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–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.









“Looking Glass Ties” Principal George Martin

“He was friendly, but schoolteacherly: we had to respect him, but at the same time he gave us the impression that he wasn’t stiff—that you could joke with him.”

-George Harrison on Producer George Martin from The Beatles Anthology

It all started with a necktie.

Aiming for a more grandiose angle, one could say that the trajectory of 20th Century Popular Music shifted due to an impish remark by a 19-year old George Harrison to Producer George Martin in June of 1962. George was a member of a little-known band from the North of London. This pop quartet had just concluded an audition for the EMI recording label.

George Martin was lecturing this young group about the recording studio standards. The various members of the band seemed to be inactive in their engagement with Mr. Martin. For many years, George Martin had established himself as a solid presence in the recording industry. He was head of the Parlophone label, a small eccentric subsidiary of the global record giant known as EMI. Martin was an impeccable professional with a classical music background. His Parlophone label was the home to comedy and variety recordings. One of the artists on that roster included the comedic genius of Peter Sellers.

As George Martin noticed his listless audience, he pressed pause on his lecture and gestured for the band to share if there was anything that they didn’t like about the proceedings.

Without missing a beat, Lead Guitarist George Harrison responded, “Yeah, I don’t like your tie.”

The ice was immediately lifted and the natural charm of the auditioning band shifted into high gear. Their natural humor and infectious camaraderie gave George Martin notice. Soon after, he signed this band to the Parlophone label. History is made. The Beatles become “the toppermost of the poppermost” in Europe. America is conquered two years after this audition. The world quickly becomes a global playground for Beatlemania.

Fast forward to February 1967. George Martin is standing on a conductor’s podium attempting to explain to a 40-piece orchestra how to achieve a “giant orgasm of sound” during the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions. The Beatles are gathered with family members, friends and associates for a celebratory recording session for their song entitled “A Day in the Life.”

George Martin’s relationship as producer for The Beatles had evolved from a directorial approach in 1962 to one of supportive collaborator. As The Beatles grew as songwriters and musicians during this short period of time, George Martin grew with them. He became an invaluable and literal sounding board for the band. Merging their imaginative ideas with his trained background in musical composition, scoring and studio recording proved to be a template for timeless recordings ranging from “Yesterday” to “In My Life” to “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

By early 1967, The Beatles had taken Pop Music through the audio looking glass with their many innovations in form and function of the traditional radio-generated hit. George Martin proved to be a necessary ingredient in the The Beatles approach to song. His ear was tuned in to their collective ideas and he proved to be a willing accomplice in their quest for innovation.

The Pepper Mindset is the full realization of this collaboration where The Beatles attempted to do something bold and different within the realm of what a Pop Album should be. George Martin’s production technique is a textbook example for all scholars and musicians of the 20th Century recording studio. Whether it was merging the Indian Raga sensibility of George Harrison for his “Within You Without You” or attempting to capture the smell of sawdust in John Lennon’s carnival jaunt of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” George Martin became a Merlin providing his studio alchemy with his four King Arthurs.

As an educator and principal, I often look to George Martin for inspiration. I marvel at how he was able to collaborate with and build a foundation with a band that truly changed the course of Music. As an unabashed fan of The Beatles, I believe that Producer Martin had my dream job. When I find myself in those “times of trouble,” I often turn to Sir George Martin and ask myself the question, “What would George do?”

If George Martin was a school principal and The Beatles served as his faculty in the school known as Abbey Road Studios, what would George do as principal?

My guess is that Principal George Martin would be a sincere and positive presence for his teachers and students. He would be open to ideas and encourage his school to be a laboratory for big ideas. Perhaps, he would encourage his teachers to “think symphonically” when it came to designing lessons to engage students to be creative. His office door would be open to all but I don’t think you would see Mr. Martin dwelling in his office. Mr. Martin would be out and about visiting classrooms, coaching teachers and connecting with students to be creative thinkers. I see Principal Martin listening to and inviting crazy ideas to create a school culture where innovation is a mainstay. I see Mr. Martin have an artisan approach to his leadership having great pride in contributing to something positive in the schoolhouse.

A principal leads humbly with students and teachers at the center of their agenda. As he did with The Beatles, Martin was in tune with their musical gifts and encouraged them to soar to new heights as a band. Even when The Beatles rejected his suggestion for a sure-fire hit during their early days as a band, George Martin humbly stepped aside and accepted their original composition. Upon recording their alternative, George Martin announced to the band that they had their first #1 hit. George Martin’s prophecy turned out to be true when “Please Please Me” did do just that.

The Pepper Mindset is more than just studio trickery or throwing an ed tech tool in a classroom, hoping that changes student lives. Collaboration has to be nurtured and encouraged in an environment that is positive and inviting for creativity to ignite. George Martin was able to do that with his steady hand collaborating with The Beatles and igniting a revolution in Music. A school principal has to take on the role of lead learner and encourage the same moves in the schoolhouse for teachers in service and support of all kids.

Tuning into the possibility of ideas in the name of creativity made George Martin an effective producer and collaborative leader for The Beatles. School Principals are called to turn a similar dial on the studio mixing board that is the schoolhouse. Educators are faced with the glorious quest of bringing the 4Cs of Education (Collaboration, Creativity, Communication & Critical-Thinking) alive for our students.

Let’s take a page from George Martin’s inspiring musical score and lead the schoolhouse towards embracing The Pepper Mindset.


“May I Introduce to You?” What is The Pepper Mindset?

Side 1

Imagine if EMI Recording Studios (later to be known as Abbey Road Studios) was a gallery where the sonic tapestries created by The Beatles there were mounted and framed for all to see. What images would we see displayed from the Sgt. Pepper Era? Perhaps, we would see Paul McCartney laying down the fluid and melodic bass tracks for “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Maybe, an image of George Harrison directing his guest Indian Musicians for the ethereal raga drone of “Within You, Without You.” John Lennon demoing on piano the surreal landscape of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” would make a beautifully framed portrait. The percussive answers of Ringo Starr locked in lyrical synchronicity of “A Day in the Life” with his drums providing well-timed responses to the ebb and flow of the song.

The image I prefer to envision is the band gathered around a battered piano in the cold, echoed confines of Studio 2. Producer George Martin is in a crisp, pressed dress shirt with a tie swaying in time to the chords being played on the piano. Our Fab Four, no longer in their “A Hard Day’s Night” suits and Beatle Boots, are moustached and wearing the paisley, crushed velvet of Carnaby Street. A knowing smile is exchanged by the band as they run through a rough tune entitled “In the Life Of.” This song pieced together from separate scraps written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney will serve as a shining example of the album’s majesty, timelessness and impact.

Proclaimed by many to be the band’s most revolutionary era in their recording oeuvre, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band takes the template of Pop Music and smashes its established standards against a day-glo wall of rebellion. The album stands as a paradigm shift for expression in Music. After its June 1, 1967 release date, bands will forever embrace or avoid comparisons to this album. The words “masterpiece,” “psychedelic,” and “concept album” are freely associated with the “Sgt. Pepper” album.

Books, tributes and documentaries fill the space of Sgt. Pepper. It is an album that is often met with a pious pause like Excalibur being pulled from the stone.

Esteemed Beatles Authors have explored all kinds of interesting permutations of this “little band from Liverpool.” Upcoming guests on the radio version of The Pepper Mindset, Jim Berkenstadt and Donovan Day have mined fresh perspectives on The Beatles with their respective books. The Beatles impact is far-reaching and their studio work still challenges and inspires today as we have seen with the fresh takes provided by these two authors.

The studio innovations embedded within the album have served as the basis for analysis and discussion. The dated trappings of the Summer of Love are aligned with the release of the album. The final haunting chord of “A Day in the Life” or the album’s groundbreaking gatefold cover are freely referenced by Beatles fans and scholars alike. What I believe is often missed in the equation of Sgt.Pepper is this culture of creativity, collaboration and innovation evident within the band. I call this The Pepper Mindset. The Beatles harnessed this mindset with the need to do something different with their recorded work. The band was intentional in this progression and very much aware of the studio production race that was happening with prime movers like Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and Berry Gordy.

The Pepper Mindset fueled experimentation within the studio during the recording of their masterpiece. Their collaboration pushed and nudged them to collective new heights and allowed them to embrace risk-taking moves like adding comb and tissue paper on songs like “Lovely Rita” or adding a forty-one piece orchestra to play what producer George Martin called  “a giant orgasm of sound” for “A Day in the Life.”

Side 2

Imagine visiting a 7th Grade Math Class filled with a diverse group of learners. Their Math Teacher is co-teaching a lesson with the Library Media Specialist. They have decided to take a Problem-Based Learning Approach to a particular lesson. Students are working in collaborative groups in the school library’s Makerspace. Each group is inspired to provide a creative solution to a complex real-world problem involving application of statistics, probability and computation. They are creating meaning and visualizing their learning. The teachers have established a culture that is positive and inviting for all learners.

The 4Cs of Education (Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking) are alive and happening in real-time as students are pushing their thinking with intentional purpose. This is not a traditional classroom where students are aligned in rows and the teacher is lecturing. The Makerspace has the feel of Studio 2 circa 1967 at EMI Recording Studios. (For more on Makerspace, be sure to check out Laura Fleming’s dynamic and invaluable website: Worlds of Learning.)

The Pepper Mindset is resonating in dynamic actions among the students in the schoolhouse. Students are creating their own masterpiece with differentiated support and encouragement from their teachers. Everyone is included and inspired to innovate. It is almost as if you can hear The Beatles and George Martin nodding in approval at the creativity taking place in the classroom.

What if schools embraced The Pepper Mindset in service and support of all kids? Where would the schoolhouse head if we continue to push to embrace this mindset? What if teachers embraced the collaborative spirit as The Beatles did in creating their 1967 album masterpiece? As The Beatles shifted the landscape to change world with their music, schoolhouses are encouraged to do the same. Our students have so much to offer and with a dash of The Pepper Mindset we just might change the world.

Tune in for the companion radio series for #ThePepperMindset starting May 3rd at 5pm CDT/6pm EDT. I am co-hosting with Author Lanea Stagg of Recipe Records. We have authors Jim Berkenstadt and Donovan Day joining us. The radio series is found at the following link:

A very splendid “Fab” thanks to Nicole Michael of 910 Public Relations for support, encouragement and gear organization! I am so grateful you caught the bus for my “Magical Mystery Tour” Tweets on Boxing Day.