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!”

 

 

 

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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.