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From “The Principal Liner Notes Podcast”
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There’s a wonderfully poignant moment in the “Handle With Care” Video by The Traveling Wilburys. Here is an amalgam of rock heroes huddled around an old-fashioned microphone suspended microphone harmonizing. In the video clip, smiles are abounding between the musicians as they knowingly take satisfaction that they are to onto something that is simply cool and transcendent. It’s a beautiful spot for a band that is hiding in a seemingly anonymous humility. It is pretty easy to pick out George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne in this line-up of musical goodness. These are music icons stepping away from myth and pretense joy-filled that they have found a collaboration that soars.
Five friends playing music and taking joy in each other’s company. That is in essence the definition of a supergroup. Friends coming together bound by some mutual purpose or common bond for the pure love of music. The Traveling Wilburys fall under the category of supergroup.
When I got the noble nod from Jeff Zoul to join the second configuration of the Education Write Now Writing Retreat, I was purely overjoyed. In fact, I did hear the strains of “Handle With Care” in the distance. I would have the opportunity to collaborate with a supergroup. This was a supergroup composed of friends and colleagues from my PLN. We were joined our passion for Education and our task to write a book in two days was nothing short of Nirvana for me. Jeff and the band he was putting together for Education Write Now, Volume II was made up of educators that I greatly admired. One could even say that I was a longtime unabashed fan of all involved. Jeff’s books served as virtual sherpas for me in my first days as a principal. His invitation was akin to George Harrison asking me to join The Traveling Wilburys. What made this gig even sweeter was that all proceeds were to go towards a teen suicide awareness and prevention group known as the Will to Live Foundation.
Our purpose with Education Write Now, Volume II was to write in a common key pertaining to an issue that we felt other educators would benefit from in our noble profession. All roads led back to the core of our passion in the profession: Relationships. We had two days and 5,000 words each to make this book happen.
Gathered in Chicago, ideas flowed freely. There was humility and support as fingers danced on laptop keyboards. Respectful space was given as individuals roamed within the internal space of individual thoughts. Supportive feedback was shared. Critical questions of clarity stirred.
As I gazed around my surroundings, I realized I was in a supergroup like The Traveling Wilburys. There was Randy Zigenfuss quietly nodding at one of my references to the bombastic 1950s bandleader, Stan Kenton. Winston Sakurai was across the table from me immersed in deep thought. Rosa Perez-Isaiah and Sanee Bell are trading drafts. Danny Bauer is putting the finishing touches on his chapter and doing pre-production work for his podcast. Lauren Davis of Routledge Publishing is providing encouraging editorial support Elisabeth Bostwick is typing at such a speed that the keyboard cannot keep up with her amazing insights. Jeff Zoul is wordsmithing away in concentration. Laura Gilchrist is sharing an encouraging smile as Onica Mayers reminds us all of our collective purpose with the rallying cry: “Relationships matter, people!”
My chapter is entitled “Connecting with the Center: Bringing Passion to the SchoolHouse.” I take a childhood memory involving hearing “Rhapsody in Blue” for the first time during a class field trip and how it almost got me thrown out of a concert hall a the age of 10. My solo involves how it’s vital for passion to be immersed in the schoolhouse as a vehicle to build authentic relationships. Music is my passion and connecting to my journey as an educator has provided a power entry point in building relationships with the students, teachers and families I serve.
Here’s a quick snippet from my chapter contribution:
Passion is the denominator for so many ways to compel positive change and sustaining relationships. Classrooms and schoolhouses are transformed when this passion is in the foreground of the vision and mission.
We must also remember that passion is as two-way street in the schoolhouse. Students and Teachers must be able to feel free to share their respective passions for learning, interests, pursuits and hobbies. In other words, we typically align this with students expressing their passion. There are many vehicles for students do this in creative projects that run the gamut from Makerspace, Project-Based Learning, Passion Projects, Google 10% Time. Teachers are often looked to be the sage on the stage or the facilitator compelling students to share and express their passions and gifts. The paradigm has to shift to a norm where teachers can take risks and share their passions, too. When I was a classroom teacher, everyone knew I loved music and films. The classroom walls were filled with posters of The Beatles, John Coltrane and The Who. I encouraged students to share their music posters as well. Any time I could talk Music with students was an opportunity to build a relationship. Incidentally, it’s important for school leaders to follow suit. Modeling our excitement over a passion in hobby or some aspect of educational practice, school leaders can help ignite a culture of positivity and creativity fueled by sincere passion.
Sharing our passions unabashedly in the classroom or schoolhouse is meant to build that community of possibility for our students. Placing more passion in the day-to-day operations of the schoolhouse will only uplift students. Students need any opportunity given to express their gifts, ideas and passions. It is part of our calling as educators to make that happen.
Stay tuned for another anticipatory post and the conclusion of the blog series Danny Bauer! Be sure to follow #EdWriteNow as we head towards the December release of Education Write Now, Volume 2: Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture. You can pre-order the book HERE.
“Are we really doing this?”
“Yes, of course, we are!”
That gleeful exchange of words in a conversation I had with Principal Mariah Rackley brought me back to a famous moment in Beatles Songwriting Lore.
Fade back to a time over fifty years, when the Lennon-McCartney partnership is at its zenith. John Lennon and Paul McCartney are scribbling down ideas for a song that would eventually close their 1967 album opus, “Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Both men are filled with synergy of their collaboration. They have taken two seemingly disparate songs and combined them to form a mini-rock opera of sorts.
One bandmate tosses out the idea of embedding a certain lyric within the framework of the song: “I’d love to turn you on.” The other bandmate takes notice and places a pause on their writing momentum. The lyric echoes the zeitgeist of the late 1960s: Hippies, Day-Glo, and Psychedelia. It’s a mild, inside joke between Lennon and McCartney, but both know exactly what they are implying:
“You know what we’re saying?”
“Let’s do it!”
Both scribble down the lyric and “A Day in the Life” is ready to make history as the unforgettable, apocalyptic denouement for the “Sgt. Pepper” album.
Belief in the collaboration. I explore this in The Pepper Effect, my book from Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., in which I attempt to illustrate the lessons The Beatles give us in the creation of their “Sgt. Pepper” Masterpiece. Encouraging a mildly suggestive line to illustrate the signs of the times takes belief in the collaboration. That belief in turn requires that trust and encouragement are implanted in the marrow of the collaboration. Lennon and McCartney proved that in their collaboration for “A Day in the Life” and have left us with a creative legacy for us to look to as educators to build our own masterpiece in the schoolhouse.
That same synergy happens daily within the marrow of a Schoolhouse, Professional Learning Network or an #EdCamp. More educators are sharing and connecting via various social media networks and at in-person events such as a #CoffeeEDU or #EdCamp. I have been very fortunate to connect with many inspiring faces to take things beyond a tweet or swag table.
These connections are very meaningful to me as I search for my own type of #EduBeatles since I am the sole Middle School Principal in my school district. Even though I am surrounded by an inspiring band of dedicated teachers whom I cherish and support, I do yearn for a colleague who is stepping to the same beat as a Middle School Principal.
Enter Mariah Rackley, principal of Cedar Crest Middle School, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Principal Rackley is going through the same bit as the sole middle school principal in her district. She values culture, collaboration and simply doing what is best for kids. Her posts have always intrigued me and filled me with admiration.
Recently, a Twitter Post regarding a trailer for an upcoming NBC Medical Drama entitled “New Amsterdam” from Mariah caused me to take pause. She shared this trailer with her faculty as kickoff for her school year. I was compelled by this event and I wanted to discover more as I tweeted back an affirmative response to Mariah. A conversation starts in Twitter DM between us. Then, a scheduled phone call occurs to explore ways to build a collaborative network between our respective schools. We are in uncharted territory with a rough sketch for our direction. Echoing a moment shared by Jennifer Williams, author and friend, in her “Foreward” for The Pepper Effect: “We are on to something here.”
Somehow we will take the seemingly disparate pieces of our two schools marked by a distance of 450 miles apart and we will create a new connection for the respective faculty teams we serve. An upcoming medical drama will serve as our weird and random link.
Echoing John and Paul huddled around the lyrics for “A Day in the Life,” we preluded our phone call conclusion with next steps statements like, “Yes, we are indeed onto something. We are going to do this.”
Possibilities abound in conversations turned on for the belief in one’s collaborators.
A brand-new, unaired television program is going to link two schools together catalyzed by two principals whom have never met in person.
Well, why not?
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!”
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.
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.