the ball in the hoop from a place on the court that provides the highest reward.

The first answer makes sense–we continue doing what we’ve been taught. It worked for us, or at least seemed to work for us, so it’s obviously the best path forward. The second answer is a little different; sometimes we hold on to the past while embracing the shiny new theory, strategy, gameplay, etc. We create a mishmash of what we know and what’s new. In the 90s, battling it out in the key and the dominance of Air Jordan made the three-point shot boring.

But winning isn’t boring, and Curry ushered in a new era in which a team can succeed by making three points for every two points the opponent makes. The truth behind this was apparent to everyone, including one of the best athletes of his generation.

We Are Witnessing the Future of LeBron James by Danny Chau discusses how James had to change his game in order to compete against a new threat. James came into the league right after Jordan exited, but he had the opportunity to play against Kobe and many other greats who have since retired. James did well against these opponents; he was able to compete against many players who modeled themselves after Jordan and Kobe. And then 2015 came, which is when the Golden State Warriors’s dominance began. James realized the old strategies and techniques would no longer work. His team could drive to the rim and hit jump shots around the key all night, but if Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were on fire at the three-point line, the Warriors would win.

This is why James worked hard to be as big a threat pulling-up behind the three-point line as when he’s driving to the basket for two. In order to compete, he had to make threes–and so did his teammates. So that’s what he did, and if you are watching him on the Lakers this year, that’s what he’s continuing to do.

The same lesson is true for education. Like LeBron James, we need to remember the past but not be beholden to the practices that, while may be effective, are not effective enough. We need to practice shooting threes–whatever that metaphor means at your school site. As a matter of fact, we need to reengineer our whole offense so we’re better equipped to take the threes.

In basketball, the current high-leverage strategy is to move the ball around the court in order to provide opportunities for pull-ups from the three-point zone. The technique of shooting the three is mastered individually by players who practice perfectly for thousands of hours. In education, the strategy I’m proposing is examining Hattie’s effect sizes and choosing which ones will provide our students with the most growth. We must then practice our technique, which is us getting better at using the strategies–whether they be collective or individual.

LeBron James is staying relevant by changing with the times. Steph Curry created the latest shift to which James adapted. As educators, are we aware and nimble enough to see the current shifts and make the necessary change?

#BeLikeLeBronJames

Books I read in 2018

Below are the books I read in 2018. This list doesn’t include the titles I’m currently reading, nor does it include books I began and never finished. I believe it’s important to discard a book if it bores you, and I did that a few times over the past twelve months. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish reading twenty-four books–all of which I enjoyed.

I added a little commentary below to the books I especially liked. I hope you find this list helpful; let me know if you have any questions!

One last thing… In 2018 I completed the first draft of a book entitled Rise and Converge, which you can access here: . I can’t say it’s better than the books you’ll find below, but I can say it was heavily influenced by many of the following titles.

1. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Timothy Ferriss

I like to call Tim Ferriss my mentor, even though I’ve never met him. This book is a treasure trove of helpful information, and it encouraged me to do a lot of writing this year. You can’t go wrong with any of Ferriss’s books.

2. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

I started The Daily Stoic in October of 2017 and finished it a year later. I highly recommend reading a meditation a day if you’re interested in stoicism. The philosophy has helped me to live both a more peaceful and productive life.

3. A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) by George R.R. Martin

4. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris

5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Author) and Dave McKean (Illustrator)

I really enjoyed The Graveyard Book. Both devastating and hopeful, this story beautifully captures a good person not just surviving, but also loving others in a very dark world. I’ll definitely re-read this novel again.

6. Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Skin in the Game was the best nonfiction book I read this year. Like all of Taleb’s work, this tome will be remembered for years to come, and I will re-read it as I have his other books (i.e. Antifragile and The Bed of Procrustes). I can’t think of another nonfiction author who has influenced and challenged me as much as Taleb.

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

8. Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World by Michael Fullan, Joanne Quinn, and Joanne J. McEachen

9. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

My second favorite nonfiction book of the year. No doubt Peterson is a controversial figure in the media; don’t let this stop you from reading 12 Rules for Life. It contains a lot of wisdom.

10. The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

11. Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday

Super entertaining and informative–especially if you’re not familiar with how this true story played out.

12. What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagen

Kate Fagen wrote a book that is difficult to read because of its subject matter, but I highly recommend it for teachers, coaches, and parents. Many important questions are raised, but I can’t help but think some stones were left unturned.

13. A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) by George R.R. Martin

14. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Excellent. Most of my books are in storage right now because my family and I are in the process of moving. This is one of the books I’m most interested in revisiting as soon as I can access my library once again.

15. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Rowling completed an incredible feat in writing the seven Harry Potter books, and I will forever be thankful to her for the time my daughter and I have spent reading her wonderful tale.

16. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Walther Isaacson is currently my favorite biographer, and this might be my favorite biography. If there is one founding father I would most like to emulate, it’s Franklin.

17. The End of Diversity As We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed by Martin N. Davidson

I enjoyed this book and learned a lot. As a matter of fact, I wrote a blog post about what I took away from Davidson here. To read all my thought from my visit to the University of Virginia, you can check this out.

18. City of Thieves by David Benioff

19. Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, Expanded Third Edition by Peter D. Kaufman, Ed Wexler (Illustrator), Warren E. Buffett (Foreword), and Charles T. Munger

Some people may not read this book due to its $61.92 price tag, and that would be a shame. This book was worth the cost and more.

20. Get Better Faster: A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

21. Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes. by Jimmy Casas

22. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni

My team at work read through this book together, and it was a great help as we created our mission statement, vision statement, purpose, and core values.

23. Driven by Data: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

24. Edward Hopper: Portraits of America by Wieland Schmied

Edward Hopper is my favorite painter. I viewed his painting Nighthawks in Chicago last spring and couldn’t stop staring. This book is a brief but satisfying summary of his work.


That’s it! I hope you found this list helpful. As always, let me know if you have any questions. Here’s to a great year of reading in 2019!

LATTICEWORK OF MULTIPLE MENTAL MODELS

I’m gathering a lot of wisdom while reading Poor Charlie’s Almanack, and one of the best concepts I’ve discovered is Charlie Munger’s multiple mental models. To summarize, Munger hangs his mental models on a figurative latticework, which he can then use to make sense of what he hears and reads. Here’s an excerpt from the book (page 222):

I’ve long believed that a certain system–which almost any intelligent person can learn–works way better than the systems that most people use. As I said at the U.S.C. Business School, what you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And you hang your actual experience and your vicarious experience (that you get from reading and so forth) on this latticework of powerful models. And, with that system, things gradually get to fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

This latticework of mental models becomes an ecosystem Munger can visit whenever he has to analyze something. Here’s another excerpt expanding upon this idea (page 55):

The unassailable logic of Charlie’s ‘ecosystem’ approach to investment analysis: Just as multiple factors shape almost every system, multiple models from a variety of disciplines, applied with fluency, are needed to understand that system. As John Muir observed about the interconnectedness of nature, ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’

One of the benefits mental models provide is a comprehensive perspective. With a latticework of multiple models, a semblance of understanding can be attained of a system. This works in creating a system, too.

I bring this up because while reading about Mungers mental models, I couldn’t stop thinking about teacher collaboration within a school site. If you’ve been an educator for at least the last ten years, you’ve seen a lot of ad hoc initiatives. One of my goals is to create a latticework of understanding regarding the role of professional collaboration. Essentially, all of the ad hoc policies would be placed on the latticework, and a connection would be made amongst them all, bringing coherence to a very muddled group of ideas. If something doesn’t fit within the latticework, then it’s removed. (We don’t want a Bed of Procrustes situation.) As Munger says, “If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form” (page 166).

So what are these ideas that must be combined in a usable form regarding teacher collaboration? The following list is a good start:

  • Definition of professional learning communities (PLC)
  • Unpacking standards
  • Learning intentions
  • Success criteria
  • Exemplars
  • Rubrics
  • Data Driven Instruction (DDI)
  • District interim assessments
  • Common Formative Assessments
  • General check-ins with the team
  • Instructional rounds

Finally, answers to these two questions are essential:

  • Where are we in a cycle?
  • How many cycles are we talking about?

Here’s another important question:

  • Which protocol(s) will be used to bring coherence to all of this?

So the goal is to place all of this (and possibly more… possibly less) on the latticework and  figure out how teachers can make all this work in an afternoon after he or she has taught a full day and a lot of emotional labor has already been expended.