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Thursday, June 29, 2017

The “Umami” Lesson Plan
a.k.a. The Perfect Lesson Plan

My wife and I traveled to the wine country in Napa, California, last summer to check off a “bucket list” item of mine. While there, we experienced a wine and food pairing at the Silver Oak winery, where we learned so much. The main takeaway for me was learning the five tastes we all have: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and the one I had never heard of — Umami.

Umami is synonymous with the taste of perfection — a wine at its apex of flavor maturity and quality. Linguists have suggested that Umami (pronounced oo-mom'-ee) has English equivalents, such as savory, essence, … deliciousness. .. Umami is associated with an experience of perfect quality in a taste. It is also said to involve all the senses, not just that of taste. In the Asian context there is both a spiritual and mystical quality to Umami. In the West it has been controversial  whether it is also said to involve all the senses, not just that of taste. In wine, Umami is said to have depth and complexity. Are you beginning to see where I’m going with this?

In my presentation, “The Neurocardiologist Leader/Teacher,” I use this slide as a template for a perfect lesson plan for any grade and any subject.

There are three main components to this lesson plan: teacher, student, and content.  All three must intersect for that perfect plan to result. Each touches the other in different but very important ways. Included in the circles are rigor, relevance and relationships. Although there is a plethora of presentations, frameworks, and conferences on rigor, relevance, and relationships, you will see that this explanation is quite simple and easy to understand. 

It all begins with the teacher developing positive relationships with her students. I recently heard a speech Victor Mendoza, an AVID graduate from McKinney, Texas, at the Dallas AVID Summer Institute. He said that there is an “emptiness or gray area” between the teacher and student until that teacher develops a positive relationship with him. I cannot stress enough the importance of this foundation as it is THE most important piece. Neuroscience supports this as well, as the brain continually looks for relationships.

The next important piece is the relevance of the lesson. I have it intersected with student as it must be relevant to the student so he connects the content to himself. The teacher should strive to share stories in her presentation of the lesson, as the brain loves a good story. Stories touch the emotions and emotions are the gateway to to the brain and learning. Also included in that intersection is student choice. Sometimes it is not possible/feasible  to allow students to have a choice in content, but the teacher should always look for this possibility, as this provides ownership to the learner and adds to the Umami lesson. With the content circle is depth/complexity. Though all educators understand the term “rigor,” lately has been given a bad rap (at least on Twitter). So I choose to use depth and complexity to the content/objective which aligns with my Umami example. Bottom line: rise above knowledge and comprehension on Bloom’s. In my presentation, I use another slide to compare depth/complexity to difficulty. I will not delve into that in this article, but in short, depth/complexity/rigor is NOT more and is different from difficult! 

I keep rigor in the intersection between the student and teacher to note how the teacher questions the students when she checks for understanding, to move her students above knowledge/comprehension, above level one on Costa’s, and preferably to level three or four in Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. The teacher must be intentional with  her questions. Included in this same intersection — “respond,” so that there is a time for students to respond to the teacher about the objective (preferably in some kind of written form). This is a great way to formative assess the level of understanding and application to the objective. 

In the middle, where all three intersect are three words: “relationships,” “engagement,” and “Umami.” Relationships are not just between the teacher and student (although this is the most important) but also between the student and the content, as well. The learner must have that relationship for the lesson to reach to the Umami level. The second is engagement. Students will find something with which to engage. All students are engaged! They may or may not be engaged in the teacher’s lesson, but they are engaged. This plan will ensure that the learner is engaged in the teacher’s objective.

The one ingredient I didn’t include in the above illustration is movement. There must be some kind of movement or brain breaks. Get students to move! In a 45-55 minute lesson there should be at least two brain breaks where students should get out of their desks and move.

In this presentation I first ask the question, “How many of you believe there is no such thing as a lazy student?” I never get 100%, until I add “when engaged with a relevant lesson?” At that point, 100% are in agreement. If the teacher includes all of the attributes I have outlined, she will have a Umami lesson. A lesson that has “depth and complexity, taste of perfection, the apex of flavor, maturity, and quality, a deliciousness… what teacher does not want that? What student does not want that?

By Hal Roberts author of the book Pirate On!

Hal is a retired superintendent after 38 years. He speaks on leadership and neuroscience, and offers a half-day PD where he shows the relationship on both. It is informative, fun, and interactive.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Going beyond the PIRATE manifesto for Leaders

Going beyond the PIRATE manifesto for Leaders

First let me say that my inspiration for this article is Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a PIRATE, his Twitter chats (#tlap), and his visit to my school district to deliver his “Teach Like a PIRATE” credo.  He also stayed at my home before his presentation, when we spent some time visiting.  As Superintendent, my theme for that year was “TLAP”!  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to him, his friendship, and his advice as I was writing my book, Pirate On! Lead Fearlessly, Ignite Passion, Inspire Trust in Your Crew & Emerge as a Leader of Significance, published in 2016.  In the spring of 2013, I began researching and seeking contributions from other educational leaders who inspire me.  Soon after, I was asked to deliver a message at a church pastored by a former student-athlete of mine and the idea for my book took shape.  I added to Dave’s acronym the attributes that I believe are essential for leading.  I included how neuroscience supports each trait, as well as examples of actual pirates and how they exhibit these qualities.  

For the “P” chapter, I added perseverance, believing that it is critical in both leading and teaching.  You will have issues, problems, and hurdles to clear.  You will work with challenging peers, as well as bosses, but if you can persevere through these tough times and exhibit professionalism while staying true to your vision and goals, you will get through those tough times and maintain your sanity.

I included integrity in the “I” chapter.  Without a doubt, this should be a cornerstone of any leader.  Without integrity, your followers will not trust you.  Without trust, you cannot influence.  Influence is, after all, what leadership is all about!  If you cannot influence, there is no way you can carry out your vision for your organization.  I debated between “integrity” and “influence” for my additional “I” chapter, but finally decided on integrity because of its importance but included influence in the same chapter.  Integrity takes time to build, but only a moment to lose!  However, that manifestation is a result of many choices or decisions made over time.  In my book, I included the lyrics to the song “Slow Fade,” by Casting Crowns, which describes this process quite poignantly.  As Tom Peters says in his book, In Search of Excellence, “There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity.”

The “R” chapter of my book focuses on relationships.  In virtually every Twitter chat in which I participate, “relationships” emerges as an important focus of many questions posed.  We all know that a positive relationship is, and how critical it is in creating a positive learning environment.  Building and creating positive relationships takes work, but in the end, it will pay huge dividends.  If I could only choose one attribute to emphasize, building positive relationships would be it!  Each faculty and staff member needs to know that he/she matters!

I chose authority as the emphasis of the “A” chapter of Pirate On!  Regardless of where we are, we are always under someone else’s authority.  Someone must be in charge!  FDR coined the phrase, “The buck stops here.”  Ultimately the leader has to make the tough decisions, hold the staff accountable, and map the vision of the organization.  In my presentations, I use the meme of a scratched-up, battle-scarred lion, with the caption, “Everyone wants to be the beast until it’s time to do what real beasts do.”  While the leader does possess the power on the campus or in the district, I have found that when you use power, you begin to lose power.  You may not lose the power of the position, but you're wasting the power to influence.  As explained by Tony Evans, author of Kingdom Man, the “king of the jungle” uses his roar to protect, provide, partner, and lead to declare his dominion.  Sometimes the leader has to be “the beast!”  As Peter Drucker, a famous management consultant, often says, “Every decision is like surgery.  It is an intervention into the system and therefore carries the risk of shock.”

As the focus of the “T” chapter, I chose trust, another cornerstone of effective leadership.  In my opinion, trust involves likeability.  The leader/teacher needs to be liked by her/his students and staff.  Indeed, if people do not like the leader, they probably will not trust her/him.  Trust is a major factor in the classroom, as well as at the campus and district.  At each level, if the student/follower does not trust the leader, the leader will not be able to influence.  Building relationships is the key to inspiring trust.  If there is one thing I learned while serving for 30 years in education, it is this:  if you love your students, their parents will trust you.  Stephen Covey says it well, “Trust is the glue of life.  It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication.  It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”  If the leader establishes a climate of trust (beginning with building relationships), he/she can influence, initiate change, and carry out the vision of the campus or district.  When faculty and staff know that the leader cares for them, they will “run through walls” for him/her.   This past November, we elected the 45th President of the United States.  The saddest aspect of the election is that, according to a Gallup poll, neither candidate had a trust factor of over 39%.  President Trump has a long way to go to gain the trust of the majority of the American people.

For the “E” chapter of my book, I added empowerment.  It’s not about possessing or using power for yourself, but adding power to others.  Empowering your faculty is giving them the freedom to fail.  You may be saying, “Wait! What?”  If leaders would give their followers the freedom to fail and then give feedback, imagine what can be accomplished!  That freedom is an essential part of the “growth mindset” that Carol Dweck writes about in her book, Mindset.  

That being said, I had a difficult time choosing “empowerment” or “edification” and “emotion” in my book, as there is clearly a connection.  It is certainly important to edify your faculty and staff.  Indeed many people prefer recognition for a job well done over gifts or money.  Don’t get me wrong here – Everyone appreciates a bonus or a raise, but the education profession is different from the corporate world in this area.  Leaders should use faculty meetings, hand-written notes (sadly, a dying practice) and private conversations to edify their followers.  The April 9, 2014, issue US News & World Report reported the results of another Gallup poll:  Seven out of 10 teachers are not engaged and “feel that their supervisors do not care about them as a person.”  If you do not care, you surely cannot empower.  As George Couros says, “As leaders in education, our job is not to control those we serve but unleash their talent.”

Emotion plays a huge part in connecting and leading.  Neuroscience asserts that emotion is the gateway to learning.  Capture their emotion; then you capture their brain.  One of the best ways to capture emotion is through storytelling.  Use your experiences and your story to engage those under your leadership.  Once they are engaged with your message, then a leader can lead effectively.  Everyone will find something with which to engage.  Your job is to make sure it is the leader’s message! 

I chose service and significance to close out the PIRATES acronym of my book. Striving to perform as a servant-leader should be every leader’s goal.  It is through service that true joy is achieved.  Just recently I viewed a YouTube video of the entire Ore City High School (faculty & students) in Ore City, Texas, performing acts of service in their community.  I encourage you to click on this link ( and watch.  It will warm your heart as you watch.    

When I was hired as a Superintendent, one of the charges I received from the Board was to create a high school.  We were a small PK-8 district, and the community wanted a high school of their own so that students could stay in our district to finish their public school education.  As Superintendent I added a local mandate of 50 hours of community service as a graduation requirement so that our students could experience serving others.  Krystal Floyd, one of my first Twitter friends, says it best, “My passion for education is to inspire others to greatness by serving them.” 

As we move from being a great leader to being a leader of significance, we must ask author John Maxwell’s questions of our followers: "Do you like me?  Can you help me?  Can I trust you?  Will you add value to my life?"  If you can answer each in the affirmative, you will emerge as a leader of significance. Leaders have to realize that everything worthwhile is uphill.  Selfishness and significance are opposite traits.  Leaders must value people and understand that everything rises and falls on leadership.  Leaders must strive to enhance the lives of the people they lead.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What will your ripple create?

Many people on Twitter have started the “one word” for the year, some use “three words,” Dave Burgess uses “Beat your drum!”….this year I’m using something a little different and hopefully thought provoking. “What will your ripple create?”

All of us have seen the results of throwing a pebble or rock in a pond, creek, or lake. It creates a ripple. After a while, it dissipates to a little or no ripple, depending on the size of the rock and the distance traveled. One thing I liked as a kid was finding a somewhat flat rock and throwing side arm as hard I could to make it skip across the water as many times as it could until finally hitting the water one last time where it finally sinks. I also noticed each time it hit the water; it would create another ripple, and all the ripples would intersect or run into each other at some point.

As you know, the bigger the object, the bigger the splash, and the ripples are larger and tend to go farther. That is now thing that I pray I am not…Just a splash. My first attempt as an author was just that, a splash. It was an awesome feeling when received the first copy of my book Pirate On! - Lead fearlessly, Ignite passion, Inspire trust in your crew, & Emerge as a leader of significance. I include a link to it.  I had many leaders to contribute and which to added to the book considerably. However, there has been little interest in the book overall. My “ripple” disrupted rather quickly.

When I was a lifeguard during the summers while in high school and one in college, watching one of the ways guys would try to make a huge splash by performing a “cannonball” jump. They would jump off the board grab their ankles and make themselves as tight a “ball” as they could, resulting in a huge splash, usually trying to splash on someone (often a girl they were flirting with) close to the pool.   A big splash, waves to the bank, then it quickly dissipates.

Some ripples or waves can be costly. When there is an underwater earthquake, the result is enormous waves leading to a tsunami many times. The impact is great and lasting, but the cost is devastating.

My goal this year is to inspire, enhance and add value to others. I have been very humbled over the last couple of years shifting my very prideful self to my focus on serving. I miss serving as an educational leader. I have missed participating in many educational chats, and I want to change that. I have even begun researching for my next book entitled Leadership Lessons from the Vineyard (based on John 15: 1-12). If you are a wine lover like me, you will like this book.
So, in closing, I want my “ripple” to help as many educators in their quest to enhance the lives of the students they teach or lead. I want to serve you and the many others on chats this year and this blog. I want to help you produce abundant, sweet fruit in your position this year. May your ripple be significant, impactful, and add value to the lives you touch.