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.