“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.



Touring the Album: Sustaining the Masterpiece in Schoolhouse

“The album would go on tour.”

That was one idea The Beatles had in recording “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Beleaguered by the prison of Beatlemania and touring, the band had quietly ceased live performance. This unanimous decision by The Beatles proved to be the jailbreak needed to embrace freedom in musical innovation.   Recording “Sgt. Pepper” was rife with a hodgepodge of conceptual ideas integrated by The Beatles to savor the innovation they were exploring in the recording studio.

Imagine these statements being tossed around Studio 2 of EMI Recording Studios as The Beatles were dreaming their vision into reality:

  • “Let’s not be The Beatles on this track. We’re the Sgt. Pepper band. What would they sound like?
  • “There will be no pause each song on the record.”
  • “How about comb and tissue paper as a sound effect?”
  • “Those 24 empty bars need to be a giant orgasm of sound.”
  • “Surely, we can add an orchestral arrangement on top of these Indian instruments?”
  • “We can add animal noises at the end of the track.”
  • “Let’s toss on a sound that only dogs can hear.”

No idea was dismissed with derision. Creative risk-taking was the norm.  The band believed in full unity. All four Beatles had to vote in favor for a major decision to progress. Deciding not to tour was akin to career and financial ruin, but The Beatles raised their hands in full favor. The mindset was for their new album to go on tour instead of them.

What a grand and splendid tour for Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band! Upon first release in 1967, the “Sgt. Pepper” album sat comfortably at #1 on both the U.S. and U.K. Album Pop Charts. Within the following year, “Sgt. Pepper” earned Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Album. Over 10 million copies of the album have been sold and the impact is still resonating with this 50-year tour of Sgt. Pepper. Upon the release of the 50th Anniversary Editions of the “Sgt. Pepper” album, it debuted again at Number 1 on the U.K. Album Chart. In the United States, our military band leader reached #3 on the Hit Parade.

The Pepper Mindset of The Beatles in 1967 has insured that the album will infinitely echo as a timeless and universal work. A masterpiece was forged with collaboration, creativity, and risk-taking serving as the template for the band.

The schoolhouse is the marrow for future masterpieces in the eyes of our children. As educators, we have the same notes to tune into as we approach teaching and learning. Our work as educators is not simply designed to be a mere job. It is a calling to serve as catalyst for future masterpieces from our students. A tall, noble order for all teachers, but if we collectively build a approach that is positive and proactive, then we can sustain The Pepper Mindset in the schoolhouse.

As a principal/lead learner, I used to think that sustainability was a cute buzz word to dazzle a school improvement plan or sprinkle on a deadline-driven report. I do not mean to dismiss the importance of sustainability when it comes to building an instructional framework or physical infrastructure in the schoolhouse. Sustainability is sound leadership and remains a necessity when making decisions in the principal’s role.

If taking on The Pepper Mindset in the schoolhouse, sustainability is viewed in the road ahead for our kids and the impact we have on them. In turn, our students all have the potential to create a lasting impact in our world. Part of our varied role as educators is to be in tune with that as we help them forge a path in embracing the possibilities for the future.

When I walk in any schoolhouse, I often think that somewhere is a student who will solve a global problem or create a positive innovation for future generations. If that student is not in the building, then perhaps, there is a student who will be the mother, father, grandmother or grandfather for that person will do something world-changing.

Sustaining that mindset is found in so many creative and innovative approaches from ditching desks to create a more flexible learning environment. Embedding a time for students to create in a Makerspace or pursue a Passion Project is another way to sustain that masterpiece in the schoolhouse. Giving teachers time and support to collaborate on building innovative and uplifting learning experiences is another key note to hit in building sustainability. Placing all students in the center of  with a unifying positive culture, The Pepper Mindset can prove to be a transformative key for the schoolhouse.

We intentionally sustain the masterpiece in the schoolhouse with the belief that all of our students will make a positive impact. Taking a page from The Pepper Mindset, a schoolhouse has  the ability to have that same resonance as the final 45-second E-major piano chord that signals the end of the “Sgt. Pepper” album with “A Day in the Life.”

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is still on a world tour. The album still inspires and delights as an imaginary band loosely resembling The Beatles performs a fantasy concert. The setlist is filled with all kinds of musical genres and sound pictures. For the past 50 years, a masterpiece has etched its way into our collective soundtrack. We can aspire for that same level of masterpiece in the schoolhouse as educators collaborating, creating and dreaming in service and support of our students.

Ready to join the Sgt. Pepper Band?

Making Your Masterpiece: #ThePepperMindset in the Schoolhouse

I am a newly-minted principal and I am gazing up at the front door of the schoolhouse. Fear is gripping my sight and doing a demented tango up and down my nervous system. Prior echoes of negative remarks and quizzical looks from friends and colleagues come into the foreground:

“Why that school?”

“The bad kids all go there.”

“Those teachers think they run the school.”

“Are you sure you want to be a principal there?”

Fast forward to about three years later with many tears and tribulations in between. I am standing in our Media Center after a long, complex journey of applying for a federal magnet grant. We had built a solid, collaborative team in our schoolhouse fueled by a clear, articulated vision to always do what is best, innovative and uplifting for our students. We believed in this vision for our schoolhouse, but I was about to share that our grant proposal was rejected.

As I walked into our Media Center trying my best to keep upbeat and smiling, I noticed the entire grant writing team was standing in front of the faculty. One of the teachers on the team whispered to me: “We heard the bad news and we are not going to let you stand alone. We got this with you.”

Afterwards, our school received full endorsement from our school board to stand as a Magnet School in our district. We could still maintain our vision for a STEAM Magnet Theme. There would be no funding but our school was determined to make it happen. In a year, we secured nineteen community partners, doubled our student population to the point where we needed a waiting list, and embedded innovative teaching practices into our classrooms.

There were many things that served as sincere and solid support during those days of school turnaround. Leaning on so many from my wife to both my home and school families, I remain grateful.

Music proved to be a salve of encouragement as well. Little elements of songs and albums stitched a tapestry of solace for this principal. Both “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles and “Can You Feel It?” by The Jacksons were on constant rotation during car rides into the schoolhouse.

One quote by a certain bass player from Liverpool named Paul McCartney stood as an internal pep talk for me:

“You just wait.”

These “words of wisdom” were whispered by me each time I faced a pitfall during my first principalship. Paul McCartney repeated these words in 1967 as The Beatles were recording the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Various newspapers were reporting that The Beatles were either breaking up or creatively dried up, since it had been almost six months since a new album had been released by the band.

Place this negative mindset in a year in which The Beatles had quit live performance after a tumultuous tour plagued by controversy. The double-A sided single of “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” was their first 45 release not to reach #1 on the charts. (It only reached a mere #2 on top Pop charts, instead.) Rumors were abundant as the band retreated to the studio to create their masterpiece.

“You just wait” was Paul’s retort to a naysayer-filled media. He knew The Beatles had a major recording ace up their collective sleeves. He later shared this sentiment in an interview commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the “Sgt. Pepper” album:

I remember the great glee seeing in one of the papers how The Beatles have dried up,

there’s nothing come from them, they’re stuck in the studio, they can’t think what they’re

doing, and I was sitting rubbing my hands, saying, “You just wait.”

(Sgt. Pepper at Fifty, 2017)

Paul McCartney believed in the band’s masterpiece. He believed in their collective vision of the album being conceptual in nature framed by a fantasy concert performed by the band’s newly-imagined alter egos of Sgt. Pepper’s band. Furthermore, McCartney believed in the musical brotherhood of his collaborators. Most importantly, he ignored the naysayers rolling their negative conjectures in the press.

All in all, I would make the contention that this quote from Paul McCartney best embodies the ethos of #ThePepperMindset. Here’s one way to encapsulate #ThePepperMindset and connect to future adventures in service and support of the schoolhouse:

  1. Believe in your vision.
  2. Believe in your masterpiece.
  3. Believe in your collaborators.
  4. Ignore the naysayers.

As a principal/lead learner, I have learned the necessity in building a clear, shared vision for the schoolhouse. It is important to approach all endeavors and journeys in the schoolhouse as having positive, great and lasting impact as a masterpiece does. We want our collective work for education to sustain and resonate as Michelangelo did with the Sistine Chapel. I think of the #Makerspace work of Laura Fleming and her inspiring students. Her students approach creativity with the mindset that their work is meaningful and lasting. I strive to approach my work in the schoolhouse as that I am helping to create a masterpiece of learning for our students. (Check out her “Worlds of Making” website for more inspiration here.)

Education is a collaborative and joyful journey. Love your collaborators and demonstrate your belief in them. I have been blessed with many colleagues who believed in my impossible dreams and I am called to do the same for the teachers I serve. My hope is that same belief is transferred to our students. Belief is the ignition for inspiration and the foundation for dreams. All schoolhouses must invite that belief for our educators and students.

The persistent beat of the naysayers will never diminish. If that negative beat was heeded by the great innovators and creators of our time, then think of the tragic gaps we would gaze upon in the distance. Think of a world without the impact of Martin Luther King or Malala Yousafzai. Imagine a world without the timeless and universal scope of The Beatles. We would not have The Pepper Mindset, which has endured as a wheelhouse for lasting innovation.

John, Paul, George and Ringo left us with a monumental legacy. Their impact still resonates and inspires. This “little bar band” from Liverpool changed the world. For educators, we are called to create new notes and sounds to change the world in the schoolhouse as The Beatles did with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

What masterpiece is the world waiting for from you?







“We Hope You Will Enjoy the Show”

Listening to the opening sounds of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” Album by The Beatles is meant to the give the listener the feel of being at a live performance.

The premise is that we are at an imaginary concert where the Sgt. Pepper Band is performing. Ambient sounds fill the opening grooves of the album: an orchestra is tuning up and audience voices echo throughout a concert hall. There is a feeling of anticipation and invitation as this fantasy band begins to play.

The Beatles had ceased live performance in 1966 prior to creating the “Sgt. Pepper” album.  The band blissfully retreated to the peaceful confines of the recording studio in pursuit of creativity, collaboration and innovation. The opening track of their new album is a rallying cry of innovation for an alter-ego band they had adopted. This imaginary band opens their setlist with arms extended to the listener. Sgt. Pepper’s band is “guaranteed to raise a smile” for the listener. All are invited to come and see the show. The listener is welcomed as being a part of Sgt. Pepper’s “lovely audience.”

Earlier this week, I was hearing “Sgt. Pepper” resonate in my mind as I was walking into school and I simply couldn’t stop smiling.

I am new to this school community and entering on journey as their principal. With this being my third principalship, I am keeping up with a tradition to learn, listen and visit as I enter upon the marrow of the schoolhouse. I love being able to connect with our students, teachers and families with new and fresh eyes.

It was inspiring seeing one teacher greeting  students at the door as they entered our schoolhouse. This was not a typical morning routine for this teacher and I marveled at the personal connections being forged.

Earlier, I had spoken with this particular educator in my One-on-One Teacher Time about the importance of having a positive school culture for our kids. We talked about the need to #CelebrateMonday as a way to build a culture that was inviting for all students to feel safe, empowered and inspired. We discussed the beauty in the simplicity of greeting students with kind words as they entered the schoolhouse. I shared some of the wisdom I had learned from School Culture Recharged by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker. It was such an uplifting conversation and I was thrilled to collaborate with and support this teacher for the upcoming school year.

Seeing this same teacher welcoming students uplifted me even more. I also heard those opening notes of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” reverberate in my internal turntable and thought that this moment is yet another schoolhouse lesson to learn from The Beatles: Welcome all to the masterpiece that is the schoolhouse and make everyone feel valued and invited.

What if every day was a positive opening for a student akin to The Beatles triumphant fanfare at the beginning of their 1967 “Sgt. Pepper” album? It can completely happen and I am thrilled to see how this one teacher served as a positive spark for our schoolhouse. Looking forward to future positive greetings from our band of teachers for our students in the upcoming years!



“When You’ve Seen Beyond Yourself”


John Coltrane heard it when he wrapped his saxophone around his legendary “sheets of sound.” Michael Bloomfield heard it when he cracked the modal code on his Gibson Les Paul for his song “East-West.” The Byrds heard it as they attempted to launch a 12-String Rickenbacker on “Eight Miles High.” Ray Davies may have heard it before all of them one morning in India when he heard some fishermen chanting on their way to the ocean. These chants served as the basis for The Kinks on “See My Friends.”

Ravi Shankar heard it before all of us as his sitar perched on his knee and his fingers danced on the strings, tracing a new Raga for an Eastern morning. 

George Harrison heard it on the set of “Help!” A scene in an Indian restaurant involving a group of musicians struck a chord within him. These musicians were playing traditional Indian instruments of sitars, tablas and tambouras. The music felt familiar to the Beatle Guitarist and he quickly picked up a sitar.

That sitar later found itself on “Norwegian Wood,” a Lennon-McCartney composition from the 1965 Rubber Soul album.

George Harrison, picking up the sitar, became more than a musician looking for the right tool for a song or an indulgent, passing fad. George’s embrace of the sitar became a lifelong quest for spiritual enlightenment, global understanding and inner peace. In seeking to learn more about the sitar, Harrison met Ravi Shankar. Shankar was a master of the sitar and became both a musical and spiritual guru for George Harrison. This influential friendship provided a deep catalyst for The Beatles and the rest of the world to look to the East for spiritual meaning.

Pre-Sgt. Pepper tracks like “Love You To” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” demonstrated the profound impact India had on the band. There were many influences The Beatles were soaking in during this time and the Indian impact on the music led to ground-breaking movements in musical expression. “Tomorrow Never Knows” served as a major quantum leap for the band with tape loops, sitar, tamboura and Ringo Starr’s unforgettable drum breaks. This particular closing song on Revolver serves as a powerful hint at the next steps The Beatles were taking in the studio.

The following pages from “Tomorrow Never Knows” in 1966 lead towards the roads of “Strawberry Fields Forever” to “Penny Lane” and then to the Sgt. Pepper album. Skip forward a few pages on the Sgt. Pepper album to Side 2 and its opening, mystical drone of “Within You, Without You.”

Flipping to Side 2 of Sgt. Pepper is another jump into hyperspace after an album that takes the listener on a paradigm shift from the onset. “Within You, Without You” is essentially a George Harrison composition. The song is overt in its Indian influence. Harrison unabashedly peppers the song with sitars, tablas and the musical lessons he learned from Ravi Shankar. Producer George Martin infuses the song with an orchestral arrangement that deftly blends the musical sensibilities of East and West. Strings drone and harmonize with fluid echoes of sitars and other instrumentation performed by the Asian Music Circle of London. On top of this mini-Raga, Harrison echoes the Hindu concept of Maya or illusion and proclaims that Love can save the world: deep philosophical truths that would dominate the majority of Harrison’s lyrical output with The Beatles and later as a solo artist.

The Beatles leave us with some many education and leadership lessons that do indeed connect in the schoolhouse today. Schools today are fast becoming platforms for students to develop global awareness in an ever-shifting world. The world is becoming a place where we are called to see beyond ourselves and schools are doing innovative things to inspire students in becoming “in tune” with the world.

Imagine George Harrison as a 21st Century Educator today…

If George Harrison were in the schoolhouse today, my guess is that he would stand as a teacher leader for Global Collaboration. Imagine having a Mr. Harrison as a teacher. His global awareness and understanding would be a definite gift for any student seeking to develop a meaning and action for the world. I can see George Harrison leading a Google Hangout on Sustainable Development Goals and collaborating with other educators around the world like Fran Siracusa. Perhaps, George would co-present at the International Literacy Association Conference with Jennifer Williams on integrating sincere technology integration for developing nations. Maybe, Mr. Harrison would be a guest moderator for a #GlobalEdChat with Heather Singmaster and the topic would be on engaging students’ cultural perspectives with the Music of India. Perhaps, Mr. Harrison would collaborate with a global ed tech company like Kahoot!, assisting them with strategies to bridge achievement gaps in developing parts of the world. An educator like George Harrison in this imagined scenario may develop meaningful planned lessons with Cleary Vaughan-Lee of the Global Oneness Project which could serve as a resource for other teachers learning how to inspire students with broadening world perspective. I envision this teacher like George Harrison collaborating with Brad Spirrison of Participate developing professional development ideas for schools to build intentional global awareness strategies.

I see Mr. Harrison in his classroom encouraging students to take global action for children in war-torn countries like Syria. Perhaps, they’d stage a school concert aimed at raising awareness for the tragedies their global brothers and sisters are enduring. It would be akin to the real-life 1971 “The Concert for Bangladesh,” where George Harrison organized the first true Rock charity concert for the flood-ravaged land of its namesake. The concert started as a plea from his friend Ravi Shankar. Harrison and Shankar gathered musicians from all over the world to perform. Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ali Akbar Khan, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman and Bob Dylan joined together to make a musical statement. Most importantly, it was a selfless giant step of global action for those suffering the flooded plight.

A note from a sitar sends a guitarist from a small Northern England town on a journey of enlightenment that ultimately leads to world-changing steps. The Pepper Mindset served as a catalyst for musical enlightenment in George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You.” It still inspires educators and students to take global action for meaningful change. We are called to tune into the eternal rhythms and beats of our global neighborhood. Tuning into the notes we share bonds us closer in our humanity and creates universal empathy. George Harrison tuned into the global sounds that bind us together. We are invited to join in that global collaborative band in service and support of our schoolhouses.

“I’m Changing My Scene” Walking Away from Candlestick Park

“That’s it. I’m not a Beatle anymore.”

-George Harrison after final live Beatles concert circa 1966

Within a sea of mania, the concluding chords of “Long Tall Sally” resonate throughout a summer evening over Candlestick Park in San Francisco in August 1966. A band leaps from the stage into an armored vehicle, driving away knowing that this is their last live concert. Putting aside a string of hit albums, Number 1 singles and worldwide fame, The Beatles quietly walk away from an established run towards gold-plated success.

It had been a tumultuous tour for The Beatles. The triumph of Beatlemania had been marred with controversy during this tour: the inadvertent snubbing of Imelda Marcos in the Philippines, John Lennon’s misinterpreted comments on Christianity, and an adversarial press.

This malaise had crept into the band. They were struggling with keeping up the demanding pace of recording, appearances and simply being Beatles. Having tasted the fruits of innovative exploration with albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver, the band was anxious to explore and collaborate more in the studio. Live performance had become perfunctory for them. The screams of fervent fans in packed stadiums drowned out any chance of The Beatles hearing themselves play. Those adoring screams also did not fill the void the band was feeling.

The Beatles stood at a vulnerable crossroads in the summer of 1966. They knew that in order to survive they could not remain on the well-heeled track upon which they were staggering. A radical change of scenery was needed. After Candlestick Park, the band pressed pause on the mania and walked away from being Beatles. John Lennon went to Spain to co-star in a film. Paul McCartney composed a film soundtrack with Producer George Martin. George Harrison traveled to India to study the sitar under the mentorship of Ravi Shankar. Ringo Starr stayed home with his growing family.

Here’s an Essential Question to ponder: Do you walk away from a proven formula of success, wealth and adulation in order to embrace individual or collective growth?

As educators we are given many rallying cries to kick aside the status quo and leap headfirst into the sea of change. There are many reasons for this rally cry for transformation within our profession. I will not rewind the tape on the more eloquent tracks laid for the need to manifest a transformation in education for our kids, teachers and families.

How do we encourage each other as educators to walk away from those practices which only produce a slight indentation of positive results? There are classroom practices which are usually disguised as best practices but they produce nothing to inspire and compel our kids.

I can chant, dance and weave dazzling words around this, but this movement to change starts with me in the schoolhouse. My words are meaningless unless I provide sincere and sustaining action as a principal and lead learner. It starts with me modeling what I expect. It starts with me putting action behind the belief that I hold for our kids and the future. It starts with me crafting a bridge of support for other teachers wishing to innovate. Simply put, I have to hold myself accountable. Embracing The Pepper Mindset like The Beatles did can lead to building a culture of collaboration, creativity and innovation in the schoolhouse.

The Beatles walked away from a successful practice which generated undying fame and a mountain of riches. Touring was their collective bread and butter and it was a proven formula for securing fame and profit. The band quit touring because they felt that they could not grow as musicians among other reasons. Furthermore, they quit touring because they were intentional in seeking to innovate and infuse a paradigm shift on recording techniques. What followed musically from The Beatles continues to resonate and inspire. Following their halt to touring in addition to seeking individual time away from the band, The Beatles produced the double A-sided single in “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” This landmark single was followed by their magnum opus album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

One could argue that this quantum leap in music for The Beatles could not have happened if they continued in the chaos they were mired in circa 1966. The classic single of “Strawberry Fields Forever” b/w “Penny Lane” stand as two of the brightest jewels in The Beatles canon. Both of these songs weave in a tapestry of sound, surrealism and innovation. A new and exciting direction in music had been forged by the courageous move to walk away from touring.

As a principal, I certainly wish I had a song like “Strawberry Fields Forever” in me to perform for our teachers to inspire global change and innovation. Although I am not one-man band, I can certainly reach in that creative direction by holding myself accountable to model change even more. There are plenty of ways of doing that by modeling a classroom activity for teachers or providing real-time access to meaningful professional development. I can even flip a faculty meeting in order to model personalized learning. That type of meeting could even include desks being ditched with an #EdCamp theme.

Most importantly, it is key for any principal to tune into the gift of collaboration. The Beatles harnessed this gift and brought out the best in each other for the love of Music. Tuning into the gifts of others leads to an authentic synergy in the schoolhouse. Coming together for the common good of serving students is necessary in building a positive school culture.

There are many paths we must take to model this change for meaningful action in service and support of our kids in the schoolhouse. A catalyst for change sometimes stares right back at you squarely in the face.

Walking away from formulas in education requires courage and vision. Walking towards a new path requires support, modeling and encouragement. Our schools deserve the bold, creative leadership in service and support of kids.

The Beatles leave with us a powerful lesson in having the courage to walk away from a successful pattern for the need to innovate. This crossroads will be explored in the next radio episode of “The Pepper Mindset” with co-host Lanea Stagg of Recipe Records. We welcome Jude Southerland Kessler, author the John Lennon Series, and Terri Whitney, author of Any Rhyme at All.  Radio broadcast details are found at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/recipe-records-cookbook/2017/05/17/thepeppermindset–part-3.


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.