Friday Assorted Links

1. When Being a Humble Leader Backfires. I greatly prefer leaders who error on the side of humility, but these findings makes sense.

“Our findings show that you can increase team effectiveness by being humble only if team members expect a leader to display that characteristic. Pay attention to what values the team holds, and adjust your behavior accordingly. If your team demonstrates a desire to share power, your humility can encourage more dense and frequent information exchange and promote creativity. In teams where the unequal distribution of power is accepted, however, members are likely to expect you to take charge and make important decisions. In these circumstances, showing weakness through humility can be counterproductive.”

The challenge then is correctly reading your team’s expectations.

2. Disparities Persist in School Discipline.

“Black students represent 15.5 percent of all public school students, but make up about 39 percent of students suspended from school. . . .”

The report from which this statistic springs will frame the final exam of my “Multicultural Perspectives in Classrooms” course the next time I teach it. Take home exam. 1) Why do those disparities persist in school discipline? 2) What can/should teachers, administrators, and others do to eliminate the disparities? Why?

In question one I’ll be looking for references to educators’ implicit biases, or more specifically, their negative preconceived notions about students of color. I will also be looking for references to “teacher pleasing behaviors”, or more specifically, how white, middle class students tend to catch breaks because their mannerisms are far more familiar to their predominantly white, middle class educators.

3. In historic first, an American Indian will lead Seattle Public Schools.

4. From tests to sports to music recitals, competitive activities can wreak havoc on a kid’s confidence. This piece is sorely disappointing because the journo fails to ask the all-important question: whether kids need to compete as early and often as they do. My answer, no they do not.

Self Promotion—The New Normal

My trial run as a university administrator is eleven months old. My experience has been mostly positive. On good days I even think about taking on more administrative responsibilities. Increasingly, it seems, demand for capable School of Ed leaders exceeds the supply. Meaning opportunities are aplenty.

But as I read vita after vita of my peers applying for higher administrative posts, with an eye to how I compare, I’m more and more convinced that I am at a disadvantage because of (at least) one glaring shortcoming. Relative to my peers, I’ve failed at self promotion. That’s not quite the right term because failing implies having tried. Probably because of my dad’s Eastern Montana, Depression Era humility that I hope has shaped me, I haven’t even tried.

An administrator friend recently told me she was working on a reference for a faculty colleague who was applying for a teaching award. I would never think to apply for an award, which may be one (among others of course) reason I’ve never received one. One peer’s vita I read recently included a list of 16 awards. Odds are that required some serious hustle.

I can’t help but think that the most eager self promoters have narcissist tendencies, but since it’s become the norm, maybe I should be more understanding. Maybe self promotion is more savvy than it is morally questionable. Maybe I need to get with the program. What do you think?

Unless you convince me otherwise, my plan is to be true to my dad, my uncle, my mom, and myself, and sit this trend out, even if it limits my professional opportunities. Despite that, I acknowledge everyone needs to be affirmed, appreciated, recognized for their efforts on behalf of others. Whether in their personal or professional lives. Myself included.

And that’s the thing. I’ve been blessed beyond measure to have been affirmed and appreciated by a steady stream of students. Including, one glorious day many moons ago, when I did a guest teaching stint in my daughter’s third grade classroom. Showed slides of bicyclists in China. Led a discussion. Felt pretty good about how engaged everyone was. “How was it?” I asked Alison afterward. “Dad,” she beamed, “it was perfect!” Hell yeah.

The Good Wife has been a continual source of personal and professional encouragement. A very Good Wife, loving daughters, appreciative students, more than enough fuel for my fire.

It’s at this point in the story that somewhere in Northwest Indiana, my head shaking older sissy thinks to herself, “It’s not about YOUR fire!”

Dad lives in sis. Thanks for the telepathy. Case closed.

 

But How Will It Look On My Resume?

Statistics show people don’t tend to read any particular blog for very long. I’m not jumping from blog to blog, I’m reading fewer, which begs the question, why read this or any other blog? One common thread in the few blogs I read regularly is the authors link to interesting and insightful writing that I wouldn’t otherwise come across.

The best bloggers are connoisseurs of some specialized content and curators who provide an invaluable service in the Age of Information Overload—they help focus people’s attention.I try to do that, but my statistics reveal that few readers follow my links meaning posts like this probably don’t work that well. If I knew how to change that I would.

Starting for real now. An email arrives from an ace college roommate, a successful psychotherapist specializing in adolescent development. His 12th grade daughter has been admitted to two highly selective colleges and is conflicted about which will look better on her resume. Dad’s equally torn about where she should go. What does the college professor think?

The college professor can’t get past the fact that the daughter is worried about her resume. I wrote back that the schools’ respective prestige was within the margin of error and that the only thing that matters is whether she builds lasting relationships and develops interpersonal and intellectual skills that cannot be easily automated.

Her family enjoys far greater economic security than 90-95% of people. I don’t understand her thinking, but I know that if she is pre-occupied with her economic future, it’s no surprise that anxiety disorders among adolescents are at an all-time high.

I suspect something deeper is at work in this college decision-making case study. Something spiritual. Cue David Brooks, who wrote this essay in Sunday’s New York Times. It’s Brooks at his best. Lots of self-righteous readers savage him, for in essence, not being a Democrat. How dare a Republican reflect on what’s most meaningful in life. I wonder what it’s like to have one’s politics and daily life in permanent, perfect alignment.

Brooks is scheduled to discuss his new book, The Road to Character, on the Diane Rehm show Thursday, April 16th at 11et.

What Lance Armstrong Can Say to Oprah to Make Things Right

Nothing.

Apart from a simple “sorry for the long-standing deception,” Lance doesn’t owe me, or any professional cycling fan, anything.

Why do we continually delude ourselves to think we know the entertainers, athletes, and politicians we follow? That we’re in some sort of relationship with them? That when their moral failings become painfully evident, that they let us down?

Remember Tiger Woods awkward, post-rehab, public confessional in some Florida hotel conference room? The one with his mom in the front row. The one where he said he “kinda got away from his Buddhism (one of my favorite understatements of all-time)?” What was that all about? Tiger didn’t pledge to be faithful to me or you or even his corporate sponsors.

The bright light public confessional is all about limiting the damage to one’s personal brand, and by extension, earning potential. To reset as a human being, Tiger would have been far better off listing all the people he had hurt and then seeking each person’s forgiveness outside the media spotlight.

At 41, Lance is in trouble if he needs advice on how to reset as a human being. I’m offering it anyways. He won’t follow it because he doesn’t read this blog regularly enough, and like all of us, he’s highly skilled at rationalizing his behavior. He tells himself, “If it wasn’t for my success, Hamilton, Landis, Andreu’s wife, and even my masseuse and others involved with the sport wouldn’t have made nearly as much money.” In his mind, his accusers are indebted to him.

Forget Oprah Lance. And forget your athletic career (triathlon has a long ways to go before it reaches “fringe sport” consideration). Resolve to be a more kind, empathetic, and truthful person. Take time to make a detailed list of everyone that you’ve directly hurt as a result of your words, actions, and privilege. People who you repeatedly lied to. People you bullied on and off the bike. People whose reputations you trashed. People whose businesses you ruined. Then come clean in a written mea culpa, a no holds barred confession. In it, take complete responsibility for hurting those people as a result of their truthfulness.

Send it to the New York Times. Then buy however many plane tickets necessary and travel to see everyone on the list. No matter how much it cuts into your triathlon training. Seek their forgiveness as personally and privately as possible.

Do that and the tide of public opinion will begin to turn. But don’t do it for that reason. Don’t even do it for your children or your legacy. Do it to reset as a human being, for the sake of human decency, to live the second half of your life in a more kind, empathetic, and truthful manner.

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Delusions of Grandeur

During faculty workshops, like last weeks, I sometimes get a feeling that my university colleagues think they’re better than high school teachers. Smarter. More rigorous. Better teachers more generally.

Last week nothing explicit was said by any particular person, it’s just a vibe, and maybe I’m off-base. A handout from our university’s Academic Assistance Center contributed to this sensibility. Titled, “High School vs PLU”, it lists about 30 differences. Some value neutral, “you spend 30 hours a week in class” versus “you spend about 15 hours a week in class” and some that hint at hierarchy, “makeup tests are easily available-h.s.” versus “makeup tests are seldom an option-uni” or “tests ask you to give back facts-h.s.” versus “exams require analysis and synthesis as well as facts-uni”.

The lists are presented as factual, but many of the assertions could be challenged. Newsflash—some university professors use multiple choice exams that emphasize factual recall and some high school teachers require students to analyze and synthesize content.

Two points of distinction under “High School Teachers” and “PLU Faculty” deserve special attention. High school teachers “teach to the intellectual middle of the class” and “write key info on board or give handouts”. PLU faculty “teach at a more challenging level” and “expect you to figure out what’s important, what you need to do”.

I’d put it differently. Secondary teachers work hard to adapt their teaching to their students’ varied learning styles. They accept the burden of “differentiating instruction” or “individualizing the curriculum”. University teachers expect students to adapt to their one or two preferred methods of instruction. Differentiating instruction is more logical and more challenging, and yet, we hold university professors in higher regard. Why is that? Is it because they completed some more coursework and wrote a dissertation that few outside their committee ever read?

The truth of the matter is elementary, middle, and high school teachers are woefully unappreciated by university professors and the public more generally. Compared to university faculty, they teach many more students, many more hours a day and week, for many more days a year. And they receive little to no support for scholarship or professional travel. And they have to work their magic with legions of parents, some who truly believe they have it out for their children. And more and more of the public—the same public that too often delegates both educating and parenting to them—think they have too much job security and too many guaranteed benefits. And to top it all off, the students are compelled to attend so there’s a much, much wider continuum of motivation.

Throughout my career in both secondary education and higher ed, I’ve been fortunate to work beside some outstanding teachers. After periods of adjustment, I suspect the best high school teachers I know would flourish at the university level and many of the best university teachers I know would probably do okay at the K-12 level.

Apart from job swapping, I’m not sure what it will take for university faculty to demonstrate greater understanding, humility, and respect when it comes to their skilled, smart, hardworking, unappreciated K-12 brethren.

Ted Kennedy-Don Byrnes

The media spotlight has shifted, but fortunately, I’m not beholden to it. Here’s one perceptive paragraph in a post on Ted Kennedy’s death that’s thoughtful throughout.

“There are of course those on the far right who are so used to hating Kennedy that they’ll not recognize how he was motivated by the best of intentions, how he struggled to overcome personal tragedies and flaws, and how widely respected he was by colleagues on both sides of the aisle.   They’ll demonize him in death, just as many on the left were unable to let Strom Thurmond live down his early segregationist days.  Those people don’t know what being human means, they are too wrapped up in politics and their own biases.”

Watching the aftermath of Kennedy’s death made me think of my dad who was born just five or so years earlier and died as a result of a heart attack fourteen years ago. At first I suppose Kennedy’s death made me think of my dad because of a physical resemblance, but ultimately, because they shared similar personal attributes.

Like Kennedy, my dad excelled at his life’s work, in his case business, rising to be the chief executive officer of two large companies at the time of his death.

Like Kennedy, he was well respected by everyone he worked with. Like Kennedy, that was because he asked genuine questions of everyone irrespective of their status and then listened as if they mattered.

Most impressively of all, like Kennedy, my dad was humble, not needing or wanting public praise for work well done.

Like Kennedy, my dad’s work ethic was off-the-charts.

Unlike Kennedy, my dad grew up in an Eastern Montana family of very modest means. And unlike Kennedy, my dad was not religious or liberal.

But the more I’ve learned about Kennedy over the last few weeks the more convinced I am that those differences wouldn’t have mattered. Had they met, they would have liked and respected one another a great deal.

The world is a better place as a result of the lives they lived.

Long live their memories.