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.

Magical Mystery Tweet: In Celebration of Random Paths & Sharing the Passion

December 26, 1967 is a date that rings for some fans and critics as being the nadir of The Beatles trajectory as a band. The BBC first aired their romp of film known as “Magical Mystery Tour.” Even though the film gave us timeless classics from the band like “I Am the Walrus” and “The Fool on the Hill,” universal critical pans followed upon its airing on British television. “Magical Mystery Tour” is typically viewed as an overindulged home movie created in the psychedelic haze of Summer of Love. It is a largely loose film that details the whimsical misadventures of a group of passengers on a wild bus ride. There isn’t much of a plot and the final product shows just that. “Magical Mystery Tour” came in the wake of a year in Beatles history that spawned three major musical quantum leaps for the band:

  • “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane”: The Double-A Sided Single that signaled a paradigm shift for the band
  • “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”: the masterpiece album that changed the way we view modern music
  • “All You Need Is Love”: their live worldwide performance signaling a new global anthem of peace in the middle of the 1967 Summer of Love

More than anything in the repertoire of The Beatles, this silly pet project of a film has changed my life all in part to a simple post on Twitter one year ago.

Enter December 26, 2016 and I am conducting my annual tradition of viewing “Magical Mystery Tour” at home. A sense of well-being had overcome me. I was taking time to indulge in my passion for my favorite band. I am free in the peace of being an unabashed fan.

Although I have a loving family, they are not the hugest fans of The Beatles. They love their music but they are very patient with this rabid fan. My closest friends who are just as passionate as I am are spread over the globe so I am usually alone in this simple tradition of playing the film.

At this moment, I am feeling the need to share. Why not? It’s the day after Christmas and I am immersed in the peace of Winter Break. It’s Boxing Day in England and I think it would be neat if my Twitter post fell on welcoming eyes across the pond.

It is important to proclaim our passion for what we love. There are many reasons why this is so. Passions must spread, echo and resonate. That resonance of passion can compel others to join in the synergy. It can also serve as an invitation for others to share their respective passions. The music of The Beatles has done that for me as an individual and educator on a myriad of levels.

There are many paths to choose to proclaim this passion for a seemingly failed effort of a film by a band I cherish. I choose Twitter for this occasion.

The simple tweet I posted showed a pic of my DVD Copy of “Magical Mystery Tour” perched on my couch. It captured a moment of a fan sharing his unbridled geekiness for a band. No one was tagged or mentioned–just a few words sent out “Across the Universe.”

This post fell across the feed of Nicole Michael of 910 Public Relations. Nicole is a lifelong fan of The Beatles. She  represents Beatle authors and artists. She sends out a reply and then a conversation follows. The conversation serves as a catalyst for a blog and radio series celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” album by The Beatles. Writing the blog ignites the courage in me to pursue the recurring dream of writing a book. A proposal is sent to the truly amazing Dave and Shelley Burgess of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.  A dream book combining my passions for The Beatles and Education is now upcoming for 2018 thanks to their sincere and heroic support.

I am blessed by the genuine support and belief of these particular individuals.

The courage inside of me led to a tweet…

A tweet led to a conversation…

A conversation sparked belief, collaboration and action. 

Twitter is not an omnipotent salve and it is not the moral of this blog. There are many positive attributes associated with Twitter. It is an important pathway for dynamic action that works.  I find it being a helpful resource and digital Sherpa for connections. It has led me to many new friendships, positive personalized learning experiences and sincerely rich experiences. The courage to post and share one’s passion is the catalyst. As educators, we must be relentless in igniting our courage and supporting those who do the same.

We have so many positive educational hashtags out there like #LeadLAP from Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess or #JoyfulLeaders from Bethany Hill. These hashtags not only uplift but they compel other educators to share positive, creative and innovative practices in the Schoolhouse. This proactive sharing compels multitudes of positive action in service and support of the Schoolhouse. Twitter is one pathway that works for some and there are a host of others that coincide in ways that spark others to action.

The Beatles had the courage to make a zippy, goofy film filled with amazing music. They withstood the barbs of confused fans and angry critics in the wake of the release of “Magical Mystery Tour.” In the aftermath of that film, The Beatles gave us more life-changing music like “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be” and “Here Comes the Sun.” Their final studio albums recorded after “Magical Mystery Tour” serve as the template for the band’s lasting legacy still resonating over 40 years after their breakup. The band believed in their vision and collaboration and ignored the condescending words of negative criticism.

The lesson of the seemingly failed effort of “Magical Mystery Tour” reverberates today for all educators. We are told to hold fast to tried and true traditions of instructional practices. We sometimes allow the status quo to cloud our vision and stifle our passion. It is easy to follow the proven path in the Schoolhouse and it may yield acceptable results. Does it truly add to the nobility of our profession? Can we add to the move of doing what is best for our kids, colleagues and communities? Are we changing the world if we subscribe to the proven, well-worn rut? I submit a resounding affirmative to those questions and I am living proof of that response.

We can change the world as Educators with the courage we all possess and the collaboration we all share.

It is necessary to embrace the courage to be whimsical and share the passions that inspire us. Imagine the possibilities of passion-sharing and one is left with the sparks to change our world.

I am grateful for the courage to share on that fateful day last year. Most importantly, I am grateful for the connection experienced in sincere individuals like Nicole, Dave and Shelley and many others. One step forward sparks so many life-changing moments and new friendships.

Here’s to your next act of courage and the resulting world-changing effect posted in a Magical Mystery Tweet!



Eclectic Memos of Positivity for the World and Schoolhouse

Otis Redding does it when he starts whistling at the end of “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay. Frank Sinatra’s impromptu Portuguese-inspired scat singing on his Bossa Nova version of “I Concentrate on You” certainly does it. The multi-tracked background harmonies of Joni Mitchell on “Carey” that slide in around a minute or so into the song definitely do it. De La Soul sampling Steely Dan’s “Peg” chorus on “Eye Know” crackles and does it. These are the random musical moments that remind your ears that all is right with the world.

It can be a riff, drum fill, bass line or harmony that is not necessarily the main course of the song.

A random, eclectic moment that is yours alone and serves as an audio memo that the universe is going to be all right.

My friend Nicole Michael of 910 Public Relations recently tweeted out praise for Ringo Starr’s drum patterns on “I Feel Fine” by The Beatles. She simply shared in less than 140 characters how the intricate percussion work of Ringo served as an uplifting reminder that the day was going to be better.

That tweet led me to reflecting upon what was my random, eclectic moment in a Beatles song. I thought immediately of Paul McCartney’s bass line in “Dear Prudence.” Every time I hear that fluid, melodic bass  I start swaying in time to the music. A reminder envelopes in my mind that world is a beautiful place. The bass line ignites for me an audio dispatch that humanity will persevere and that our best days are ahead for us.

Grooving forward with this audio reminder from The Beatles, I am compelled to think of an equivalent for the schoolhouse. What are those eclectic moments that serve as the basis for positive reflection? Earlier this week, I had a meeting with one of our community partners at Lexington Middle School. We were dreaming of new ways to serve and support our students. It was my first time meeting with this incredible partner and immediate bonding led to an impromptu gathering with our Guidance Team and one of our assistant principals. The synergy for positive action was contagious and we hit a collective pause for laughter. This was not staged, canned laughter. It was real. loud and organic. It was the sound of people coming together and reaching a moment of sincere collaboration sealed with universal, divine language of laughter.

That schoolhouse moment became the echo that reminded me that everything is going to be all right and that we are tuned in the right key to support our students. I may have even swayed in time to Paul McCartney’s bass line during that moment of bonding.

What is your random, eclectic moment that echoes as your reminder for global and schoolhouse positivity?



“Don’t You Wait.” Pausing for Thanks in the Schoolhouse

Writer’s Note: June 18th marks the 75th Birthday of Paul McCartney. I wanted to wish my musical hero a happy birthday by writing about my favorite song of his. “Here Today” appears on the 1982 “Tug of War” album by Paul McCartney. I remember receiving a cassette version of the album on my 12th birthday from my parents. 

Here Today” is Paul McCartney’s elegy for John Lennon. 

“This song is in the form of a conversation we never got to have.”

That statement serves as a succinct overture by Paul McCartney to his 1982 composition entitled “Here Today.”  The song is an elegy for John Lennon who was senselessly gunned down two years prior to its composition. McCartney is referring to a conversation he never had with his former bandmate.

Seeing Paul McCartney in concert several times over the last fifteen years, I was able to witness performances sprinkled with several cathartic tributes to friends no longer with us. He sang “Something” and “All Things Must Pass” for George Harrison who passed away from cancer in 2001. “My Love” was addressed to his wife, Linda, who also lost a courageous battle with cancer.  One of these tributes centered around John Lennon.

Alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, McCartney would provide a brief narrative frame for each mini-tribute. In the case of “Here Today,” Paul McCartney would explain how he wrote the piece for John Lennon. The song was an imaginary conversation. We, the audience, were invited by Paul into an intimate exchange of words. This was not some glorified tribute burdened with maudlin hype or melodramatic orchestration. We witnessing a man relieving the loss of his best mate.

The live performance of “Here Today” is a personal invitation to visit an imaginary conversation between two blokes from Liverpool named Paul and John. We are not seeing “A Hard Day’s Night” version of Paul and John. This is not the “Yellow Submarine” creation of these two iconic musicians. In fact, the concept of iconic is not allowed here. It’s a friend saying goodbye in the way that was brutally taken away.

One thing that strikes me in the live performance of “Here Today” is how Paul McCartney addresses the audience prior to the song. His words are direct and inviting. You feel like Paul is sitting with you over a cup of coffee and he shares the following:

“Don’t wait to tell someone you love them.”

The words resonate throughout the stadium. Some may think of the public and bitter breakup of The Beatles. John and Paul expressed their rancor not only in lawsuits but also in various albums filled with songs that were a thinly veiled references to their conflict. Thankfully, both men were able to reconcile their differences before the senseless act of violence that struck down John Lennon.

Perhaps, these words of Paul’s speak to a deeper truth for which we all can identify. Taking meaningful time to express love directly and sincerely is fast becoming a lost art in this age of ever-changing shifts. Social Media is both a platform and barrier for expressing gratitude and positivity. Direct, eyeball to eyeball communication filled with the weight of intentional sincerity falls at the bottom of many lists including mine. “Here Today” has evolved from an elegy to a beloved friend to an emotional reminder to connect with the ones we love before it’s too late.

As I write this, the school year is reaching a quick end. I think of the empty schoolhouses filled with an eerie quiet as custodians begin summer work orders. I imagine guidance counselors bundling up cumulative folders. I see teachers gathering with totes in the parking lot loading up cars. Summer is on the horizon and the promise of a new school year is in the distance.

I imagine a student who walked out of a schoolhouse on the last day of schoolhouse. This student is not wrapped in the protective armor of praise or kindness from a teacher or administrator. I envision a teacher without a handwritten note of gratitude from a principal. I see a student dreading a bus ride home entering a place where there is no refuge or warmth.

The ending of a school year is a frenzy of testing, rushed, abbreviated schedules and mad dashes to complete closing checklists. We sometimes lose the compassionate aura of our noble profession during this time. Sometimes the momentum collectively forged by an entire team of educators to sustain a positive school culture is lost in the year-end mania.

The echoes of Paul McCartney’s “Here Today” ring in my mental soundtrack and I remember his in-concert advice. His words of wisdom do indeed connect to the schoolhouse. The end of the school year has to shift from a being a rushed time of escape. It has to stand as a time in which we pause to connect with our students and colleagues in a profoundly positive way. It has to stand as a positive bookend into the lives of those we support, serve and collaborate with in the schoolhouse. That year-end bookend can resonate as the bridge to continue the positive momentum for the upcoming school year.

Taking the time to sincerely connect with those who dwell in the schoolhouse with words of praise, thanks and support is the beautiful key to play not for the future but “Here Today.”

Check out this performance of “Here Today” by Paul McCartney from a few years ago here.


Visible Listening: #ThePepperMindset in Action

Every band has a template for the creative process. These are the pivotal steps taken to either remain inside or outside the proverbial box. Recording a song for a band can take on many approaches and the path is not always the same. For The Beatles, there was one step they often took along the way in their studio recording creation. It involved auditioning a new song in the studio to George Martin, their producer and sounding board.

There are many pictures documented of The Beatles pitching their song ideas to their producer. Early studio session photos usually depict George Martin perched on a stool with his head bowed down and his hands placed on his knees. He is arrayed in a crisply starched white dress shirt and an immaculately thin tie dangling in time to the music. John Lennon and Paul McCartney are standing on either side of George Martin. Their guitars are slung over their shoulders with voices harmonizing. George Harrison may be slightly off to the side picking out lead guitar riffs and studying the chord formations on John and Paul’s respective guitars. Ringo Starr is in the background listening intently to the lyrics and perhaps imagining how his future percussive beats will compliment the lyrics of “Another Lennon-McCartney Original.”

Producer Martin would listen intently to the tune and then provide direct feedback to the songwriters. His opinion was highly valued by the band and they at first viewed him as a kind of schoolteacher. He may have suggested an arrangement idea or technical suggestion. Perhaps, George Martin was looking for a teachable moment for the band to take them down a new path in songwriting and recording. Perhaps, he was tuning into an innovative and whimsical idea a songwriter suggested and looking to build upon it.

The Beatles had a gift of being open to the best idea regardless of who shared it. Martin’s direct and timely feedback coupled with the songwriting genius of The Beatles led each song to embark on a creative journey that would eventually impact generations of listeners. The collaboration of The Beatles and George Martin was always rooted in this first step of auditioning a song before recording. It began with the simple act of listening.

In starting my new assignment as principal at Lexington Middle School, I find myself taking a few pages from George Martin’s playbook as a leader, educator and collaborator. It is easy for a principal to leap into a school full of vigor and ideas in the name of change and innovation. I made a similar move in my first principal assignment. Thinking I was going to single-handedly save the school with the simple wave of a smile and a quote from a well-thumbed book on change leadership, I stumbled hard over my ego and stubbornness. I am still learning and striving to hit the same universal notes as The Beatles did.

For the first two weeks in the new school, I am making an intentional effort to practice what I call Visible Listening. This practice takes on many permutations, but the aim is still the same in service and support of kids, teachers and the school community. Visible Listening means visiting classrooms and engaging with students and teacher. It means sitting down and being open to learning more about the pulse of the school. Visible Listening means sitting down with each team member (whether they are a student, teacher or family member) and setting up time for an intentional conversation by asking three simple questions:

  • What is great about our school?
  • What do we need to work on together to grow our school?
  • How may I serve and support you as your principal/lead learner?

I imagine myself as George Martin sitting on that stool in Abbey Road Studios and the teachers are my Beatles. I am listening to their words and music. Looking for ways to learn more about our school. I am in tune with those teachable moments and hoping to share what I can with them. In turn, I am looking for those teachable moments so they may edify me about our school. We are sketching out plans to build a masterpiece for our students so that they may add to the tapestry of our school culture. We are building the blueprint for our students to create their own respective masterpieces.

During one of these chats with my some of my new bandmates, I noticed that I was talking too much. My excitement for our collaboration was droning on too long and I could sense that I was spiraling into that nonsensical “Charlie Brown Teacher Voice.” Stopping immediately, I asked them what their dreams were for our time together. The barometer of the conversation changed and we were able to learn more on building our collaboration to new heights. I am so happy that I took the time to stop my ramblings so that I could tune into the dreams of my colleagues.

Beatles Producer George Martin knew that active listening to The Beatles was a crucial element in the recording process. Tuning into his clients provided a necessary foundation for the band to create the timeless and universal songs that still inspire us today. His simple act of Visible Listening led to a world-changing musical canon.

The creative and collaborative focus that is The Pepper Mindset helped The Beatles build an innovative album which still challenges and motivates. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” could not have happened with dismissive or rushed listening. 50 years after its release, “Sgt. Pepper” still stands as a pinnacle of recording achievement.

Principals are called to practice Visible Listening in service and support of our students, teachers and families. Stopping for those intentional pauses and inviting those whom we serve into the collaborative marrow will lead to world-changing music in the schoolhouse. Visible Listening is a pivotal move in building The Pepper Mindset and we can adopt that same action to enact bold and creative innovations for our school communities. Visible Listening is one of many notes any educator can use to compose a majestic schoolhouse symphony.