Lead so People will Follow…if Only out of Curiosity


In April, I had the opportunity to hear Collin Powell speak.

Powell served as National Security Advisor, as Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Persian Gulf War. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under U.S. President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.With his vast experience of being in charge, I wanted to hear what he had to say about leadership. And he had a lot to say. Without ever looking at a notecard or a teleprompter, he spoke for an hour and he spoke from his heart. He said that the essence of leadership ultimately comes down to a matter of trust. He said good leaders are people who are trusted by their followers. He told a story that took place back in the Infantry School at Fort Benning. He said that one of his sergeants approached him and said, “Lieutenant, you’ll know you’re a good leader when people will follow you…if only out of curiosity.” What Powell was saying, and he saw it over and over again, was that people will follow you when they trust you. Well—how do you do that? How do you get people to trust you? Powell went on to say that in infantry school he was told, “Lieutenant, no matter how cold it is—you must never look cold. No matter how hungry you are—you must never appear hungry. No matter how terrified you are, lieutenant, you must never look terrified. Because if you are scared, tired, hungry, and cold….they will be scared, tired, hungry and cold. Make sure your soldiers come to you with their problems. “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”


When you lead, you must articulate a clear mission. Serve selflessly—not by self-serving selflessly. Prepare your followers– give them what they need to get the job done. Be prepared to take the risks with them. People will follow you into the darkest night, down the deepest valley and up the highest hill if they trust you. So the essence of leadership is about human relationships. People want to know, “Will you have my back?”
Charles Lauer said, “Leaders don’t force people to follow, they invite them on a journey.
Why am I so concerned about leadership? Just take a look around you. We have some complicated problems facing us: sustainable food sources, climate changes, health care, pollution—-the world needs smart leaders who can orchestrate solutions.  We need smart leaders who can solve complicated problems. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. A leader is a dealer in hope.
Leadership is lonely. No matter how big your team, sometimes it’s just you–which means you sometimes you need to look inside yourself for motivation and inspiration.

One of my favorite stories is the story of Harry Potter. Harry was an unlikely leader. But he always rose to the occasion when he was called on. In the Deathly Hallows Dumbledore says to Harry, “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” I hope the leaders of our schools wear it well.


Do You Know My Name?

A few years ago, when my granddaughter started pre-school, I called to ask her how it went.  “It was so much fun, Bubbe.  Everybody knew my name.”

Her comment brought to mind the lyrics of the theme song from Cheers,

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

It’s important to all of us when people know our names.  It is especially important when our youngest students go to school.  It shows we respect and honor them, and that their names are worth remembering.  In that simple act, we make a connection.

In the movie Avatar, the Na’vi tribe has an expression, “I see you.” It is a simple expression, but a statement much like bowing to someone, acknowledging that they deserve consideration. When we greet each student by name, we affirm their identity.  We are implying, ” I accept you, and all that you are.”  It is a powerful statement.

James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale university, said, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”  This connection is especially powerful for students who struggle.

All teachers know the names of the students in their classrooms.  They may not, however, know the names of the students in the class next door or down the hall.  I am going to make a concentrated effort to learn as many students’ names as I can.  I challenge all of you educators out there to do the same.  I think it will help make the difference.

It did to my granddaughter.  Her name is Everly.

Read Aloud!

Our students need to hear us read aloud.  They need to hear us when they are five and they need to hear us when they are fifteen.  According to Jim Trealease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook,  “A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids.  They’ll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading.”

A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.

Reading aloud to a child promotes language development.  It helps them cope with situations they have not yet experienced and exposes them to stories not usually found in conversations. Repeated reading not only helps children learn to read but also has an impact on school success. Lifelong enjoyment of reading is directly related to daily reading. Children see the pictures and print up close, ask questions, and make comments.

Years ago, when I was a principal, I would read to my faculty at the start of every meeting.  It might have been a poem or an excerpt from a new book.  It always set  a tone of community  and allowed everyone to clear their heads.  Mary Bowman-Kruhm, a faculty associate at the Johns Hopkins School of Professional Studies in Business and Education, teaches reading classes for prospective special-education teachers. “I read to my graduate students at the beginning of class because it gives them time to get settled and to clear their minds of the day’s activities.”

It has been observed that reading aloud is most successful in promoting progress in learning when the level of vocabulary and sentence structure are slightly above that used by the child (Chomsky, 1972).  There is a high correlation between reading aloud and vocabulary development , one of the best predictors of reading comprehension (Cohen, 1968).  Children may also learn the meaning of new words from a single exposure to a book read aloud (Elley, 1989).

So have some fun and read a book with someone—-out loud.


What Happened in School Today?

Ever ask your son or daughter what happened at school?  Usually, they say something like “Nuthin.”  Or you might get something that sounds like this, “The same old thing.  Boring stuff.”

We have to think about different kinds of questions to get different kinds of answers from our children.  This quick list of questions caught my eye today.  (They originated from HerViewFromHome.com.  There are 50 suggestions there if you want to see the whole list).  The question demands a different kind of answer.  Hope you get lucky with them.  Here are just a few…

  • What made you smile today?
  • Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw/showed?
  • Who did you sit with at lunch?
  • Was anyone in your class gone today?
  • Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
  • Did you like your lunch?
  • What was the hardest thing you did today?
  • If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?
  • What made your teacher smile?
  • What made your teacher frown?
  • If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be?  Why?
  • What kind of person were you today?


Digital Badges and Professional Development


I still believe that the best way to improve instruction is through professional development.  Not everyone agrees with me.  I know that many teachers groan when they even hear the words professional development. To illustrate the point, in Michael Fullan’s The NEW Meaning of Educational Change, (2007), he quotes a teacher who states, “When I die I hope it is during a professional development session because the transition from life to death will be so seamless” (p. 283).

An Education Week survey conducted in 2016 showed that 42% of teachers say they have little to no influence on the professional development available to them.  Teachers perceive that a wide range of common professional development activities would make a difference in their classrooms, including common planning time and mentorship for new teachers.

Some districts are trying something new called micro-credentialing.  Part of this movement allows teachers to choose their own learning and customize it.  At least three states, Delaware, Florida, and Tennessee, are piloting micro-credentialing programs, along with New York City and other spots around the country.

Micro-credentials are often in the form of digital badges.  Just like in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, when you spend time working on a specific task, you earn a badge.They are sometimes called mini-degrees or web badges.  They can be described as a small certificate for taking a kind of shortened form of a college course.  Some of the work may be done on-line, but work can also be completed collaboratively, or in one’s own classroom. A micro-credential can take anywhere from four weeks to a year, depending on the subject. Providers such as the nonprofit Digital Promise,  allow educators to provide evidence of their knowledge, including student work or videos. Amid the growth in popularity, there is also increasing attention to the need for standards around rigor, value for stakeholders, oversight and teacher incentives for earning them.

Another provider, Learning Forward, requires educators to demonstrate the skill in practice with students.

While there is no empirical research yet on the impact for students, advocates say the benefits for students, are, as their name implies, on a micro level.

Still, as this form of PD becomes more popular, there are a lot of unanswered questions.  According to Education Week, “Not all micro-credentials are created equal , and states and districts have yet to come to a consensus on the level of rigor they must meet and the value different stakeholders  should put on an earned micro-credential” (Education Week, April 26, 2017).  There are also questions regarding who should assess teachers’ work, and what kinds of incentives should be tied to the attainment of the badges.

Many teachers are required to complete a set number of PD hours each year.  This new approach is certainly something to carefully examine.  Sustained, personalized professional development is successfully provided in most fields.  I think most teachers would welcome the change.

For more info on micro-credentials, Read the article in Education Week.








Teens and Dating: High Schools can Help


Information for this post came from Peggy Orenstein’s article in Education Week,  5/10/17 http://www.edweek.org/go/commentary and When Teen Dating Turns Dangerous by Jan Brogan from The Boston Globe’s article from 4/1/13   https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2013/03/31/dangerous-dating/BasnGkyWQG2UMTaEXdWR1I/story.html

If you ask a dozen teens what their definition of dating is, you will get a dozen different answers.  Some define it as ‘hanging out together’ and others talk about people they ‘hook up’ with, and others think of it as having a special friend or a friend ‘with benefits.’ That lack of a common definition can lead to a lot of misunderstanding.

In a 2008 national online survey posted on Loveisrespect.org, nearly half the 1,043 children age 11 to 14 queried said they had already been in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. One in three said they knew a friend who has had intercourse or oral sex. According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40% of high school students have had sexual intercourse.

Teenagers often don’t know what constitutes a healthy relationship. Many pattern their relationships on what they see on TV or the movies.  These relationships are usually dysfunctional or idyllic and far from reality.  We need to instill the values of compassion, kindness, respect, and caring  into dating that we want our children to embody in every aspect of their lives.

Nine percent of high school students in the state reported being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner in the last year, according to the 2011 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey. A 2011 national study puts the number of teen victims of dating violence at one in 10. When the definition of abuse is expanded to include verbal insults and controlling behavior, studies report the incidence at more than 20 percent. Teen dating violence includes emotional, physical or sexual violence. Risk factors include depression, anxiety, drug abuse, early sex and violence at home or in the surrounding neighborhood and peer bullying, according to research.

“All teens, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, are vulnerable as they experiment with their first intimate relationships,” according to Judith Siegel, a social worker and the director of mental health services in Boston Children’s Hospital. Although the majority of abuse is boys against girls, boys can be victims of girls and of other boys, she said.  Abuse is not restricted to heterosexual relationships.  “A teenager’s first romantic relationship plays a critical role in helping an adolescent develop a sense of who he or she is — personally and sexually,” said Deinera Exner-Cortens, lead author of a study at Cornell and a doctoral student in human development . “If a teen’s first intimate relationship is abusive, it may skew what his or her view of what a healthy relationship looks like.”

The study, which was published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, analyzed a sample of nearly 6,000 Americans 12 to 18 years old from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They were interviewed as teens and again five years later.

Females who had experienced teen dating violence — defined as psychological or physical violence — reported increased symptoms of depression and were 1.5 times more likely to binge-drink or smoke and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who did not experience dating abuse. Males who experienced teen dating violence reported more anti-social behaviors and were 1.3 times more likely to use marijuana and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts.  The research also indicated that avoiding social media after a break up from an abusive relationship is helpful.

There are a number of programs that high schools can weave into their health classes to help teens deal with the dating landscape.  Schools need to make this part of their curriculum.  In addition, parents need to have an open dialogue about dating.  Parents have talks about drugs and alcohol, but often ignore information about relationships and dating.  Our children need some very clear discussions about the dynamics of real relationships.  They deserve that.



Science and Fiction: Your Brain and the Power of Story

Much of the material from this post came from Your Brain on Fiction,
By Annie Murphy Paul  published in the NY Times on 3/17/12

When history was shared with me through story I never had a problem recalling the sequence of events or geography of the place.  I knew that stories somehow helped me remember and I knew it helped others remember as well.

Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.  The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

In 2011, Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, performed an analysis of 86 fMRI studies, published  in the Annual Review of Psychology, and concluded that there was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals — in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions “theory of mind.” Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.

As I continue to examine the curricula we offer to our students, I keep the importance of reading stories in mind.  In the past few years we have placed a great deal of emphasis on non-fiction reading, and I think this was important because it had been neglected.  However, too often in education we let the pendulum swing with   a treacherous arc . When we discover something worthwhile, we abandon all else. Students need to read from a broad range of genres.

Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels.  These findings will affirm the experience of readers who have felt illuminated and instructed by a novel, who have wept with Charlotte and Wilbur, and admired Atticus Finch.


Aloha.   Not only is this the Hawaiian equivalent for the English ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’ but the embodiment of the Aloha spirit of compassion and peace. Last week I had the incredible good fortune to visit the big island of Hawaii and hike the forests and acres of volcanic rock and black sand beaches. There were many beautiful trees and flowers, notably the banyan trees that I thought only grew in India.  But there was one tree that  really stood out and that was the oheo tree.

The oheo tree is very special because it is the first tree that grows after lava has flowed.  The lovely Lehua flower is the fruit of the Ohia tree, displaying colors of orange, red, and yellow. It grows beautifully in the forest, but can also grow in an arid climate, shooting off air roots to capture moisture in the air. The ranger I walked with also said that during periods of drought the tree will take in less water through its roots, shooting off air roots,  so that a neighboring tree can survive.  We can learn a lot from an oheo tree.

The tree is also steeped in Hawaiian culture.  There is a legend that says that Pele, the goddess of the volcano,  desired a handsome man named Ohia. But, Ohia was already in love with another–the beautiful girl Lehua. Enraged, Pele transformed Ohia into  a tree on the mountain. Lehua pleaded with Pele to return Ohia to her, but Pele refused. So, Lehua went to the gods and begged that she be reunited with Ohia. The gods, having pity on her, turned Lehua into the beautiful red blossom of the Ohia tree so that they could be together forever. It said that when someone picks Lehua, still today, it rains because you have separated the lovers, and the rain is their tears.   No child in Hawaii ever picks the Lehua blossom.  Aloha.


Mother Moon

This is an old Indian story and one of my favorites.

Once upon a time, a long, long while ago, the Sun, the Wind, and the Moon were three sisters, and their mother was a pale, lovely Star that shone, far away, in the dark evening sky.

One day their uncle and aunt, who were no more or less than the Thunder and Lightning, asked the three sisters to have supper with them, and their mother said that they might go. She would wait for them, she said, and would not set until all three returned and told her about their visit.

So the Sun in her dress of gold, the Wind in a trailing dress that rustled as she passed, and the Moon in a wonderful gown of silver started out for the party with the Thunder and Lightning. Oh, it was a supper to remember! The table was spread with a cloth of rainbow. There were ices like the snow on the mountain tops, and cakes as soft and white as clouds, and fruits from every quarter of the earth. The three sisters ate their fill, especially the Sun and the Wind, who were very greedy, and left not so much as a crumb on their plates. But the Moon was kind and remembered her mother.  She hid a part of her supper in her long, white fingers to take home and share with her mother, the Star.

Then the three sisters said good-bye to the Thunder and Lightning and went home. When they reached there, they found their mother, the Star, waiting and shining for them as she had said she would.

“What did you bring me from the supper?” she asked.

The Sun tossed her head with all its yellow hair in disdain as she answered her mother.

“Why should I bring you anything?” she asked. “I went out for my own pleasure and not to think of you.”

It was the same with the Wind. She wrapped her flowing robes about her and turned away from her mother.

“I, too, went out for my own entertainment,” she said, “and why should I think of you, mother, when you were not with me?”

But it was very different with the Moon who was not greedy and selfish as her two sisters, the Sun and the Wind, were. She turned her pale sweet face toward her mother, the Star, and held out her slender hands.

“See, mother,” cried the Moon, “I have brought you part of everything that was on my plate. I ate only half of the feast for I wanted to share it with you.”

So the mother brought a gold plate and the food that her unselfish daughter, the Moon, had brought her heaped the plate high. She ate it, and then she turned to her three children, for she had something important to say to them. She spoke first to the Sun.

“You were thoughtless and selfish, my daughter,” she said. “You went out and enjoyed yourself with no thought of one who was left alone at home. Hereafter you shall be no longer beloved among men. Your rays shall be so hot and burning that they shall scorch everything they touch. Men shall cover their heads when you appear, and they shall run away from you.”

And that is why, to this day, the Sun is hot and blazing.

Next the mother spoke to the Wind.

“You, too, my daughter, have been unkind and greedy,” she said. “You, also, enjoyed yourself with no thought of any one else. You shall blow in the parching heat of your sister, the Sun, and wither and blast all that you touch. No one shall love you any longer, but all men will dislike and avoid you.”

And that is why, to this day, the Wind, blowing in hot weather, is so unpleasant.

But, last, the mother spoke to her kind daughter, the Moon.

“You remembered your mother, and were unselfish,” she said. “To those who are thoughtful of their mother, great blessings come. For all time your light shall be cool, and calm, and beautiful. You shall wane, but you shall wax again. You shall make the dark night bright, and all men shall call you blessed.”

And that is why, to this day, the Moon is so cool, and bright, and beautiful.

Being a mother is the hardest job in the world.  Our children don’t come with instructions.  There are no degrees in parenting.  Yet—we all need help with this important job.  Many of us have received expert help from our own mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, aunties, and sisters.  Never be afraid to reach out when you need help.  Someone, somewhere will have a way to guide you.  Thank you to all the mothers before me who helped pave my own path—–my own mother who taught me a sense of humor, my Aunt Lil who taught me about family gatherings, my friends Marsha, Darlene, Debbie, Doris,  and Anita—who told the truth about their struggles. I am especially grateful to my grandmother Mary, who spoke so lovingly to each one of her grandchildren.  She taught me the power of the spoken word.  Thanks to my babies who have now become mothers.  May your path of motherhood always be lit by the moon.

Let the Music Play

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Berthold Auerbach



A few weeks ago my granddaughter played her violin in her first evening concert.  She is 6 years old  and her violin doesn’t even measure to my elbow.  String players from every grade, including the high school, played, and she was inspired to accomplish the sophisticated sounds of the seniors. She was struck with a bit of stage fright but managed to push through.  When it was over, she was filled with a sense of accomplishment that I had seldom seen in her.

As school districts everywhere enter into a new budget season, I worry about the status of music programs everywhere. With strict tax levy limits, increased unfunded mandates, and demanding curricula challenges, the arts can appear as an easy target to cut.  Here are some research based reasons why music is so important to our students:

1. Musical training helps develop language and reasoning: Students who have early musical training will develop the areas of the brain related to language and reasoning. The left side of the brain is better developed with music, and songs can help imprint information on young minds.

2. A mastery of memorization: Even when performing with sheet music, student musicians are constantly using their memory to perform. The skill of memorization can serve students well in education and beyond.

3. Students learn to improve their work: Learning music promotes craftsmanship, and students learn to want to create good work instead of mediocre work. This desire can be applied to all subjects of study.

4. Increased coordination: Students who practice with musical instruments can improve their hand-eye coordination. Just like playing sports, children can develop motor skills when playing music.

5. A sense of achievement: Learning to play pieces of music on a new instrument can be a challenging, but achievable goal. Students who master even the smallest goal in music will be able to feel proud of their achievement.

6. Kids stay engaged in school: An enjoyable subject like music can keep kids interested and engaged in school. Student musicians are likely to stay in school to achieve in other subjects.

7. Success in society: Music is the fabric of our society, and music can shape abilities and character. Students in band or orchestra are less likely to abuse substances over their lifetime. Musical education can greatly contribute to children’s intellectual development as well.

8. Emotional development: Students of music can be more emotionally developed, with empathy towards other cultures They also tend to have higher self esteem and are better at coping with anxiety.

9. Students learn pattern recognition: Children can develop their math and pattern-recognition skills with the help of musical education. Playing music offers repetition in a fun format.

10. Better SAT scores: Students who have experience with music performance or appreciation score higher on the SAT. One report indicates 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math for students in music appreciation courses.

11. Fine-tuned auditory skills: Musicians can better detect meaningful, information-bearing elements in sounds, like the emotional meaning in a baby’s cry. Students who practice music can have better auditory attention, and pick out predictable patterns from surrounding noise.

12. Music builds imagination and intellectual curiosity: Introducing music in the early childhood years can help foster a positive attitude toward learning and curiosity. Artistic education develops the whole brain and develops a child’s imagination.

13. Music can be relaxing: Students can fight stress by learning to play music. Soothing music is especially helpful in helping kids relax.

14. Musical instruments can teach discipline: Kids who learn to play an instrument can learn a valuable lesson in discipline. They will have to set time aside to practice and rise to the challenge of learning with discipline to master playing their instrument.

15. Preparation for the creative economy: Investing in creative education can prepare students for the 21st century workforce. The new economy has created more artistic careers, and these jobs may grow faster than others in the future.

16. Development in creative thinking: Kids who study the arts can learn to think creatively. This kind of education can help them solve problems by thinking outside the box and realizing that there may be more than one right answer.

17. Music can develop spatial intelligence: Students who study music can improve the development of spatial intelligence, which allows them to perceive the world accurately and form mental pictures. Spatial intelligence is helpful for advanced mathematics and more.

18. Kids can learn teamwork: Many musical education programs require teamwork as part of a band or orchestra. In these groups, students will learn how to work together and build camaraderie.

19. Responsible risk-taking: Performing a musical piece can bring fear and anxiety. Doing so teaches kids how to take risks and deal with fear, which will help them become successful and reach their potential.

20. Better self-confidence: With encouragement from teachers and parents, students playing a musical instrument can build pride and confidence. Musical education is also likely to develop better communication for students.

As budget season looms ahead, consider what is really important in the education of our children.  It is my fondest hope that my granddaughter will play on that stage as a senior and will inspire another first grader to forge ahead.

20 reasons are credited to the National Association for Music Education