Second Chances

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My best friend often says, “People deserve lots of second chances.”

“But why?” I ask, trying to grasp the concept. “At some point don’t you risk people taking advantage?”

“Walter, people do the best they can. It makes no sense making it harder on them.” I dedicate this blog post to my best friend and this wisdom I have come to adopt as my own.

In an age of cynicism and competition, I find the notion of second chances refreshing, intriguing even. But is it practical? Individually and collectively, how can we afford lots of second chances? Then again, are life and learning value equations? Is there some economic benefit to separating the men from the boys, so to speak? Or in reality, do we all rise to our own potential over time, given the chances and support we need to succeed?

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As I look back over a lifetime of opportunities and challenges, how many times did I nail anything on a first try? Not many. How many second chances have I used? How many mentors supported me as I tried and failed and tried again? How many practice sessions? How many retests? How many mulligans? How many “I’m sorrys”? How many times redeemed by forgiveness? More times than I can count. And that’s just my lifetime. How about yours?

Learners grow in expertise and understanding the closer and closer they get to learning targets. They approximate their aim, try to hit the target, make adjustments, and try again. The more they continuously refine their efforts, they not only get closer to the target, they learn about the area around the target, and about their aim. Both accurate and inaccurate, every attempt is new information learners integrate into their learning experience. It not only informs their current learning, it’s practical learning knowledge they can apply in new situations in the future. What are the conditions that allow this to happen?

  • Give yourself permission to take risks.
  • You are supported in making multiple attempts.
  • There are no value judgments of right or wrong, good or bad.
  • Both successful and unsuccessful attempts to reach your target are valued as learning.
  • The only requirement is continued improvement, incorporating new learning into existing understanding.

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One-chance, go-for-it-all, win-or-lose feats of skill may be a staple at carnivals, but they have no place in the classroom. At least on the boardwalk you can pick which games to play based on your perceived chances for success. Some games you can win if you’re willing to put down enough cash. Some games are rigged so the odds are against you. And some games are a flat-out sucker’s bet. If carnies gave their customers lots of second chances, they’d never turn a profit. Compare that with the ways we asses students. High-stakes tests reward those with skills that match the test format while penalizing those who demonstrate learning using alternative test formats or don’t perform well under pressure. Is this any way to allow all students to show what they know?

A generation ago, memorization of rote facts and mastery of discrete skills were the measurements of student success. Being accurate was the ideal, and this lent itself to the notion of testing as pass-or-fail snapshots in time. Now we can access such basic information on the fly without memorization, and new benchmarks measure higher level tasks. Assessments today should not measure quantifiable learning assets but sophisticated learning processes: problem solving and new product-development targets.

Where are the second chances in our current system? It isn’t acceptable to have students live and die by one-shot, high-stakes tests. It isn’t fair to label students based on those test results. It isn’t appropriate to build an entire year of learning around these tests, as if the test provides incentive to teach and learn. It isn’t realistic to expect all students to find success through the same learning methods, or to demonstrate what they’ve learned in the same ways. And it isn’t right to look a young person in the eye and tell them they are out of second chances … ever. We should be in the business of creating lots of second chances for our students.

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It’s no different in life once students are out of school. One of my favorite movies of all time is My Favorite Year (MGM, 1982), in which young staff writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is charged with babysitting washed-up Hollywood star Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) to ensure he will be sober, present, and ready to perform on the live TV variety show at the end of the week. Through the twists and turns of the plot, Stone and Swann become fast friends, in spite of the many close calls the actor’s larger-than-life persona precipitates. Benjy has Swann at the studio the night of the show, so that when the host is accosted by local thugs on the live set, Swann appears from up on a balcony, swings down onto the stage in full costume and sword, and helps the show’s star fend off the attack. As Swann basks in the redemption of the applauding audience, Benjy stands in the broadcast booth and looks on pensively: “The way I see him here, like this. This is the way I like to remember him. I think if you were to ask Alan Swann what was the single most gratifying moment in his life, he might have said this one right here. With Swann you forgive a lot, you know? I know.” In life, as in learning, we gain growth and understanding through second chances.

People deserve lots of second chances. Where would you be today without all of the second chances you have been afforded in life? Second chances are the pathway for all students to be college, career, and citizenship ready. As educators, we should all be the champions of second chances for young people everywhere.

All Children Can Learn And Be Successful!

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In the last 300 years western society has evolved from an agricultural base to an industrial base to a now evolving digital base. Education is still trying to catch up as we continue to aim for that most laudable of aspirations, the conviction that all children can learn and be successful. If we agree on that core value and strip away all of the clamor that is being created by special interests, the single question we need to answer is this: how do we transform our public education system to reach that place where all children learn and grow to become thriving, productive citizens?

Peel away the societal issues, labor relations, and economic concerns; they will always exist. The single focus that can answer this question is our own humanity; meeting the needs of our children regardless of who is their teacher or where their school is located. If children’s needs are met, they can thrive and learn and grow. Children need to be rested, nourished, healthy, safe, secure, loved, supported, challenged and engaged to be successful. We know this from our own experience. When children have these needs met, they flourish. The amount of money spent, the amount of data collected, the amount of technology used are all distractions if these basic requirements are not met for achieving human potential.

Given this single powerful truth for taking education to the next level, what are our concrete next steps? Renegotiating teacher contracts? Changing funding formulas? Year-round schooling? National standards? Business models?

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Listen closely to who is speaking and what they are saying; there is a distinct difference between being a stakeholder and being a special interest. The latter acts in their own self-interest, not the best interests of children.

There’s a comical Steven Wright observation: “Why do you turn down the radio when you’re driving lost?” The humor lies in the fact that it hits close to home….there is some truth in the question. You turn down the radio to rid yourself of the noise and distractions on focusing where you need to be. It’s time to turn down the noise and focus on our destination: all children can learn and be successful.

Reinventing Authenticity

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You’ve thought through 21st century tools and 21st century skills, but how are you set for 21st century virtue? What do you mean “virtue” is a Victorian notion? Don’t you need a stance, a perspective, a context in which to make sense of these quickly-changing times? Think of virtue not as an unblemished character trait, but as a vantage point which gives you the ability to take action and make a difference. There may be a number of such virtues, but there is one that that comes before all others. Authenticity: the ability to impact your world as your genuine self.

The next great frontier turns out not to be the oceans or outer space, but human potential. Think about it. When you look at all the skills and tools touted as the hallmark of this century, what is the common denominator? Real-time, authentic, in-the-moment, interaction. No confinement by physical space and time. No limits to creativity, collaboration, productivity and building new understandings. Our minds are the ultimate frontier.

The irony of the 21st century is that, because of its immediacy, people have become that much more cynical, and it limits our thinking. We just accept that media are not objective. We don’t expect advertising to make sense. We create avatars that serve as caricatures of ourselves. Operating in a virtual world can be all at once very self-affirming and very artificial. Lines are blurred, anything goes and reality checks become optional.

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Authenticity cuts through all of the superficiality and makes you well-grounded in reality.

People who operate with authenticity:

  • Know their values – they are clear on what is important to them
  • Are self-aware – they are conscious of who they are and what they are doing
  • Have internal focus – they have a strong sense of how they can make a difference
  • Are results oriented – they keep their eyes on the outcomes they want to achieve
  • Have affective intelligence – they combine thinking and intuition in their knowing
  • Seek deeper understanding – they are driven to go beyond initial answers
  • Generate real connections – they seek out and attract people and ideas of substance
  • Communicate with clarity – they speak and listen clearly, openly and receptively
  • Resist distractions – they operate in the moment regardless of multiple demands for their attention
  • See infinite possibilities – they view the world as more than one pie with only so many slices

Hey, if it were easy, everyone would already be doing it. What’s the incentive to develop your own authenticity? In a world of noisy, disruptive, quickly-changing reality, those who are well-grounded in themselves emerge as the thought leaders and achievers of this new age…the standard-bearers for where we are headed…as educators…as people…as members of a global society.

You know people who personify authenticity; you have already met some of them along the way. They immediately get your attention with their ideas and energy. Authenticity cuts through all that is unnecessary and gets to the point. And at the end of the day, we all respond to anyone and anything that gets to the point. No posturing. No style without substance. No smoke and mirrors. Just true, bona fide, indisputable, unadulterated gravitas.

People who are not in touch with their authentic selves resort to defensive posturing: making excuses for themselves, blaming others and seeing people conspire against them. These behaviors consume their energy giving them a false sense of purpose. You have met people like this too, making a lot of noise wanting your attention…but they don’t resonate with reality. It’s important to see them for who they are…and that’s hard to do until you are in touch with who you are.

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When you operate with authenticity, you take charge of tools and skills and circumstances and generate new ideas, new possibilities, and new solutions. Doors open and opportunities make themselves available to you simply because you are no longer limiting yourself in your thinking. You don’t point to situations or people and blame them for your circumstances; you work to create the circumstances in which you want to live.

Yes, authenticity requires effort up front, to know your genuine self and get in the habit of being true to who you are. But the longterm pay-off is incredible…because you don’t have to be a big-name mover-and-shaker to make a difference in this world…you just have to be your genuine self…and all your potential to impact the future will emerge. It’s a journey…not a destination…and it happens by degrees.

So why not begin today…here and now…reinventing authenticity…first by peeling off the thinking and habits that hold you back…and then replacing your old ways with genuine 21st century virtue?

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The Core Four Educator Requirements

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Being a master educator today requires reorienting ourselves to the world for which we are preparing our students, and acquiring the skills to prepare them for that future. These are not new skills; I know I’ve been talking about them for a while now, as have others. But until now, these skills have been negotiable, based on abilities and interests. Today they’re no longer optional. We must master them, demonstrating functional proficiency:

Human Potential Expertise

Regardless of the level at which we teach, educators need to know how human learning takes place. It’s no longer enough to know curriculum, and it’s no longer acceptable to only meet students intellectual needs. From preschool through college, we must address their cognitive, affective, physical and social-emotional needs. They have to feel safe and healthy, supported and challenged, and most of all engaged in their learning. Our bottom line is each and every student successfully realizing their full potential. That’s our charge, our mission, and our goal.
Read more about being a human potential professional here.

Global Citizenship

Beyond traditional concepts, children need to prepare for their role in a global society. Of course, community, state and national citizenship still matter, but today’s students are interacting with peers from around the world. They need contexts for understanding international events, cultural differences and opportunities for meaningful collaboration. Students must observe us modeling global citizenship in the same ways we model civic responsibility, networking virtually with colleagues worldwide, and learning by doing in the process. We have to walk the walk.
Read more about learning and working in the global knowledge economy here.

Technology Fluency

We have colleagues who still have no problem saying they don’t “get” technology, shrugging off their responsibility to learn to use digital tools available to them in the classroom. This is no longer acceptable. To prepare students for their future, we need to be able to think and create technologically. And it’s not enough to know how to use technology for personal productivity; we need to know how to use it as learners, workers, risk-takers, answer-seekers and problem-solvers. Technology fluency means seamlessly, incidentally using digital tools to get the job done.
Read more about technology fluency in education here.

Content Expertise

Of course, being a subject matter expert is critical for student learning. But let’s expand our thinking on relevant content expertise. Academic disciplines? Certainly. But there’s so much more. New Literacies: visual, digital scientific, information, media. New ways to work with professionals in their fields of expertise, contribute to the global body of knowledge, and publish new understandings. Each of these content areas can be mastered by doing…rolling up our sleeves with students…living the lifelong learning ideal. And there’s no time like the present…
Consider the role of new literacies in the knowledge economy workplace here.

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Not only are we no longer the sage on the stage, we’re not the guide on the side, either. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as lead learners, too. We are becoming learning agents, connecting students with the experiences, experts and resources that meet their individual needs. And to be an effective learning agent, we need to master these core four skill sets. No options. No excuses. Now.

Your Innovation Investment

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Innovation is generative. It finds solutions where there are no conditions or preconceptions. It is selfless, often born from collaboration and cooperative effort. It is creative, seeking new ways to solve existing problems.

So when businesses start up based on an innovative idea, solution or product, it’s fresh, new and exciting. People have found their way “outside the box” to new ways of thinking and looking at the world.

But when businesses launch fueled by innovation, they eventually feel the forces of the marketplace pushing them to shift, to sustaining and maintaining business interests. This is a problem. Business self-interest undermines continued innovation.

We have seen this over time, again and again. Businesses founded around thinking differently eventually become part of the corporate landscape. The same people who were once shaking things up with new thinking are now towing the company line. Business culture is “the box.”

As consumers, we contribute to this phenomenon. Brand loyalty becomes an inhibitor of innovation. Not for the companies in question, but for us, as players in the marketplace. When our brand loyalty feeds the status quo, we’re part of the problem. How many companies to which we are loyal have the same kind of corporate bottom line as their competitors? And why would you want to support that company exclusively, when their priorities are no longer the ideals that founded their existence?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for corporate leaders in the free marketplaces of ideas and commerce. They create stability. They set standards for product excellence. They finance numerous philanthropic initiatives. But they also create inertia. They resist change and they protect their self-interest. In short, they unintentionally but necessarily grow to join the establishment culture.

My point is this. If you are truly a human potential professional, dedicated to learning, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, be aware that the choices you make spending dollars should be consistent with your calling. Blind brand loyalty goes against everything we are about as educators, by definition. And the more of us who betray that calling in the marketplace, the more we thwart innovation.

It doesn’t take some cynical, deliberate plot. Blind brand loyalty is as easy as lazy thinking and old habits. On the other hand, walking the walk takes effort and a mindful self-awareness. Am I supporting innovation in deciding from whom I choose to buy? Am I conscious about how my economic choices either enhance or undermine my educator creed?

Each of us…enough of us…choosing not to just follow blind brand loyalty, create ripples, waves and currents that influence corporate giants and how they operate in the marketplace. Sending the clear message that we support innovation…that we are constantly reassessing where we invest our time, energy and money…that we don’t buy into yesterday’s ad campaign slogans…that we won’t mindessly line their pockets with our money…that we make deliberate choices to invest in the future.

What Business Are You In?

ImageWe are in education. We aren’t in the happiness business or the customer service business or the product development business. We’re in the human potential business. We are so NOT one-size-fits-all, standardized assembly-line, profit-driven bottom line, nine-to-five clock punchers. We are people-centric, in-the-moment, altruistic, roll-up-our-sleeves, touch-the-future, idealists who support children as they learn and grow into thriving, vibrant, happy successful contributors to a quickly-changing world.

No two days are alike. We are constantly learning and living new experiences. Anytime we start to get comfortable there’s a new challenge or opportunity that shakes us up and pushes our thinking. Human potential is not a commodity or a market or a destination; it’s a journey. And each of us can tell the story of the many lives we have influenced along the way…and the way those lives have influenced us. We may not always see the long-term impact of our efforts on these young lives, but that’s the understanding we have working with human potential…it’s a promise…yet to be fulfilled.

While we’re not business-people, the human potential business is…well…a business. Dedicating our lives to the education of the future leaders of our country requires resources. We see it as in investment. We don’t expect to make a killing at it…we aren’t in it for the money…but as the caretakers of the next generation, we do ask to be supported in this important work: compensation, training and materials. And it doesn’t have to be completely in cash. In kind support and security go a long way in allowing us to get the job done. Nothing makes our work more rewarding than a thoughtful thank you, a vote of confidence, or the assurance that we can continue to count on our work to be there.

ImageThe human potential business is as old as Aristotle. The times may change, but the work goes on. We are in the middle of a significant shift…individualized information and entertainment and communication on a global scale. Everything is available all the time…access is assumed…equity is emerging…community is connections…and connections are everything…to ideas…to people…to opportunities. It’s all about personal empowerment…and no two people are alike in how they want and need to be empowered. This is a huge challenge, because human potential today has endless, unforeseen paths to success. There is no one right answer…standardization is dead on arrival.

In a time of uncertainty and soul-searching, human potential professionals need to keep our focus on who we are and what we are about. It isn’t about the politics or the contracts, the texts, the tech or other tools. Those are distractions from who we are and what we do. If you want to be a public official or a union spokesperson or a regional sales rep, maybe the human potential business isn’t your true calling. These are all fine pursuits, but their bottom lines are measured by polls and profits. Move on. Do what you have to do. But for those of us satisfied making a difference in the lives of children, we need to focus on living our ideals…reaching every learner…connecting them to their futures. It’s not a career…it’s a vocation…helping each child fully realize their potential…their promise.

So the next time someone asks you what you do…tell them you’re a human potential professional…with a pride and a confidence that transcends all the current controversy surrounding public education. That controversy is not about you and me. Remember those times in the past you’ve ended up responsible for someone else’s mess?  Why make that mistake again? We didn’t get into this to respond to polarizing political posturing or fighting over taxpayer funding. If society values our roles as caretakers of the future, it needs to find the ways to keep us in business. As soon as we put ourselves in the position where we feel the need to justify our role…our value…our worth to society…we have lost our calling. It isn’t about us. It’s about the children…and society’s stake in their future…which is ultimately society’s self-interest…not ours.

Don’t let anyone demean your value as a human potential professional…it’s what we do…it’s who we are… it’s the most admirable, laudable, fulfilling work there is. It’s the reason why we got into education in the first place. Everything else is part of a larger, collective communal responsibility. Don’t make it your own.

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