“I Thought It Was You Three!”-Adding Praise and Thanks in the Schoolhouse

My favorite track on the 1968 eponymous album by The Beatles (now affectionately known as “The White Album” due to its blanched jacket cover) is “Dear Prudence.” It is a haunting song written during the band’s sojourn in India studying Transcendental Meditation. The song has so many incredible elements embedded within it ranging from John Lennon’s emphatic vocal performance, Paul McCartney’s supportive, melodic bass lines and George Harrison searing bursts of lead guitar. The song is buttressed by a firm backbeat performed by Paul McCartney.

Wait…Paul McCartney on drums? Where’s Ringo?

He had walked away from the band.

Believing that his percussion skills were not making an impactful contribution to the band, Ringo Starr had decided to leave the band. Adding to this sudden break was the fact that Ringo was feeling like he did not belong in the band. Ringo assumed that John, Paul and George had formed a closer alliance and he was tagging along as an uninvited outsider.

Ringo decided to announce his decision to leave The Beatles individually to each member of the band. His first visit was to John. Ringo framed his decision around the fact that he felt his drumming was sub par and the other three had formed a stronger bond without him included in the mix. John’s response to his band mate was “I thought it was you three!”

The next stop was to Paul. Ringo shared the exact same sentiment about leaving that he had shared with John. Without missing a beat, Paul’s response to Ringo was identical to John’s, “I thought it was you three!”

Perhaps, fed up by the identical responses, Ringo did not bother to venture to George’s.

The band carried on without Ringo during “The White Album” Sessions. Two songs were recorded with Paul filling in on drums. Feeling musically bereft without their musical brother, telegrams of praise were sent to Ringo asking him to “come home.”

Convinced that the band truly did love him, Ringo returned to Abbey Road Studios to rejoin The Beatles and finish recording “The White Album.” Upon his arrival to the studio, Ringo was greeted with his drum kit bedecked in flowers. The band retreated to a smaller studio space to record “Yer Blues,” a raw bluesy number, with the four of them locking musical arms together.

Taking intentional time to praise and thank the ones we love is a necessary stop along our collective journeys in life. The schoolhouse must be a platform for praise and gratitude when it comes to connecting with our students, educator colleagues and families. As an educator, I have felt those “Ringo White Album Moments of Despair.” I have been through moments where I don’t know if my work as an educator is making a ripple of resonance. I also know that I have been wordless when it comes to contributing to those positive nods and words to the faces I encounter in the schoolhouse.

I learned for the first principal I served as an assistant principal the value of putting praise into action through visible and audible words of praise. Mrs. Brooks would draft a weekly memo for the staff where she made a point to thank specific individuals for a job well done. Her time in the hallways and classrooms was always filtered with audible words of gratitude and encouragement for students, teachers and staff members. This lesson made such a tremendous impact on my personal and professional life. Seeing students Mrs. Brooks transform someone’s day with a handwritten personal note or word of thanks resonated in a way that uplifted the culture of our schoolhouse.

Applying the lesson of gratitude to our daily steps in the schoolhouse is transformational for school culture. We do have remember that praise has to come from a sincere place when it comes to serving our students and each other in the schoolhouse. Praise cannot be automated and has to be tied to specific actions. It rolls even better when that praise is tied to the vision and mission of the schoolhouse.

There are many tunes to the add to the set list of praise in schoolhouse. Transform someone’s day and add value to the schoolhouse with some of these examples:

  • A handwritten note of praise and thanks
  • Create a daily or weekly blog devoted to schoolhouse heroes
  • Join in the positive Twitter shout out hashtags like #CelebrateMonday or #JoyfulLeaders and tweet out the positives in your schoolhouse community.
  • A simple word in person to someone.
  • Create your own school hashtag intended solely for the purpose of promoting the positives in your schoolhouse.
  • Flip a faculty meeting or classroom activity into a time for unabashed praise

We have all been in the role of Ringo during those early “White Album” Sessions. We feel that our own beat is off and that we are standing outside an established camaraderie. Some of our students walk along this lonely path as well. Our role as educators is to model this sincere outreach. We cannot take our positive impact for granted. It is indeed important to take intentional pause for sincere praise for each other as we serve and support students in our noble profession.

Let’s add Praise and Thanks to our set list in the schoolhouse.

The Inner Groove: Getting Back to Our Childhood

The Child is the father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

–from “My Heart Leaps Up” by William Wordsworth (1807)

There is wonderful whimsical moment at the very end of the “Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles. Following the apocalyptic ending of the album’s final song known as “A Day in the Life” (depending on what album version you own) a brief burst of The Beatles and some of their associates break into a spontaneous cacophony of gibberish.

I first heard this snippet on the now out of print compilation titled “The Beatles Rarities.” These two seconds are labeled on that particular album as  “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove.” There was a rather mischievous intention behind this gibberish. If you had a record player in 1967 without an automatic stylus, then the needle would play infinitely until you had to manually remove it from the record. The two-second gibberish on “Sgt. Pepper” could conceivably play for eternity on a non-automated record player.

As a kid, I would place my ear up to my little cassette player speaker (I had the tape version.) and try to figure what nuttiness was being said. I could never figure it out but I always enjoyed that snippet after resonating crescendo of “A Day in the Life.” It was audio equivalent of a breath of fresh air.  (Sidenote: The Beatles also added a dog whistle as well at the end of the album. Only your friendly neighborhood canines can hear that whistle, but that’s another story for another time.)

The “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove” mishmash following “A Day in the Life” is a powerful reminder and fascinating contrast to explore. The Beatles were very aware that they were creating a masterpiece with this particular album. The album was a calculated risk recorded by band wanting to push the boundaries of musical expression. It is filled with experimental sounds, avant-garde flavorings, Eastern-tinged instrumentation, orchestral flourishes and poetic lyrics. I always thought this particular gibberish was a reminder by the band not take one’s self seriously. It is if The Beatles are saying, “Yeah, we made this grand artistic statement, but we are still a bunch of blokes from Liverpool.”

The brief blast of Jabberwocky sounds childlike and in a way connects back to the original concept for the “Sgt. Pepper” Album.

Two of the greatest songs recorded by The Beatles were originally intended for the “Sgt. Pepper” album. “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were tracks based on real-life places in the native Liverpool of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s life. Both songs were written for an album that was originally intended to be a celebration of the band’s childhood past. It is interesting to note that these songs rooted in nostalgic retrospection are two of the most progressive and innovative pieces of music The Beatles recorded. The concept of an album as ode to their Liverpudllian childhood stalled when the record company needed songs for the then-popular singles market and radio airplay.

Childhood nostalgia is the fuel for some of the great works of art, music, film and literature. As a former English Teacher, I loved bringing in a song like “Penny Lane” to reinforce the beauty of nostalgia in a poem like “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas.

Our noble profession as educators is filled with moments of bliss, challenge and grit. The schoolhouse is a place where childhood intersects with standards, compliance and policies. Sometimes, we default to the rigidity rather than valuing what we are called as educator do. The call is rooted in a support of the social and emotional well-being of the Whole Child. As an educator, I know all too well the realities burdening our noble profession. I am not calling for us to stop the bell schedule for a collective cry of gibberish like The Beatles did with “Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove.” Perhaps, we do need to tune into our own “Inner Groove” of remembering our childhood as we support and serve our students in the schoolhouse.

Collaborating with students and supporting their creative voices is steps towards tuning into that “Inner Groove.” Celebrating Monday (#CelebrateMonday), committing Random Acts of Kindness, exploring in a Makerspace are ways to promote the Whole Child by establishing a culture that is positive and inviting. These examples are planned with consideration for the unique needs and extraordinary gifts of our children. We have been entrusted as educators with the center of someone’s universe. We must not forget that our students bring inspiring wonder and gifts to our respective schoolhouse communities.

Tapping into the nostalgia of childhood helped to fuel a world-changing album by The Beatles. Following along the Inner Groove of our childhood as educators can spark waves of creative possibility in the schoolhouse.

Carving out “Here Comes the Sun” Space

Before we go any further, I want to proclaim that I am not in favor of skipping school. As a school leader, it is not my desire for this blog post to serve as a blank check for students and educators to pull a “Ferris Bueller” and to romp off the grid abandoning all semblance of responsibility.

There is a time and place for whimsical notions to transpire and we do have to give ourselves permission for the occasional escape. In the last couple of years, I learned about the concept of Whitespace from some educators I connect with on Twitter and Voxer. This is intentional time taken out of the scope and sequence of a packed day for reflection, relaxation or escape.

As a recovering workaholic principal, I was so uplifted by this idea. I knew that I needed a gut check for balance in my life between the home and the schoolhouse. Knowing that I needed training wheels to make this happen, I asked our school secretary to hold me accountable. She had access to my calendar, so she plugged in times for me take some intentional intervals of time away from the grind of the Principal’s Office to recharge. Since I am an unabashed fan of The Beatles, she titled it “White Album” Space as nod their classic 1968 double album.

If George Harrison was principal, then his secretary may have titled scheduled Whitespace as “Here Comes the Sun” Space.

“Here Comes the Sun” was written on a beautiful afternoon in an English Garden circa 1969. This oft-covered and referenced gem from the final studio album of The Beatles was written by Harrison during a business meeting he skipped. The prospect of taking time away outweighed the need to be at ponderous meeting. It just so happens that George’s hookey sidebar was spent in the English Garden of a “little known” guitarist named Eric Clapton. Mr. Clapton just so happened to have an acoustic guitar handy for his pal George.  A timeless classic was created for the soundtrack of our lives. “Here Comes the Sun” has been covered by bands and played at weddings. The song has found it way on any one of my playlists or mix tapes over the years.

I cherish “Here Comes the Sun.” It’s my #OneSong for 2017. The tune is one of my go-to anthems for hope. It is a salve that uplifts and inspires each time I listen. There are so many cool moments embedded within that song from George and Paul’s harmonies, Ringo’s shifting time signature drum fills and those hand claps during the bridge. Those supreme hand claps always speak to me as a call to embrace the eternal promise beyond the horizon.

An intentional move to gather time for renewal can stir inspiration in the most unexpected of ways. Educators are a dedicated bunch and we sometimes default to binding our moves to calendars, meetings and pacing guides. I have been guilty of forsaking balance and meaningful time with family in order to meet that district deadline or network at a ponderous meeting. Allowing ourselves the time to break away for from the grind is essential for our well-being. There are so many simple ways to accomplish it from changing up the routines of your day:

  • Ask a colleague about the last movie she or he saw.
  • Sharing with students what’s on your playlist and ask about theirs.
  • Spend time with a favorite song or quote from a life-changing book.
  • Follow a few tweets from a inspiring hashtag on Twitter like #JoyfulLeaders or #CollaborativePD.
  • Create something new!
  • Spend a few minutes savoring the silence of your thoughts.

Finding that time can be challenging. Those “other duties as assigned” in the schoolhouse pull on us relentlessly.  We at times lose sight of what is sincere and meaningful for our noble profession. As educators dedicated to the quest of serving and supporting all students, carving out “Here Comes the Sun” Space is a necessary track upon which we must move. Perhaps taking that time may lead to the creation of a timeless and universal song like George Harrison’s?


Making the Impossible Possible: A Beatles Reunion in the Schoolhouse

It just so happens that I was born on the day and in the year that The Beatles released their final studio album. The “Let It Be” Album stands as my favorite Beatles album for many reasons. The fact that I share a birthday with the final bow of The Beatles as a band in their lifetime makes it even more poignant.

The dissolution of The Beatles in 1970 was a cultural event and it made global headlines. Their break-up was the result of many reasons from financial to personal. They had simply outgrown each other and were ready to forge individual paths. The break-up was very public and bitter. For the next ten years, John, Paul, George and Ringo were hounded and pressured to reunite. There were a few close calls for a reunion but all of that reunion speculation came to an end when John Lennon was murdered in 1980.

Surprisingly in 1994, the surviving Beatles reunited in the studio for “The Beatles Anthology,” a documentary they were producing on the history of the band. Putting aside years of acrimony and bitterness, they reunited and recorded two brand-new songs.

Somehow the Impossible was made Possible because not only did the three surviving Beatles reunite they were also able to include John Lennon in the event.

Taking two rough demos John Lennon recorded before his death,  the newly reformed Beatles added music, lyrics and vocals. The songs are entitled “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.” Both songs were worldwide hits and received Grammy Awards. It was quite an innovative practice and it was arduous in terms of the technical and musical demands of the reunion project. Somehow the world got a Beatles Reunion amidst seemingly impossible odds.

I share this anecdote not as a proud music geek, but as someone who works in a school where we embrace the Impossible. Ours is a school where we proudly register students who have been retained at some point in their academic year. My school is seen as a haven for students who want a smaller class size and a caring teacher. The school where I am the proud Lead Learner is cast on a list of Title I Schools with poor achievement test scores. Despite all of those negative odds, ours is the school that exceeds achievement growth, possesses one of the highest increases in our district’s graduation rate and overpowered our $500, 000 college scholarship goal to almost $900, 000. Most importantly, the students at the school where I stand proudly as a servant-principal feel connected, safe and loved. In a way, I feel as if I am working with The Beatles. I believe that our school will exit Title I Priority School Status and stand as a true testament to an authentic turnaround.

Daily I strive to overcome the Impossible just like the surviving Beatles did with that battered, hiss-filled cassette of an unfinished John Lennon song. I am nowhere near the musical talent of The Beatles and what they accomplished with those 1994 Reunion Sessions.

How might we embrace the Impossible collectively as educators? Sometimes there is a negative default to those who stare the Impossible down and pursue seemingly absurd quests in the service of students. This mindset is sadly evident in our noble profession as educators. There are daily stories of #EduHeroes in schools everywhere overpowering the Impossible and creating a new paradigm of possibilities for our kids. We have to spread the sparks of those #EduHeroic Stories from the rooftops within social media venues and beyond. We have to value each victory over the Impossible in the schoolhouse as we did with The Beatles Reunion of 1994.

There are many variables to plug into as exemplars of the Impossible in the Schoolhouse. I invite the conversation to address and define them. Our challenge as educators is not to give permission for the Impossible to flourish. We do give too much power to the Impossible. Sometimes we have to take the time to recognize that the Impossible has morphed into the Possible. Taking stock of those examples such as The Beatles reuniting can spark inspiration into action.

Joy in the Journey

Imagine being in world’s most successful Pop Band near the end of a storied career. “The winter of discontent” reigns supreme for The Beatles. In an attempt to literally get back to their roots as a band, The Beatles augmented with keyboardist Billy Preston are attempting their first live performance in three years. The band’s journey to this moment was marred by an impending dissolution of their musical partnership. Woes ranging from financial to creative to personal multiplied for The Beatles and they entered the studio in January 1969 attempting to “Get Back” to their Rock Roots. The mindset for these recording sessions was to avoid overdubbing and any of the technical innovations The Beatles had established in the studio. A film was being made to document the sessions which were to culminate into a rare live performance for the band. What was meant as a celebration to their musical roots transformed into the break-up of a band. A culture of sourness and apathy had permeated the band. At one point, George Harrison was so frustrated he briefly left the band. John Lennon later called it “…the most miserable session on earth.”

Flash forward to the end game for these sessions in the return to live performance for The Beatles. It is a cold, dreary January  day in London. The Beatles are giving an impromptu lunchtime live performance on the rooftop of 3 Saville Row, headquarters from their disintegrating business empire known as Apple. Armed with a set list of new music ranging from “Get Back” to “I’ve Got a Feeling” to “Dig A Pony.” Some of the old magic is starting to seep into the marrow of the band. A groove is growing and the past familiarity of being a live band naturally arises. You can see the internal band malaise dissipate into the ether as they progress with their set.

A beautiful mistake arrives within the middle of the set.

John Lennon forgets the words to “Don’t Let Me Down” and begins to sing an inspired melange of gibberish. His nonsense creates a moment of knowing levity within the band. It is evident and The Beatles take license with it and finish the song without missing a beat literally. The moment lasts just a few seconds. The joy in this mistake carries the band through a solid conclusion of the performance.

(Check out the clip here and advance to 1:20 mark. Blink and you will miss it, but it is so worthwhile:http://bit.ly/1TcUvcc)

That particular mistake reminds me of the need to tune into the joy in the journey. Even though, the band was heading towards the end of their tenure together, they were still able to find a reminder of their core and prevailed upward in their final live performance. As educators, this time of the year can be difficult to find any shred of joy in the schoolhouse. We sometimes burden ourselves with tunnel vision amidst the season of testing, observations, paper chases. Deadlines become akin to portents of doom in the schoolhouse. Our students and colleagues are viewed as speed bumps forcing us to slow down against our will as we careen towards the end of the school year. We disinvite the essence of joy from the schoolhouse and permit what is seemingly important to prevail. This unfortunately builds a barrier to our Noble Profession and ultimately all of us ending up losing direction on this schoolhouse journey.

How might we tune into the joy along the journey in the schoolhouse? How can we find inspiration in the mistakes and pitfalls we experience as educators? Where are those organic moments of inspiration?

It is vital to remember that there is indeed joy in the journey. Staying in the moment and tuning into the positive is essential within our role as educators. As a Lead Learner, I have to own the modeling and empowering for the positivity in the schoolhouse. Encouraging a collective voice of positivity amidst the mania is crucial. Promoting the positive in the schoolhouse through things like #CelebrateMonday shift culture and illuminate joy. We have to make a targeted effort to dispel negativity in our respective schoolhouses.Many schools have created their own respective hashtags in order to the trend the positive regarding their school via Social Media.

Education itself  is not a beautiful mistake but it is filled with moments which are transformative, uplifting and inspiring. The schoolhouse is a very human institution with flaws and shortcomings. Shifting those mistakes into glorious bridges towards excellence requires an evident positive culture where inspiration, change and growth are valued as transformational commodities. Our kids pick up on the negative frequency from us and the effects are detrimental. We are obligated to listen to the “…better angels of our nature” when it comes to connecting with those we serve and support in the schoolhouse. Tuning into the possibilities we have as educators is a must. Our role as Impact Makers is a game changer for our kids. There is truly joy in that.

The Beatles were masters of eroding negative power in their musical mistakes. As Educators, we are called to that same mastery. Let’s start with tuning into the joy on the journey.