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.

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