Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Tradition and Change in Anatevka

Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything. How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes. -Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof

I recently saw Fiddler on the Roof at one of our local high schools.  The production amazed me; it was much better than the 1988 version I performed in high school. I took my son and as we spoke about the themes of the show on the way home, a few things struck me.

First, The show starts with the song Tradition. This song establishes everyone’s roles and the part they have to play in the community. It clearly defines the rules and perspective: “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years,” and “And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

Immediately after Tradition, we meet Tevye’s five daughters and his wife, Golde, waiting for the matchmaker who is about to fulfill her traditional role in assisting the girls’ parents in arranging the eldest daughter’s, Tzeitel’s, marriage. Of course Tzeitel bristles at the thought of the arranged marriage; this being complemented with the arrival of Motel, the poor tailor, Tzeitel’s true love interest. Love, however, has no bearing on the choice of spouse, but this is about to change. The three eldest daughters will each choose for themselves a husband, each moving further and further away from established traditions until the thrid daughter elopes and marries outside of her “kind” and completely outside of her traditions.

The play sets two dichotomies against each other: Tradition and Change. These parallel education today. The play has multiple connecting points of application throughout, but the central themes of tradition and change are the most salient.

Our very traditional educational system has poignant illustrations in two of Tevye’s lines in Tradition  (one modified slightly) : “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years,” and “And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what [he is expected] to do.” Now, however, we find that we are off balance and many of us are seeking to discern our new roles in light of traditional, not necessarily wrong, expectations. We are still expected to educate our kids and prepare them for their uncertain futures; that hasn’t changed. The traditional ways of doing so must. Unfortunately, our concept of “school” is defined within the traditional boundaries of school where education is dispensed by a highly qualified expert during specific times of the day and year to arbitrarily sorted groups of disengaged learners craving relevance.

We’ve been arranging these educational marriages for so long that it has become our traditional definition of education.  To conceptualize education any other way seems “unheard of” and “impossible” as Tevye sang on more than one occasion as two of his daughters presented him with husbands of their choosing. Like Tevye, attempts to change the tradition are often met with stalwart opposition in the name of upholding tradition. The Tradition refrain winds its way through the course of the play like many themes in education. As Tzeitel begs to be released from the artificial betrothment bargain Tevye has made Lazar Wolf, we beg to be released from the artificial structure of seat time equating to learning. Anyone who may choose to respond here can probably list myriad traditions that stand in the way, but ultimately under the current educational tradition we arrange for our students educational spouses they neither love nor care about.

We simply must examine our traditional practices and determine how much has changed since their inception. Whatever doesn’t fit or has become outdated, we must cast off in order to adopt new ways. Those, too, may become traditional, and we must constantly examine and adjust our practices for relevant alignment so our purpose doesn’t become as “shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

What educational traditions are we holding on to that are getting in the way of change?


April 5, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Whole New Mind Book Study Part 3.07.08 -Called to the Profession

Passion. Called to the profession. Inspired by another teacher. Making a difference.

Those are the top reasons the book study participants gave today when I asked them to tell their story and frame it within the question of why they got into education. Empathy, chapter 7, in A Whole New Mind contains a portfolio section called Empathize on the Job. In activity #2  How Did I Get Here? Dan Pink writes “Sometimes you work near people for years but have little idea about the path that brought them alongside you.” So today I asked. We, at the request of the group, modified the activity and had each person tell his/her own story to the whole group. I took notes on one side of a notecard and listened for themes in each person’s story. The dominant ones are at the top of this post. The word passion came out of every story directly, simply, plainly, and unflinchingly. This, from a group that ranges in experience from only a few years to 20+.

I wasn’t surprised about passion, being influenced by another teacher, or making a difference. Those seem to be very common bonds among educators. The other, called to the profession, surprised me a little. Many in the room spoke about being called to the profession, having it in their blood, or simply knowing from an early age they were supposed to be in education. More than one took a circuitous path, some resisting, but we all ended up here. It seems to be somewhat anachronistic, especially in today’s postmodern technological realm, to respond to a call.

This identification of purpose or meaning (Chapter 9) resonates and grounds people, making them unshakable stalwarts. Passion permeates what they do, who they are. Not all educators reside here, but the ones who do simply radiate and attract kids (and adults) to themselves. It’s not out of ego or grandiosity; it’s their quality. The same thing happens when the sunrise stops us or a piece of poetry gives us pause. We cannot really quantify it, but we can see its results. Kids, other staff, parents, even you know who these people are.

The ones who answer their calling are not limited to education, but few other vocations so poignantly intertwine people and purpose, message and meaning, wisdom and wonder. Can we teach kids to answer a call regardless of vocation? I’m not sure, but we can prepare them to be ready, receptive, and reflective. The purpose of education starts there.

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Whole New Mind Book Study Part 2.07.08 –What’s the big IDEA?

As part of the blog and discussions, I have developed some points overall and for each chapter to spark thoughts and conversations. In keeping with the Whole New Mind theme, I call it IDEA. No, not the special education acronym, but one for the book as a whole and then each chapter on the aptitudes.  I ask A Whole New Mind book study participants to consider…


  • Intersection
  • Discovery
  • Examination
  • Application 

For Design

  • Incorporation
  • Democratization
  • Engagement
  • Alignment

For Story

  • Intention
  • Direction
  • Explanation
  • Association

For Symphony

  • Innovation
  • Determination
  • Elevation
  • Assimilation

For Empathy

  • Intuition
  • Demonstration
  • Emotion
  • Amplification

For Play

  • Invigoration
  • Distribution
  • Enjoyment
  • Advancement

For Meaning

  • Implication
  • Discussion
  • Epiphany
  • Analysis 

One of the interesting parts is that any IDEA in any chapter could be applied to any other chapter. I don’t define the bullets very much leaving the connections to the individual members. My goal is to get them looking at each bullet and find intersections of the book and their professional practice, uncover discoveries of ways to engage themselves (and later kids) in the big-picture ideas, examine the way they (and kids) do what they do, and apply all of it in a 21st century (or a Whole New Mind) context. The results are as mixed and as varied as you might think.

As a side note, besides Dan Pink, I have to give credit to Dan Maas who first made a presentation about A Whole New Mind at a CASE conference session that provoked some thoughts that wouldn’t stop needling me. As a result, I read the book and began thinking about the implications for education.  I needed to hear from others and the book study was born. I still need to hear from others, which is why it’s here now.

February 3, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Whole New Mind Book Study Part 1.07.08

This school year I have been meeting with a group of teachers for another book study centering on Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind.  This time I have two art teachers, a counselor, a special education teacher, three social studies teachers, two English teachers, a technology teacher, a math teacher, and a science teacher. It’s my privilege to be a part of it once again. Be sure to see my post about last year’s book study and what that group did.

I have had some interest in the process I use for leading the book study. So I post here a few guidelines. I’m a little reluctant to put a bunch of content up here because the true power is to customize the study based on the group and their common community. With that said, I did develop some questions for the first three chapters specifically and the remaining chapters generally. I’ve listed some of those below.

The structure of the study has us meeting once a month through the school year (weather permitting) on Saturdays for two hours with the discussion revolving around one chapter. The first three chapters encompass one meeting at the onset. For the chapters on the six senses, we discuss the chapter part and usually transition into some items in the Portfolio section. When I prepare for the group meeting each month, I see what resources I have bookmarked from the Portfolio section and spend some (often too much) time following links and reading blogs and going down digital rabbit trails. Those trails have turned up some goodies that really seem to get great conversations started or help transition to new ideas.

In addition to the meetings, I have created a blog using our district’s web software. I password protect this blog for various reasons, but mostly because I think the sharing among peers is a little more honest and reflective when it’s not subject to the scrutiny of the outside world. Some would argue that we’re missing out on the exchange of ideas on a global scale, but right now, the ideas are for them. I also have them complete a culminating project of some kind to satisfy the fiduciary duty to the district and taxpayers. Projects have ranged from a simple reflection paper to unit designs to in-service sessions to redesigning entire courses and course expectations.

I have approached the first meetings of both studies in much the same insidious way: we’re here to change the world one classroom at a time. The book studies aren’t about complete indoctrination; they’re about giving perspective and providing reflection. The best meetings have often resulted when I have only made the opening welcome and comment or question and have said nothing more. To listen to the conversations, to see the ideas germinate and grow, to feel the energy build as professionals honestly and passionately discuss how they can change the world with their classrooms, that’s why I got into education.

The questions for Chapters 1-3 often start by directing them to a specific point in the reading and turning their thinking to an element of education or culture. Some of them are unsettling once you kind of jump in and get dirty. Some simply elicit a nod of sympathetic recognition. Even though the book is not directly about education, the implications for education are staggering. Should you end up deciding to use the questions, I’d simply ask you to refer to the Creative Commons license on this blog for attribution information. If you’d like more information or to discuss more about the book studies, leave me a comment indicating so with whatever contact information you deem relevant.

A Whole New Mind of Questions -Part 1 -Chapters 1-3 and on

  • What is a knowledge worker?
    • Are schools designed to produce them?
    • What will be the responsibility of schools of the future related to knowledge working?
  • What kind of thinking has dominated the last few decades?
    • Where do schools fit into this structure?
    • What will be the responsibilities of schools of the future?
  • How is the organization of the book metaphorical for the brain?
    • How do schools touch both sides of the brain?
    • How should schools touch both sides of the brain?
    • What are obstacles in making this happen?
  • What is high touch and why is it important?
    • Where is this important in our schools?
    • Who has the aptitude to make this happen?
  • What is high concept and why is it important?
    • Where is this important in our schools?
    • Who has the aptitude to make this happen?
  • What is L-Directed Thinking?
    • Where has been its role in the Information Age?
    • What is the importance of this thinking in the Conceptual Age?
    • What has been education’s role related to this kind of thinking?
  • What is R-Directed Thinking?
    • What is the importance of this thinking in the Conceptual Age?
    • What will be education’s role related to this kind of thinking?
  • What are examples of abundance in education?
    • What do schools in general or our school specifically offer of value and meaning in this age of abundance?
  • Will Asia and related outsourcing be a factor in education?
    • What parts of the educational program could be outsourced?
  • How will automation change education?
    • Note: The question is not will, but how.
  • Why is high tech no longer enough in education?
    • Did education even get there?
  • How have MBA’s (or their thinking) had a place in education?
  • Do MFA’s (or their thinking) have a place in education?
  • Is education at the end of the Information Age if it has it made it there?
  • How does Education currently answer the three questions?
    • What is the value in coming to the schoolhouse?
    • Or how does our school answer the three questions?
  • How should educators respond to the ideas in the IQ and EQ section?
    • Should education emphasize both IQ and EQ?
    • How could this be done?
    • What would an EQ school look like?
  • How does the Money and Meaning section play out in the educational structure?

Big Questions -Part 1 and throughout

  • What are the implications of these ideas for the classroom?
  • What are the implications of these ideas for the school?
  • What are the implications of these ideas for the district?
  • What are the implications of these ideas for the state?
  • What are the implications of these ideas for education in the U.S. and the world?

January 31, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A Whole New Mind for Educators

I should be careful what I wish for. I wished that those of us in my school could look into the future and prepare for it. Then I read Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind. Shoot! I had to do something about it; it was desperately inspirational. (See my post from earlier today for more information.) So I thought I’d offer a book study to my staff to see if there was any interest. This is an excerpt of what I sent out:

In A Whole New Mind, released in 2005, Dan Pink argues that Western society in general, and America specifically, is moving “from an economy and society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and society built on…inventive, empathetic, big picture capabilities.”  This movement, Pink claims, is a result of three social and economic forces: Abundance, Asia, and Automation. He posits three questions related to these forces: 1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper? 2. Can a computer do it faster? 3. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance? According to Pink, “If your answer to 1 or 2 is yes, or if your answer to 3 is no, you’re in deep trouble.” To survive and thrive in this new Conceptual Age, Pink asserts that we must learn and develop six senses: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. We must be “high concept” and “high touch,” not in a touchy-feely way, but able to do things that are meaningful and unable to be automated and/or outsourced.

Using the human brain as a metaphorical backdrop for his book, Pink –acknowledging that human beings are not exclusively governed by either side of the brain– illuminates how left-directed thinking and right-directed thinking will both impact and influence the future in which we are about to live. The book is neither directly about education nor written by an educator; however, the implications for the future of education run just below the surface. A Whole New Mind prods the reader to look beyond the age in which we are rooted and to look forward to an age that will stand in as stark a contrast as the Information Age does to the Industrial Age. 

I had 12 teachers respond from art, business, English, math, science, social studies, special education. Even our Library Media Specialist joined. It was the single most inspirational and rewarding staff development experience of my 14-year professional educational career. We met once a month for 8 months over the course of the 2006-2007 school year. Below are some educational fallout results from our book study.

The first group who met last year have taken their experiences and ideas from the book and worked them into our school world (and probably beyond).

  • Two of our English teachers have used AWNM as required reading for our Honors Senior Composition and Literature course with the idea that it may be a pilot for required reading in all senior English classes.
  • One of the social studies teachers has tweaked/redesigned his instruction in his classes with a focus on the 6 aptitudes.
  • Our Marketing/DECA teacher has changed how his marketing students design and present their marketing class presentations. This is significant because he is working from a place of extreme success before reading the book and sees the future need behind the ideas and has essentially moved his approach and classes from a place of demonstrated success to a somewhat riskier, yet necessary, approach.
  • Our Library Media Specialist is co-leading a class on 21st Century Learning skills for over 15 of our staff. The first 20 minutes of each meeting is dedicated to AWNM principles.
  • The math and science teachers in the first book study have made unit modifications based on AWNM ideas.
  • One of our art teachers changes and modifications in her classroom has inspired the other two to do the book study this year.
  • Lastly, several members of our staff asked me if I could offer the book study again this year. I have and 12 different teachers from art, English, math, science, social studies, and special education who have signed up.

This future stuff is hard work; change, even on a classroom scale isn’t easy, but our kids will reap the rewards.

What are you wishing for?

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments