During the heydays of the Internet bubble, I became general counsel of an Internet advertising start-up, 24/7 Media. I was right-hand man to CEO David J. Moore, a member of the Executive Team, and advised the Board of Directors.
Like all companies caught up in the wondrous “no rules” Internet bubble, we made many strategic decisions we came to regret. But we also made quite a few good ones, especially when our backs were pinned to the wall during the three-year Internet bust. We were one of the few survivors from our peer group, and sold the company for a considerable sum in 2007.
When asked to explain my role in the early days, I would clumsily explain, “When we’re facing a difficult situation and Dave asks ‘what should we do now,’ I’m good at helping him find the right answer.”
Then I had an “A-Ha” moment.
I read a memorial tribute in the Fordham Law Review by the late Judge Joseph McLaughlin, then of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and former Dean of Fordham Law School. Judge McLaughlin wrote that he long ago learned about the “primacy” of judgment:
“The world pays off on judgment — not brilliance, knowledge, and not experience or compassion either, though a fair portion of all of these is essential to the exercise of good judgment.”
In a single, precise word, Judge McLaughlin captured why many brilliant and charismatic leaders fail: they have bad judgment. I vowed to use this word — defined as “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions” — to focus my thinking in all future, critical situations.
This vow was cemented a few days later when I read a Wall Street Journal article about the resignation of Douglas Ivester, CEO of Coca Cola, less than two years into his reign. Mr. Ivester had been pressured by the company’s board, not for a single blunder, but rather for a series of missteps that reflected “tone deafness.”
When discussing an incident that for many was the final straw, an insider said that Mr. Ivester had shown bad judgment, which, in the view of most of the board members, was something that could not be easily taught.
In the ensuing years, most of the blow-ups that I have witnessed at companies of all sizes and industries could usually be pinned on bad judgment. These are often companies run by young CEOs who may have lacked “experience or compassion.”
However, a 2014 article in The New York Times DealB%k section discussed how a series of “ordinary decisions” by a skein of more experienced professionals at well-established firms led to “not so ordinary consequences.”
The article discussed the fall of the white-shoe law firm Dewey & LeBeouf, the mishandling of a recall by General Motors, JP Morgan’s failure to get out ahead of disclosures about a colossal trading loss, and the associates of Bernie Madoff who are themselves facing lengthy prison sentences.
The DealB%k article led with a quote from The Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard P. Feynman, who once said,
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”The article noted that the actions of many of the actors in these unfortunate events “rarely seem to have recognized the path they were going down because they decided to fool themselves.”
Certainly any of us could cite many examples in which our elected leaders “decided to fool themselves.”
So how do we, as leaders, avoid fooling the “easiest person to fool”?
There is but one way to ensure that your critical decision-making reflects good judgment in the particular set of circumstances currently staring you in the face. You must ensure that each critical decision draws upon an ample supply and proper balance of brilliance, knowledge, experience, compassion, perspective, objectivity, imagination, courage, adaptability, grace and other “soft” qualities that are essential to the exercise of good judgment.
No one person is abundantly blessed with all of these qualities. I learned early in my career to lean on others to supply those qualities I lacked in any particular circumstance. I later came to realize that the colleagues who I most admired were those who were even better at “leaning on others” than me.
Often, the “exercise of good judgment” requires consultation with dozens or even hundreds of people. Yet sometimes, a triumvirate of passionate leaders, committed to an effective process, is sufficient.
If you can consistently find the right formula for the equation, then you, too, will be able to boast, “When anyone asks ‘what should we do now,’ I’m good at helping him find the right answer.”
More succinctly, you’ll be the rare leader who can say, “I exercise good judgment.”
Today you begin your first head teaching position.
We could not be more proud that this is how you chose to share your gifts with the world. You are intelligent, passionate, intuitive, insightful and indefatigable, and you will find a way to be exactly what each and every one of your 28 students needs at this point in their lives. They will begin to write their own story.
Launching your teaching career is the culmination of a journey you have been on for 16 years. You could have chosen any career you wished to pursue, but you never wavered from the path that led you here.
As a teenager, you coaxed reluctant special needs youngsters onto a soccer field, altered the destiny of a 5yo by getting him to speak outside his home for the first time, and took over lesson planning for an inner-city summer school program when the head teacher was not meeting students’ needs. The success you enjoyed in each case happened only because you found the resolve to overcome substantial challenges.
Then came the “naysayers.” In high school, many of your classmates, and some adults, said you were “too smart to become a teacher.” As you proceeded through college, many veteran teachers forced on you unsolicited advice to consider an alternative career path, because “it’s tough to be a teacher these days.” Each time you heard this, you involuntarily bunched your fists and struggled to suppress what you really wanted to say. They didn't understand that teaching children is not a job for you; it is a calling.
It has never been easy to be a teacher. From the Great Depression to the years of World War II, to segregation battles, to the decline of parenting, to epidemic drug use moving from the cities to the heartland, to the current politically-fueled testing obsession, teachers have always confronted the most difficult problems of our society, visited upon its most innocent members. The school at which you chose to teach is not shielded from this. This creates a tremendous opportunity to profoundly impact young lives.
This is why we’re sending one of the very best.
You see, Maggie, you are too smart not to be a teacher.
Mom and Dad
Last Spring, I spent a recent Saturday with a dozen bold leaders: Joannah, James, Mia, Amanda, Antonio, Daniel and other middle school students at Howitt Middle School in Farmingdale, NY, which hosted the Connected Educators of Long Island Annual Conference.
With me were several hundred other aspiring learners — educators and administrators from Farmingdale, across Long Island and throughout the metro New York area. We did our best to keep up with the leaders.
Dr. Bill Brennan, conference organizer, introduced the panel of leaders and learners. He asked Daniel to repeat a request he had made at the beginning of the school year:
“Why can’t we have one period every day where we study what we want to study, and collaborate with other students who love the same thing?”Next, Mia (the blonde girl in overalls who appears 18 seconds into this Microsoft video about Girls in STEM, explaining that she wants to research a cure for breast cancer), told the crowd that she followed up Daniel’s question with a “Yes, but” question:
“Why isn’t that what school is?”
Bill then asked the crowd if anyone had an answer for Mia. No one did, so the rest of the panel, and indeed the rest of the day, was dedicated to moving reality one step closer to Mia’s vision.
Superintendent John Loretz, who fully supports the stellar work Farmingdale’s educators are doing to move in this direction, acknowledged his own discomfort with change. He said:
Don Gately of Jericho talked about how he transitioned from always being the expert to becoming the “lead learner.” He called it “liberating,” explaining that,
“As the expert, I had to have all the answers and get it exactly right. As the lead learner, I learn more from others, and I take more risks, because I’m less afraid to make mistakes.”
How is this working out for him? In 2016, he was named Middle School Principal of the Year in New York State. Bob Joyce, a teacher in the Massapequa School District, discussed how when he told students exactly what he wanted them to do, at best he got back exactly what he was looking for — and nothing more. He has shifted his assignments to be more open-ended, and students often produce results that greatly exceed his expectations.
The best part of the conference for me was attending it with my daughter, Maggie Moran, who is a first year, first-grade teacher in Boston but soon moving back to teach early elementary / special ed in New York City. She is a sponge who eagerly absorbs information, and she felt like a kid in a candy store, learning from so many remarkable people. She learned about Plickers and began using them in her classroom the next day!
Maggie told me almost breathlessly about “Classroom Without Walls”- a joint “K-8 Collab”between Bonnie McLelland’s Kindergarten Class in Farmingdale and the 8th grade class taught by Bob Joyce in nearby Massapequa. It involved “digipals,” “buddy videos,” escaped gingerbread men, “Missing Gingerbread Man” flyers, a special Christmas surprise, and so much more. All of the students involved learned digital media and literacy skills, and more importantly, learned that there are people they’ve never met who care a great deal about them.
In the closing session, Bill played this video by Dove about the one thing you’d like to change about their body. We discussed the takeaways after; one of the leaders noted:
“The kids in the video all imagined something remarkable that they wished could be. The adults all focused on their flaws, and how they wish they could make it better.”
This insightful remarked moved the discussion to how human beings change from dreaming of what could be right, to focusing on what’s wrong. One of the teachers then began to talk about risk-taking and fears. One of the younger students bellowed out,
“Would all of you adults stop talking about being afraid? Just stop being afraid. Take chances with us.”
I concluded the discussion by noting that in “What Would You Do If You Knew Yo Were Limitless,” Rebel Brown writes,
“Before we’re 17 we’re told “we can’t” 150,000 times. We’re told “we can” only 5,000 times. That’s 30:1 programming in favor of the negative. That explains why we limit our lives, our beliefs about ourselves, our goals and our human race. We weren’t born to have the fear and limitations we carry with us. We were born to believe in our potential.”
I then encouraged the group to think about the many ways we say “no” to kids; not just through the literal word, but through all the words we use, and the way we say them, and how we act and carry ourselves. I urged them all to find ways to say “yes” more.
Let’s all become the adults these leaders urged us to be.
Let’s stop being afraid. Let’s all find ways to change the education landscape so that in the next generation of students, not one of them ever asks,
“Why isn’t that what school is?”
"Knowing how to find the best person to ask an important question is a crucial life skill that all students need to learn." Karen Blumberg, K-12 Technology Coordinator at The Brearley School
I recently video-conferenced with a high school class. The acoustics made it difficult for students to ask questions, and I wondered how to fix this. I glanced at my iPhone and saw that students were Tweeting me a long skein of brilliant questions, and the rest of the session went smoothly. Students understand the power of connecting to others, and they are quite comfortable doing it digitally.
Students dominate popular Q&A sites such as Yahoo! Answers, Answers.com and Quizlet. Of course, these sites are not authoritative, rarely provide links to references, and must not be cited in a research paper. Fortunately, students can explore dozens of free avenues online to connect with experts in almost any field of study or area of interest. All they need is for adults to open the door and point them in the right direction.
What Could Go Wrong?
Ask a Librarian - Many local, county, state and college libraries offer a virtual "Ask a Librarian" that users can ask for reference help. By way of example, CBS News calls the New York Public Library’s service “the Human Google.” Here is a list of local Ask a Librarian services from around the world.
Quora is a Question and Answer site. Unlike other Q&A sites, most users register with their real name and provide their credentials, and most answers are useful. We created this Choose2Matter page on Quora. When a user asks a question about changing the world, we'll find experts to answer it.
Nepris enables classrooms to connect with industry experts, predominantly in the STEM fields. Experts can speak to the entire class, or to groups or individual students to provide feedback on their work Videos of archived presentations are also available. Students can also present their work to a panel of industry experts, virtually. Nepris offers a free version and two levels of premium service.
Twitter can be an excellent resource to find that handful of people who can provide insight. Students need to learn to use "hashtags" to target their tweets to people likely to have knowledge about the subject of their question. When Maggie Moran, a first-year teacher, wanted to find an expert to discuss teaching a student with interrupted formal education (SIFE), she turned to Twitter, using the #SIFE hashtag. She wrote, "Within mere minutes of my tweet, I received five replies with suggestions on books to read, methods to try, educators to follow who were experts in the area, and an invitation to lunch with a professor from Columbia Teachers College."
Video Conferencing services such as Skype and Zoom make it easy for anyone with an Internet connection to video conference, free, with anyone else with an Internet connection. Skype in the Classroom offers premium tools free to educators, including a service to connect with authors, experts, and others. This article discusses how teachers all across the globe are using video conferencing to connect their students with eyewitnesses to history, government leaders, authors, and other inspiring adults.
Stack Exchange offers 100 million monthly users asking and answering questions about 161 topics. It is focused on technology but not exclusively, and many communities should be helpful to students.
Reddit is an online community that is divided into thousands of "subreddits," such as Reddit.com/r/history. While some of these represent the seamy part of the Internet, many are well moderated and provide extraordinary learning opportunities for students. These range from opportunities to ask questions of scholars in various subject areas to assistance with proofreading and advice on developing good study habits.
A sampling of sub-Reddits that are closely moderated and very useful for students:
What happens when educators and parents set high expectations for students?
Annie Sullivan was hired to tutor a young Helen Keller, an unruly deaf and blind child. Sullivan raised the expectation for how Helen would behave. In "The Miracle Worker," this leads to a heart-wrenching physical battle. They later reached a breakthrough moment as the teacher spelled a word into the child’s palm. As Helen wrote in her autobiography years later,
“I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
Keller graduated with honors from Radcliffe College and became a renowned writer and public speaker because a teacher pushed her to recast her challenges from an excuse for poor table manners into “barriers that could be swept away.”
Maya Angelou faced her own barriers as a child. As a result of traumatic incidents, Angelou refused to speak from ages seven to 12. She found solace in poetry, and memorized the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Langston Hughes, Shakespeare and others. Angelou describes how a teacher, Mrs. Flowers, convinced her to speak:
“She said, ‘You don’t love poetry.’ And it was the cruelest thing I think she could have done. Because she seemed to be taking my only friend. She said, ‘You can’t love poetry. In order to love poetry, you must speak it. You must feel it come across your tongue, through your teeth, over your lips.’ … She was trying to shock me. And one day I went under the house … and I tried poetry. And I had a voice. I had a voice.”
Decades later, that voice was used to read a poem at President Clinton's inauguration.
A similar encounter with a teacher helped create one of the great voices of the past half-century. When James Earl Jones went to high school, he was functionally mute, as a result of a severe stutter he developed at the age of five.
In a 2010 interview with The Daily Mail, Jones called a high school English teacher, Donald Crouch, "'the father of my voice." Crouch challenged Jones to prove that he did not plagiarize a poem by reading it out loud from memory in class. "Which I did. As they were my own words, I got through it," Jones said. Crouch continued to encourage Jones to read out loud every day, and get involved in debates.
For Helen Keller, Maya Angelou and James Earl Jones, Anne Sullivan and Mrs. Flowers and Donald Crouch all were the “one person” that Aimee Mullins says every child needs. Mullins is an athlete, model, actress, and motivational speaker, who had her legs amputated below the knee shortly after birth. In a TED Talk titled "The Opportunity of Adversity," Mullins spoke the hideous synonyms she found in a thesaurus for the word “disabled.” What upset her, she said, weren’t the words themselves, but rather “the values behind the words and how we construct those values.”
For a child to overcome the low expectations set by labels or value constructs, Mullins said, “all you really need is one person to show you the epiphany of your own power and you’re off. If you can hand somebody the key to her own power, the human spirit is so receptive, if you…open a door for people at a crucial moment, you are educating them in the best sense. You are teaching them to open doors for themselves."
If empowering students to reach their true potential is the root of education, how do educators achieve it?
Angela Maiers, an educator and author, focuses on the power of words. In "12 Ways to Let People Know They Matter" She writes that if we choose our words wisely, we can help students "stretch their thinking, envision success, and open the door to their true potential."
Steven R. Schrader, a language teacher in Japan, defines empowerment as “helping learners become aware that they can have an impact on their environment, and can exert some control over their circumstances.” Schrader writes that, when we use language to remind young people, especially those marginalized by society, of their potential, we give control over their circumstances back to them.
Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman has spoken about the powerful effect when students do envision success, exert control over their circumstances, and see the epiphany of their own power.
In a July 2009 interview, she argued that the present state of minority education in the U.S. may be worse than in the days of segregation, asserting that back then,
“We had teachers who had very high expectations. We were going to learn our tables, we were going to learn how to read. We had this community buffer, because while the external world told us we weren’t important and couldn’t succeed, our parents said it wasn’t so, our teachers said it wasn’t so, our preacher said it wasn’t so, and so we knew it wasn’t so. We always were taught that we could change the world, and we had these role models everywhere. That’s missing today for so many of our children.”
Do you have high expectations for your students? Do you teach them they can change the world?
Are you the "one person" students need to learn to open doors for themselves?
Since 2009, SweetSearch has been the best place for students, educators, and anyone else to begin research. It leverages Google to return results from a fully vetted “whitelist” of websites. The original index was created by 50+ librarians, educators and researchers who collectively invested over 100,000 hours in finding the best resources.
We’ve worked hard to keep the index authoritative and appropriate. We exclude not only the obviously poor sites; we also exclude marginal sites that read well, but lack academic or journalistic rigor, and thus are not cite-worthy. This summer, we reviewed every link in the index, and found new, worthy websites we had missed.
As technology journalist Paul Gilster wrote in his column in The News Observer,
“Search here and you’re working in a universe of checked, verifiable sources and solid information…..Google or Bing may find many of the same sites, but what I’ve noticed is that some of the better sites for a particular topic wind up deep in their search results, often outranked by Web pages more commonly used but of inferior quality…I was impressed with SweetSearch’s focus on credible scholarship and emphasis on primary source materials.”
The result? Students find what they need, and they find it faster. When my generation was in school, the librarian pointed us to pre-screened resources on our general subject, and we decided which ones were the most relevant to our specific research project. That’s what SweetSearch does for students with online resources. Amanda, a student who blogs as “FarmGirlWrites,” describes the results the first time she used SweetSearch:
Once we made SweetSearch better than ever, we decided to make more of it!
All of our search engines include quality websites for younger students. A good way to find them is to use “students” or “kids” or "young" or "youth" as a keyword.
Of course, students still need to follow the principles laid out in our Ten Steps to Better Web Research by, among other things, formulating good search queries, and often looking past the first few results to find the very best ones. Another principle is to use multiple search tools for every research project, just as professional researchers do.
We’d love to get your feedback on SweetSearch, SweetSearch History and SweetSearch News. Try your own searches and let us know what you think by e-mailing info @ SweetSearch.com. We work hard every day to make the best search engines for students even better.
Recently, a coach posted on Reddit a note that he had received from a nine-year old player. The note already has one million views. You can read the post, and ~1,000 comments, here.
Why did such a short, sweet note strike such a powerful chord, one that will echo for weeks around the world?
This young child did something all of us should do each and every day: he noticed, valued and honored the coach's sacrifice, effort and skill.
A heartening theme in the comments was adults recalling coaches who impacted them, prompting others to urge them to find those coaches and send them a note.
There was a less heartening theme as well. Almost every report of a kid doing something remarkable provokes claims like: "It's fake. A kid could not have written this note. His parents helped/made him do it." Adults who think this note "must be fake" need to spend more time truly listening to kids, and understand why words such as these matter so much.
Indeed, as I wrote in this post (with many powerful examples), a few words from you can change a life.
Need one more example? If you read through the comments, you learn where this kid actually learned to send thoughtful notes: from his coach.
Here's my challenge to you: Send someone a note of specific praise and appreciation to someone in your life - TODAY. Then, respond in the comments with who you wrote to, what you said, how they reacted, and how it made you feel. Next, repeat these steps every day for the next 7 days.
I can't wait to hear from you!
Tammy Waddell taught school in Forsyth County, GA for 25 years. One of her favorite parts of the job was Project Connect, in which members of the school community collaborated to ensure that all students had the materials they needed to succeed in school.
Tammy survived a bout of colon cancer early in her life. When it returned, she directed that her obituary should ask that in lieu of flowers, mourners should bring backpacks filled with school supplies for students in need.
What a way to go.
[Photo credit: Dr. Brad Johnson]