Here’s Episode 13 of “The Principal Liner Notes Podcast” entitled “Get Back on the Rooftop.”
Click HERE to listen!
Here’s Episode 13 of “The Principal Liner Notes Podcast” entitled “Get Back on the Rooftop.”
Click HERE to listen!
Click HERE for Episode 6 of “The Principal Liner Notes Podcast!”
From “The Principal Liner Notes Podcast”
Click HERE to listen to my latest podcast episode.
“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!”
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.
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.