One Beat, One Spark

There is a wonderfully poignant scene in Ron Howard’s documentary on The Beatles entitled “Eight Days a Week.” Paul McCartney is sharing the first time all four members of the band played together. As McCartney recalls the first time they played together as a a unit, he calls it an “Oh, My God Moment.” He describes the moment from when Ringo kicks in with the drums and the band almost stops mid-song. All four members share an acknowledging telepathic look which Paul translates to, “Yeah, this is it.”

As Paul shares this anecdote in the documentary, tears well up in his eyes. It is indeed a powerful moment. Seeing Paul’s revelation of the emotional weight of this life-changing moment is intimate and revelatory. In most Beatle interviews I have observed the band downplaying their impact and adulation. Occasionally, the former members of the band will let their guard down in interviews and reveal a very human moment shared.

Examining Paul McCartney’s anecdote in more detail, it is intriguing to reflect on similar epiphanies we may experience as educators. Do we have moments akin to McCartney’s when we recognize that special collaboration bond with our colleagues? Teaching can be an isolating pursuit. Sometimes, we permit that isolation too much freedom to roam in the marrow of our noble profession. We sometimes close our classroom doors both physically and metaphorically to a colleague. There may be the early arrival or departure to avoid collegial interactions.

When we do open our professional hearts to synergy of collaboration, then the noble beat of teaching our kids becomes something much more meaningful. It is absolutely magical when one feels the collaborative vibe kick in with a colleague. Those moments happen more than we may even realize. Think of that colleague who takes you on a deeper journey during a PLC. It may happen when you walk down the hallway and hear the echo of a teacher doing something that sparks your passion. I encourage you to capitalize on that moment and relentlessly seek out that colleague for a conversation to collaborate.

I think of a fateful tweet from a few years ago. A member of my PLN reached out with a simple question in a tweet. The request was anchored in asking if others could recommend a book to read. I readily responded to Jen Williams tweet not knowing that it would lead down a journey of friendship and collaboration for the next three years and counting. I am very fortunate being connected to an inspiring educator such as Jen who makes you want to be better. Collaborating with Jen is akin to what Paul McCartney was sharing about the first drum beat Ringo exalted over The Beatles when they first played together. One tweet like that first percussive swipe by Ringo sparked a rich and enduring collaborative friendship with Jen. I am grateful to be in the band with Jen.

Recently, Jen and I co-presented at the National School Board Association Conference. Our topic was on building conversation starters for collaborative professional development. There was natural balance in the scope and sequence of our presentation. There was a natural flow the our sharing. We could fill each other’s gaps naturally. All of this due to the value we placed on our collaborative ethos. Even though, we are separated by many miles and prepared as much as we could within the confines of hectic schedules, there was a professional synergy that I felt in the course of our presentation. At one point, I stood still in appreciation of the ground we had walked together. It is what the Allman Brother Band called “Hittin’ the Note.” It’s the moment where there is complete simpatico among the musicians of the band. A sound is created and harnesses energy with the audience. It was evident upon the attendees. A few came up to us afterwards sharing that it was the best presentation experienced at the conference. Presenting with Jen simply made me feel like I was in The Beatles. I could almost hear Paul echoing “Yeah, this is it.” from the “Eight Days a Week” film as we were presenting.

One of the Assistant Principals I collaborate with in my current school assignment sparked collaboration in a recent conversation. Monty Gray shared an inspiring tweet he read from a valued member of our PLN—Danny Steele. Danny writes eloquently about our noble profession. His tweets are succinct yet packed with resonating meaning. Monty shared with me one of Danny’s maxim’s. This one tweet sparked a powerful conversation between Monty and me on how we needed to take more intentional action in modeling building relationships. I felt that same collaborative spark resonate again and I was excited to take giant steps with my colleague. I look forward to seeing what collaborative music is ahead for Monty and I that was all sparked by one tweet from Danny.

Let’s tune our awareness into those collaborative sparks and reach out to our bandmates. Creating a collaborative sound that will infuse deeper hues of learning for our students is the key for all educators.

One tweet is all it took.

One spark to ignite bold, dynamic action to create change.

One beat to change the world.

 

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Spreading Wings

I missed my band.

We never picked up a single instrument nor wrote a song together. There was not some godforsaken one-night stand of a gig at a decrepit Ramada Inn or the classic arguments over musical direction.

This band was a trio line-up. Some of the great power trios like The Police and Cream have their share of the sublime and wretched. We had our moments, too. Through those moments, the school admin. team that was my band inspired me to be a better educator, collaborator and dreamer. Our shared vision to make our school a place of inspiration for students, teachers and families is what bonded us together in the same key.

Now we are broken up and pursuing other paths in our individual career trajectories. I am proud to have played with Leigh and Ian. They were supportive assistant principals and I am grateful for the many lessons I have learned from both of them. Both made me a better person and leader.

Approaching the schoolhouse through the lens of music, it is easier for me sometimes to have a niche to carve out understanding and perspective as a school leader. For me, that niche involves what Beatles Producer George Martin termed as “thinking symphonically.” My past and current colleagues patiently put up with many references to obscure bands, set list jargon and hep cat allusions. Step into my office sometime and you will see Beatles ephemera, framed album covers and possibly hear an obscure alternate take from Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album.

Yet, it was a band in my mind that consisted of a three-member administrative team during my first stint as a principal. We were bonded by a clear, school-wide vision to inspire innovative minds. Our gig was to serve and support students, teachers and families experiencing the sweet symphony of school transformation in the key of magnet school theme implementation of STEAM. The odds were seemingly against us with a community that had abandoned our school with negative perceptions, grapevine talk machinations and all kinds of flight from the marrow of educational purpose. There were a few stalwarts hanging onto the gem of school change that we were arranging together.

It was our band and we were unified in the key of school transformation fueled by a collaborative purpose. Every one was invited to play in the band. Every one was called to share gifts and challenged to play outside their respective comfort zones. This band could play amidst discord and cacophony. We could blend harmonies together strewn in loving notes in our sincere attempt to change the world for kids.

Now, two school principalships later and a few years since that first band performed, I am missing my two colleagues. This happens in organizations. The team moves on without various members due to a myriad of reasons: individuals seek out new challenges, shifts in leadership, or the mission is accomplished. In my case, I believed that my mission was completed for my first principalship and I was itching to move other gigs and play with new bands. It was time to spread my wings.

Paul McCartney had a similar move when The Beatles dissolved in 1970. The dream of the band had faded away and it was time for John, Paul, George and Ringo to express themselves as solo, independent artists. Their split was fueled with pain, miscommunication and lawsuits. McCartney pulled drastic manuevers to free himself from a band that he loved. Those actions involved legal actions that spun itself into an apocalyptic ending for the band that took years from the individual members to arrive at peaceful terms.

Prior to the shattering end of the Beatles, Paul McCartney attempted to rally the band back to being a band again during the “Get Back”/”Let It Be” Album Sessions. He felt that the band needed to get back to being a live band again and falling in love with the music that formed their collective vision. His efforts did result in one last final, impromptu rooftop performance but the band was never the same again after that event and dissolved within a year.

McCartney created two solo albums in the wake of The Beatles. One was a total solo affair and the other was a collaboration with his wife, Linda. Even though both of those albums resounded with hits and success, I surmise that Paul missed the concept of being in a band. A concept that is rooted sometimes in misery and euphoria. Bands fight. Bands break-up. Bands reform. Bands compromise. Bands take risks. Bands band together and lock protective arms around their shared vision.

Missing those above-mentioned sparks is my interpretation for why Paul McCartney formed Wings. He wanted to create music in a collaborative environment that was not quite like The Beatles. He wanted to move forward with his inspiration and learn, grow and experiment with a new set of bandmates.

I am sure he initially felt loss in the wake of the Beatles acrimonious divorce. They had conquered all kinds of heights and forged new musical expressions that were unprecedented. It is difficult to capture lightning in a bottle twice when you are in a band like The Beatles.

The other day I had the opportunity to run into one of my old bandmates. We picked up where we left off without missing a beat. The conversation was rich and witty. It was just like the old days. Walking away from my yesteryear colleague, my emotions quickly devolved into a melancholic nostalgia. I felt adrift as I began to miss the support from which I derived much energy.

There have been a few moments of this melancholy which have buzzed around me the last few months. I missed the riffs of being able to collaborate with past friends. My attempts to re-create that collectivity buzz to work like my old bandmates had fizzled–invitations to new colleagues for a CoffeeEdu or Book Study had been politely declined. It seemed like there was no time for a quick cup of coffee or even a movie from new bandmates. I was falling into a pitiful display of self-doubt. I had no one to play with anymore. I was cursing the heavens bemoaning that fact that I could never go back to my old school like Steely Dan.

One recent evening, my beloved wife Deb had to endure another riff bemoaning my homesickness for old friends. I made the over reach of a comparison to Paul McCartney. Placing myself in his post-Beatles state, I overestimated my self-importance and arrayed myself as one of the greatest pop composers of all-time.

Deb heard my overglorified metaphor and simply said, “Didn’t Paul McCartney make music after the Beatles? He kept going on, you know. You can do the same thing. Focus on those new people you collaborate with.”

The statement rightly cut me down to perspective and renewed a new awareness. Paul kept on after The Beatles split and discovered renewed purpose in collaborating with new members. He did not rest on the past and kept moving forward even as Wings, his new band, changed line-ups. If Paul did not persevere with Wings, then we would not have a masterpiece like the “Band on the Run” album. He discovered new musical lands with a new crew of collaborators as the expedition with Wings flourished throughout the 1970s. His records with Wings established McCartney as an enduring musical force and his success resulted in more hits, gold records and universal musical statements still resonating today.

As educators, we are called to dance to the beat of collaboration. It yields greatness when we are able to harness the synergy embedded in collaboration. We have many faces before us in the schoolhouse who are connected with us for various reasons. The vision binds and sometimes not everyone is able to hear the music. When this happens, we cannot dismiss those who are not playing at Beatlesque proportions. Rather, we need to tune into the goodness that is embedded in all of those we have the chance to work with under one schoolhouse. We are called to sincerely discover those gifts in our colleagues in a positive way so that those gifts may be illuminated. By embracing the present moment with those in our immediate work world, we are being good stewards for the students we serve. Collaboration cannot be ignored be the old bandmates from past glories are no longer there.

I can imagine Paul McCartney doing the same thing with Wings bandmates like Denny Laine and Jimmy McCullough. Paul does call Jimmy out in the middle of the “Junior’s Farm, ” a 1974 classic hit for Wings. Listen carefully for Paul to shoutout to Jimmy before an amazing guitar solo.

Instead of pouring over the loss of collaborators from days passed, we need to take the value they added to our lives and share those lessons with present colleagues. Taking a move from Paul McCartney as he morphed from being a Beatle to spreading his Wings is a lesson for all educators to emulate. Moving forward with vision emboldened with new ideas and a growth mindset will provide the basis for new adventures in collaboration.

Spreading our own wings as educators and looking for opportunities in new collaborative pursuits will transform present colleagues into lifelong bandmates.

I still miss my band but I am looking forward to future adventures with new colleagues. It is important to keep the gaze in forward dynamic motion when sowing the seeds for next collaborations. Our music as educators is far too important and exciting.

As I conclude this and share this post with Deb (my best and most honest collaborator), she challenges me to take my own advice. I am gladly spreading my wings and looking forward to new collaborations with an open heart cherishing the lessons from old bandmates.

Or as Wings frontman Paul McCartney says to his new guitarist in “Junior’s Farm,” that incredible collaborative hit from a band discovering its voice and taking bold steps from the shadow of The Beatles:

“Take me down, Jimmy!”

 

 

 

Suite: Sustaining the Vision with The Eagles

Part I: Not Another Meeting Or When the Principal Is “New Kid in Town” 

This is not a typical School Improvement Meeting in our Schoolhouse.

There is no deep data dive or spreadsheet review.

There is synergy.

There is collaboration.

I am seeing teachers lean in closer and wrapping their pens around words that will take our school to the next level. We are building a vision together and I am smiling.

We are pouring over our newly-minted Core Values and determining next steps for the collective writing of our vision statement. It has been a long journey in my first year in our schoolhouse as the new principal. This is my third principalship and I am aware of the sensitive minefield that denotes change for a school. I want to be deliberate, sensitive and compassionate in my steps as a servant leader principal. I desire for the vision seeds being planted here collectively to resonate and stand the test of time like the my beloved Classic Rock Bands.

My mind drifts to the Eagles and their recent reunion efforts with a new line-up. I want our vision statement to resonate like the collective vision of the Eagles. I want it to echo like lyrical guitar solos on “Hotel California.”

Tears are peeking out of my eyes and I am doing my best to hide them. It is a joyful moment and I imagine Glenn Frey sitting next to me with an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder. He is nodding in approval and says, “You done good, man.”

Part II: Frozen Eagles in Hell 

“Hell Freezes Over.”

Don Henley’s curt response to the press when an inquiry about an Eagles Reunion would surface. Occasionally, I would hear this piece of trivia bookended by a radio disc jockey after I would hear “Hotel California” or “Tequila Sunrise” on one of my beloved Classic Rock Stations when I was a kid. I would often wonder why bands like the Eagles would break up within the marrow of bitterness.

Then, that would get me to wondering why other bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The Kinks or The Who would fade away due to discordance, tragedy or intra-band animosity. I idolized the golden era of these bands and I would want the dream to continue.

Occasionally, there would be ill-fated attempts at reunions by these bands. Some of these reunions were simply embarrassing and the reunited members knew it. Something was missing when they attempted to re-kindle the sonic magic of past musical glories. I remember pouring through well-thumbed copies of Rolling Stone Magazine looking for any signs of reunion magic with my beloved Classic Rock Bands. I would take the bait and wait with fan-obsessed anticipation only to face letdown due to missed notes and sloppy performances by some of these reunited bands.

Part III: Vision Echoes into Infinity 

The previously mentioned phrase morphed from a dismissive comment to the name of a reunion album by the Eagles. It was released fourteen years after their acrimonious dissolution as a band. The album was a huge commercial success but it also served as a catalyst for a true reunion. Somehow the band figured out a way to create new music and balance it with a seemingly never-ending tour where greatest hits were revisited. The members of the band carried on in dignified fashion with even a new studio album of freshly minted original music released in 2007. Looking at their new live performances, it was evident that they were having fun again. It was wonderful hearing those harmonies blend again from the lips of Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Seeing Joe Walsh make his lead guitar sing a symphony of solos over “Hotel California” was a revelation. Timothy B. Schmidt adding solid and stately bass lines added to the musical proceedings.

During this band renaissance, the Eagles did face various levels of animosity from within–one of the band members was tossed out and a legal battle ensued. In spite of that, they carried on as a band.

The death of a founding member did not stop the Eagles. With Glenn Frey’s passing 2016, it seemed as if the band would cease its operation. This is typical when a pivotal founding member of a band passes away. The energy of the band cannot persevere. The band fades away into myth and memory. The Eagles had a brief spark in what was billed as a grand finale at the Emmy Awards later that year. Don Henley stated that out of respect for Glenn Frey that the Eagles would turn one last page and close its book at this final performance. It was a stirring and fitting final chapter for a band that withstood so much and inspired many generations of fans.

The Eagles did not close the book on themselves after that performance. A new lineup was announced with Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, son of Glenn, filling in and carrying on the mantle. This new chapter of the Eagles’ story was inspiring. It revealed a new testament to a band that had given so much. This revelation showed that the vision of a band when shared and centered around love is infinite. With the addition of two new band members, the Eagles are moving forward to a new height. The sincere and sacred nature of their collective vision is preventing them from declining into caricature or quick cash-in selling out for profit.

As I reflect on this latest incarnation of the Eagles, I am swimming in the meaning of what vision stands for in the schoolhouse. How can we create a vision that is able to sustain itself amidst tribulations, setbacks and letdowns as the Eagles? The Eagles created that music that had a clear thematic and lyrical thread. Songs were created with loving care. The band felt kinship with an audience that grew up with them over the course of a couple of generations. They felt a responsibility for the music.

Imagine a schoolhouse having that same collective drive for a vision. The vision resonates at such a level that it goes beyond a pretty font on school letterhead. The vision is so forthright and pure that it becomes more than an unattainable dream. Educator collaborators know that the vision will sustain itself beyond their time in the schoolhouse. They know this because there is a respectful awareness of the impact being made on students. There is a loving care that sustains that school vision in such a way that students, teachers, administrators and families will go to battle for it. The vision will withstand any false or negative perceptions. It becomes both iconic and organic. The vision is not fixed or static. The vision becomes the DNA of the school and serves as a lasting, growing testament.

Coda: 

A vision has to be more than just mere canned words. It has to echo and dance in the synergy of the schoolhouse. The vision resonates in the beliefs of all in the schoolhouse. One feels it in the urgent joy of the first steps in the building. The vision lasts and lingers in the tenor of the gatherings in PLCs, school assemblies, faculty meetings. It is rings loudly in any school milestone. It withstands the voluminous snares of those dejected days that do happen. The vision pulls a principal out of the doldrums of doubt and serves as reminder of the purpose to do great things. The vision is the catalyst to change the world for students, teachers and families. It is the spark that will light up dreams for the future.

Take a page from the Eagles and build a vision for a school that will both inspire and stand the test of time.

 

 

 

Thank You, Mr. Rogers.

This blog post is dedicated to the loving memory and inspiring legacy of Mr. Fred Rogers. I also dedicate this to mothers and fathers everywhere who heroically defeat the evil nightmares of their children. 

Vivid, haunting nightmares were uninvited guests to my childhood slumber. All of the seemingly light clichés associated with nightmares plagued me during my pre-school and kindergarten years. I literally tossed and turned in addition to waking up screaming. Of course, I was blessed to have my Mom and Dad nearby willing to chase monsters away or to say a little prayer with me to soothe my frayed nerves.

During one particular series of horrid nightmares, I was unwilling to go back to sleep. My mother had attempted every tried and true trick with me and nothing was provoking any kind of sense of well-being me. With her the quick and sound thinking of her intuition, Mom placed on the “Pinocchio” Record Player that I shared with my older brother a Mr. Rogers record. The record was called a “A Place of Our Own.” It was a compilation of songs from his PBS series which I devotedly watched everyday. I was his neighbor and he treated me with kindness, respect and love.

Mr. Rogers and I had many adventures together to the “Neighborhood of Make Believe.” I learned how crayons were manufactured through the magic of the pre-You Tube resource that was “Picture Picture.” I developed an appreciation for Jazz due to the melodic stylings of the John Costa Trio providing a hip soundtrack for our television adventures. All were invited in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. You could be of any color, race, religion, gender, background and there would be no judgement. The Neighborhood was a vision of the way the world needed to be: “A Place of Our Own” where we echoed the better angels of human nature for all.

The record of Mr. Rogers’ soothing voice and songs of affirmation, unity and love did the trick for me as a child. The nightmares soon dissipated and I was able to sleep peacefully. Mom saved my world again and would continue to do so.

The lessons of Mr. Rogers stayed with me throughout my youth and I carried them into my adult and professional life. Early on as I grew into a young adult, Mr. Rogers and his Neighborhood Trolley stood as symbols for nostalgia for me. They were old toys that I had placed in the attic of my memory and I would gaze at fondly from time to time. It wasn’t until later that a deeper significance reached me in a more profound way.

Fast forward to my time as young High School English Teacher in the throes of a being a newlywed. I have found the love of my life, Deb, and we are young teachers bent on teaching all the children of the world. (We still are, by the way.) My wife and I suffered a miscarriage during her first pregnancy. I am helpless and grieving. My wife is suffering and I am desperate to take the pain away from her. Later that night, I had a dream I was walking through the Neighborhood of Make-Believe with Mr. Rogers and he is comforting me. In the distance, I noticed my father. He beckons toward me and picks me up in his arms. The world makes sense again and I am at peace. My wife wakes me up to tell me that Dad is on the phone to check on us. He is there to let me know that the world is not going to end and that all would be right. The divine timing of his phone call and that dream has never left me.

A few years later, I am driving home from school exhausted and dejected. For whatever reason the day was rough and I was questioning the universe and my choice of employment. Deb and I are now the proud parents of a newborn daughter. I stagger home to pick up a copy of the newspaper. I noticed that Mr. Rogers is retiring from his broadcast. The article goes into detail how Mr. Rogers wanted to take time to relax and focus on other projects. I also noticed that Mr. Rogers was a devoted letter writer and wanted to explore correspondence via e-mail. The article detailed that best way to reach out to him via e-mail.

I remember tossing the newspaper aside and stepping over to our home computer. My fingers formed words on the keyboard to a man whom I never met but his presence had been with me for most of my life. I wanted to thank Mr. Rogers for his selfless career of accepting others and promoting the power of imagination.

That didn’t happen. I remember crying as I wrote because I simply thanked him for helping me get rid of my nightmares. I shared with him how I was now a father, husband and teacher. I thank him for inspiring me to be the best in all of three of those important roles. Most importantly, I thanked Mr. Rogers for being a profound influence in my life and how I hoped to do his legacy justice. I shared with him how Deb and I would tell our baby daughter, “You are special.” This line is one of the cornerstones of Mr. Rogers’ message of love and understanding.  I remember signing it, “Your friend, Sean.”

Within hours, I got a reply back from Mr. Fred Rogers. It was my hero and inspiration taking the time to read my thoughts and respond in a sincere, loving way. As he thanked me for me my kind words, Mr. Rogers shared his appreciation of the strengths I had as a person. Most importantly, he told me that my daughter was lucky to have a father like me. Here was man whom I never met me giving the honor of a deep compliment.

The email is something I still cherish today and I occasionally re-read it when I need a little inspired reminder of my purpose.

This upcoming year marks many commemorations for Mr. Rogers due to the 50th Anniversary of the airing his beloved television show. We have a United States Postal Stamp, an upcoming documentary and even a biopic starring Tom Hanks all carefully etched with dignity and love for the audience.

The legacy of Mr. Rogers continues to live on in repeated viewings of his Neighborhood and acclaimed spinoffs like “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Future generations will carry on the basic human values of love, respect, unity and kindness that colored Mr. Rogers’ vision for a better world.

I remember when I first learned of Mr. Rogers’ passing a few years after I received that e-mail from him. I was teaching at Bedford High School in Massachusetts and hurriedly preparing for class in the library. I accidentally bumped into a colleague who was listlessly wandering around the stacks. Noticing the sadness in his face, I asked him what was the matter. His words are eternally carved in the soundtrack of my wife, “Mr. Rogers died today, Sean. We lost the greatest educator of the 20th Century and we haven’t done a doggone thing.”

I paused in stunned silence. What I would like to say is that I rushed back to class and took time for a moving tribute for my students. I was truly at loss for any kind of action and I simply carried on with the day.

Mr. Rogers’ legacy of kindness still resonates within me every day. I aim to connect and relate in a sincere way with others as he did. I stumble and often miss that trolley ride to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Through it all, I am honored to carry on in his heroic footsteps as an educator and servant.

I think of the song, “Many Ways to Say I Love You” which is on Side 2 of “A Place of Our Own.”  A song I used to sing to my three daughters when they were babies. A song I used to fall asleep to when I was a boy terrified that the world was going to end:

 There are many ways to say I love you.

Just by being there when things are sad and scary.

Just by being there, being there, being there to say I love you. 

You’ll find many ways to say I love you. 

You’ll find many ways to say I love you.

You’ll find many ways to understand what love is. 

When I hear these lyrics, I realize that I was loved the whole time during those childhood nightmare episodes. Now, as I am older, I realize what both my parents and Mr. Rogers were teaching me the whole time: The message is Love and we have to both give and receive it. When we do that the world will always be a better place.

The world is truly beautiful place because we all get to share our special gifts with each other.

Thank you, Mom.

Thank you, Dad.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers.

 

.    

In Celebration of The Fifth Beatles in the Schoolhouse

Imagine being in Billy Preston’s shoes. It is January of 1969 and Winter reigns relentlessly. A cold, gray air seeps into the ethos of London.

You are a 22 year-old prodigy keyboardist touring the world with the legendary Ray Charles. The Genius of Ray Charles has a gig in London and you decide to pound the British pavement. Your footsteps take you to Apple Headquarters, the current nerve center of The Beatles. Before you wander too far into the epicenter of Beatlemania, an old friend of yours you met years ago during a performance stint in Hamburg, Germany grabs you by the arm.

This particular friend, who turns out to be George Harrison,  asks if you have some time to sit in with his band. Recording sessions are being filmed for a future documentary film that will highlight the band’s return to public performance. Malaise has taken over these sessions. The band is arguing and emotions are mixed for their impending concert.

Immediately, you agree to join the band for these sessions. Later, you sitting in with The Beatles on electric keyboard. The band is attempting to get back to its roots in an intentional way by regarding live without studio trickery. Your contributions are welcomed. The band is happy to have an additional member dwelling within their musical inner sanctum. The new songs are coalescing and The Beatles “as nature intended” gather their vision to the rooftop of Apple Headquarters to perform in public one final time. Billy Preston is invited to sit in with his smoldering keyboard on that rooftop. His keyboard stylings add a funky soulfulness to The Beatles.

Billy Preston’s musical support is welcomed and invited by the rest of the band. It resonates so well with The Beatles that he is given credit on the “Get Back”/”Don’t Let Me Down” single. Billy Preston is the first musician outside of The Beatles to receive this level of credit. It’s a testament to the freshness and faithfulness of his support. No Beatles song at that time or since then has credit been extended at that level.

In the wake of the Beatles break-up over the years, Billy Preston was identified by fans and critics as “The Fifth Beatle.” His musical services resonated so well with the band that Preston was called upon at various intervals during the solo years of the former Beatles. That is how is supportive resonance and musical mastery was appreciated by The Beatles. He was more than just a hired gun called in to add uncredited flourishes. His contributions were valued because he made the band better and added value to the collective vision.

Every band has some version of a Fifth Beatle. This person is not necessarily an official member of the band, but she or he adds a certain value-added dimension. The same connection extends to any team, organization and a Schoolhouse. Each individual has gifts and talents that provide a missing necessary ingredient of goodness.

In a Schoolhouse, we have various professional teams and groupings ranging from departmental, grade level house, administration, leadership, etc. Teams are solidified with each member of the team fulfilling a certain role. Sometimes the team needs an added ingredient to ignite collaborative action or rekindle the vision. The tragic trap of some Schoolhouse teams is the failure to not see beyond the membership when a certain block of stagnation arises. We prone ourselves to inertia and resentment if there is an unwillingness to change or move forward.

What if we had the foresight like George Harrison during the “Get Back” Sessions and faced the honest truth that a new voice was needed? Consider it akin to “having another set of eyes.” Pulling in that needed emollient takes leadership and courage. It is also vital to be in tune with the gifts of others in the Schoolhouse. Most importantly, everyone in the Schoolhouse must remember that everyone plays. We build our strength in serving and empowering kids by the doing the exact same for each other in the Schoolhouse as educators.

Who are those that stand as “The Fifth Beatle” in your professional life? Who are those educator bandmates that add soulfulness and support to the core of your band? Who are those individuals like Billy Preston that humbly add a new depth to the collaborative framework of your Schoolhouse?  Let them know that their role is pivotal to the strength and flow of your team. Invite accolades to shower on these individuals from others in an intentional and sincere way.

The inclusion of the value-added unexpected can always stir a team to fresh heights in the Schoolhouse. Adding a new element from an either unsung colleague in the Schoolhouse is a game changer for transforming the tried and true into something more meaningful. Take a note from The Beatles and add the unexpected but needed contribution from an unsung hero in your Schoolhouse.

Band on a Rooftop

The moment is joyful.

Four friends on a Saville Row rooftop on a cold, dreary London afternoon. They are locked in the synergy of sound blissfully ignoring the staid norms of some of their brokerage firm neighbors. An electric keyboard is melodically dancing in time as a new addition to the brotherhood from various angles of Liverpool, England.

It is a band on a rooftop.

Playing songs that will sparkle the edges of an inspirational canon, The Beatles are immersed in the moment of musical empathy. Smiles surround their sounds as a film crew captures what will be their final live performance. The band did not designate this as their finale. It is only the conclusion to a documentary film.

In the midst of songs like “Get Back” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” the previous weeks of what John Lennon called “…the most miserable sessions on earth,” The Beatles embraced the love forged in their shared words and music. The past moments of arguments, tension and detachment are gone. One would never sense that this was a band mired in recent disarray. The band is live again performing for people on a rooftop. They have drafted a young keyboard player named Billy Preston to sit in with them on a project that was designed for them to “Get Back” to their roots of being the band they once were. Forgetting their differences and disagreements, The Beatles are reborn doing what they do best—sharing Music for the world. The Beatles were performers and they discovered their natural habitat on that London rooftop after a nearly three-year absence from live performance.

The moment is sincere and filled with love. A love that bonds these four friends together in love for Music and each other. A love that transcends the inertia of negativity and dissent. A love that will eternally echo in the film and recording captured on that wintry afternoon in 1969.

Many lessons can be gleaned from The Beatles and their final live performance in our universal Schoolhouse. We hit many peaks and valleys as Educators. Doing the noble work of serving our students is not always easy. Plagued with doubts and divisiveness, we sometimes embrace the dour nature of our collective beings and permit that to dull the spark in the Schoolhouse. We are human and we have our moments where passion is dimmed. We sometimes lose our way in the labyrinth of the status quo. These moments occur at varying levels for some of us.

It is vital to embrace the joy we have as Educators and blissfully get back to our intentional roots. We call those things out that led us towards the path in our Noble Profession and a synergy will arise. Teaching is in part a collaborative pursuit. Collaborating with teachers is like playing in a band. Bands are not always perfect just as school faculties are in turn sometimes the same. If we intentionally toss aside the disillusion that may weigh us down and get back to our core as Educators, then we can enjoy a joyful rooftop moment like The Beatles did.

Find that colleague in your Schoolhouse and invite them to jam on the rooftop with you. Our students benefit from the Music that we play together as Educators in the collaborations we actively foster. Cast aside the fear or doubt that may hinder the invitation to collaborate. Stay tuned to the key of the core that inspires you as an Educator and play your loud, raucous sound on many rooftops.

One way to aim for that rooftop moment as Educators is to embrace the impromptu like The Beatles did. Here are a few impromptu ideas:

  • Host an impromptu dance party for colleagues at the end of the week. The power of a “Soul Train” line is a fun way to bond and connect.
  • Create a Flipgrid where colleagues can share a favorite song, fond teaching memory or inspiring movie.
  • Make a Mix Tape or Playlist where you invite teachers to share upbeat songs.
  • Invite teacher colleagues to a common area in the Schoolhouse for a free-form brainstorming or moonshot dream sharing session.
  • Host an informal jam session if there a teacher colleagues who actually play Music!

The Beatles final performance on that rooftop was a swan song of joy. As Educators, we do not have to settle for the last gasp of a swan song or negativity-plagued semester. Our quest to inspire the young minds in our care is never-ending. We can aim for that rooftop moment of joy and leave a positive educational canon that inspires kids.

#EduCowbell

“More Cowbell.”

The catchphrase originated with a classic “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken. A wonderful and exaggerated spoof of “Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” the unforgettable skit centers around a rock producer’s demand for more intensity in the percussive stylings of a single cowbell player. Will Ferrell’s unfettered and unhinged dancing as he beats the cowbell is the stuff that comedy legends are made of. “More Cowbell” has filtered in and out of our modern-day lexicon as a call to amplify energy to any given situation. I believe it is more than just a witty watercooler catchphrase.

If you think about the cowbell and its usage in Music, it does serve as a rally cry of sorts. It’s like the message in the beat of the cowbell is saying to the listener: “Okay, we are ready to take it up a notch. Let’s follow the beat of the cowbell.” Certain cowbell songs resonate to the great effect like “Low Rider” by War, “Born on the Bayou” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Got to Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye and “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles. The cowbell means dynamic business in the symphony of its beat. It is more than time-keeper to rhythm. It is an inspiring echo to make it happen in the context of a song. Simply put, the cowbell means it is time to move that groove on the dance floor.

What if we took the infectious intention of the cowbell to the Schoolhouse? I am a firm believer in sustaining the vital organs of a school’s culture. As educators, we need that rhythm to stir us to the beat of supporting our students and each other. What are those things that provide a source of uplift to engage in dynamic actions? How can we bring “More Cowbell” to the lexicon of our daily Schoolhouse lexicon?

Let’s take the cowbell and add it to the relentless rhythms of the Schoolhouse With the gifts and talents embedded in the artistry of educators worldwide, we have many #EduCowbells to call upon for inspiration. The synergy of the #EduCowbell dances in those collaborative conversations we have that flip the script of the status quo. Perhaps, the #EduCowbell is in excitement generated in a new exploration in the classroom from an activity like #BreakoutEdu, Mystery Skype or Flipped Classroom.  The beat of the #EduCowbell may be found in a visit to an #EdCamp. It may be beating during a moment found in the simple kindness of a compliment with a student or colleague.

We all have a beat that is integral to the rhythmic momentum of the Schoolhouse. An #EduCowbell can take on many forms and permutations. The #EduCowbell is that element that simply excites you and invites others to amplify their game.

Share the gift of your beat and bring more #EduCowbell to our world-changing enterprise in the Schoolhouse. Hit that #EduCowbell with relentless, unabashed joyful passion. When we bring the beat of our passion to the Schoolhouse in a sincere way, it is truly contagious.

How will you bring more #EduCowbell? Your Schoolhouse Band awaits the addition of your sublime beat to inspire greatness.