Monday, 31 October 2011

Snow, so north, through Canada!

Yes, snow in Stowe, VT, and even more in Mass and CT so we opted for a northern route to warmer, drier weather, through Montreal and west through Quebec and Ontario.  An amazing lunch yesterday art Sucrerie de la Montagne in Rigaud, Quebec, a restored sugar shack converted into a very French, country restaurant.  On past Thunder Bay and to Ontario, camping in Pembroke at Pine Ridge and back into the U.S. across the bridge at Sault Ste Marie and halfway across the upper peninsula of Michigan.  Rapid River tonight on the shore of Lake Michigan, headed for Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota.  Lots of miles covered today and same for tomorrow.  Prorsum et sursum!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Stowe and Mt. Mansfield

Hunkered down near the base of the mountain, waiting to see if the predicted storm will dump any snow on Stowe.  Drove up to Smugglers Notch, took a short hike down a trail to a huge rock strewn, roaring mountain stream, recollected all the recent damage wrought by hurricane Irene.  Witnessed a lot of that yesterday en route north on VT 100 from Ludlow.   Powerful force of water, some 12 inches of rain, caused innocent streams to become raging torrents, strewn with rocks and trees knocking down anything in their path including houses, barns, lodges, highways, bridges and vehicles.  Evidence of rebuilding was plenty but residue of damage simply astounding.  Heavy equipment and workers everywhere still repairing devastation. 
Now enjoying peace, quiet and a day of rest, planning a return route to NM.  Would like something different, interesting and scenic, might consider part of Canada. Need to be back in Abiquiu by Thursday.
 Will see long time friends B&B Sanders this evening for dinner party here at the Wagners on Billings Hill Road.  Great views of the mountains!  More soon.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Liberty and OWC

Having the statue of liberty in view spawns a few thoughts and feelings of patriotism so we considered a visit to Ground Zero appropriate and timely although there's mostly construction going on around the memorial.  New glass skyscrapers are attempting to replace the WTC.  Not especially comfortable with the images but there you have it.  Walked a few more blocks to see OWC in the park and because of the rain, it looked more like tarp park, everyone covering their spots with blue, gray and green tarps.  In fact it was a park of tarps.  However, that said, the attitude and atmosphere was one of peaceful protest and one sign said, this is not a protest, it's an affirmation.  I liked that.  The message is clear. Wall Street represents the 1% and the banks, Goldmans and others have the money. S said that it reminded her a little of the revolution without the guns and that every democracy needs a revolution once in awhile in order to remind itself what a democracy is really about.  It reminded me a bit of the 60's where the issues of equity, inclusion and social justice were the driving forces.  Drove on out of Manhattan in a traffic choked artery, tried to camp out at Hamonassett State Park in Madison Connecticut but it had closed for the season.  Found a very nice B&B down the road called Tidewater Inn, had a lovely seafood dinner at Lenny and Joe's Fish Tales and called it a night.  One interruption on this dark and rainy night was a rather bad fall up some concrete steps, banging up head and hand and dislocating a finger.  Today a visit to Choate and on to Stowe, Vermont.  Ciao!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

New York City

It's very early Thursday morning and we're parked across from the Statue of Liberty in Jersey City.  I know it sounds a little weird but there is an RV campground here just before the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. Liberty RV Park and Marina with ferry and train service into Manhattan.  Leaving Memphis Tuesday morning, we stopped early at a shopping center, picked up some groceries and drove across Tennessee on Interstate 40, rolling hills, great color, lots of traffic, the majority of which seemed to be trucks.  Past Nashville to Knoxville and a turn northeast on I-81 towards Virginia and Tuesday night found a beautiful VA state park called Claytor Lake, not far from Radford.  We had stopped in at the VA welcome center, picked up another map and a description of the area, and learned that we were just 10 hours from NYC from that spot.  Drove on another hour or so, hopped off the Interstate, stopped at a local orchard to pick up some apples, cider and pastry and then on to the park. Camped next to a young couple with a 2 yr old and 2 month old and discovered Mike is with the National Park Service and they are eager to relocate back to the West. Set up camp (2 chairs, a small table and a grill) had drinks and dinner and called it a day under the tall oaks dropping acorns everywhere, ker ching!
  Yesterday we drove leisurely through the Shenandoah Valley just west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and had another day of spectacular scenery with the Fall colors bathing us in their natural change of the season.  One fuel stop, crossed into West Virginia, a short piece of Maryland and then northeast across Pennsylvania, picking up Interstate 78 and all of this through familiar territory toward New Jersey which we crossed in a little over an hour, arriving here around 4:30 PM yesterday.  Today is clean up, lunch in the city with Claire and the Markleys, and on toward Connecticut.  Ta da!

Monday, 24 October 2011


Intentions are to post here every other day or so on this two week road trip from Abiquiu, New Mexico to Stowe, Vermont and return.  First day out last Saturday, 10/22 was to Palo Duro Canyon, south of Amarillo, Texas, billed as the second largest canyon in the country.  No need to comment on which one is the largest but I do remember camping on the north rim in the national forest there.  Palo Duro is a spectacular little gem and we arrived as the sun was dropping in the west and watch the light and colors change from the floor of the canyon to the rim rocks.  Beautiful!   Nice evening breeze, very quiet, early AM departure in the dark, and headed toward Oklahoma City.  Arriving from the west in I-40 saw this mammoth tower of a building being erected, discovered it was Devon Energy's new building.  Had to stop at an Apple store and talk to a couple of the geniuses there.  The place was packed wall to wall with people as was the mall where it's located.  Somehow it didn't seem the downturn in the economy had affected OKC adversely at all.  Spent last night at the newly constructed home of J & J Richardson, Susie's brother and sister-in-law.  Crashed a party for their neighbors who have endured 2 years of construction, caught up with some family stories, departed this morning, 10/24 and are now ensconced at the Agricenter RV park in Memphis, Tennessee.  Great farmers market here and not sure what the center is all about as we just stumbled on it from seeing a sign along the highway and here we are.  Ideal temperature, perfectly clear weather and the drive through Arkansas was mostly foggy but the leaves are changing and as we head north from Knoxville later on the colors will shift rather dramatically.  More soon.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

"Sunrise, Sunset"

Sunrise, 7:09 AM - October 12, 2011  Abiquiu, New Mexico
The light, just before the sun comes over the horizon, is pure and clear when there is not a cloud in the sky and no pollution to filter this amazing light. It’s one of the many reasons artists, photographers and others come to northern New Mexico, for the clarity that becomes a metaphor for a way of living.  Plein air painters especially enjoy this setting.  We live a mile down the road from Georgia O'Keefe's house and studio.
The slightest breeze is moving the leaves, silhouetted against the early morning, eastern sky.  The aspens and the cottonwoods have all turned that exquisitely golden hue that is worth more than the price of real gold at $1663.00 per ounce yesterday. 
Being able to be outdoors near mountains and meadows, forests and streams is a gift in any season but the Fall brings its own special delights.  I see the sun rise almost every day from this vantage point of a study that faces east and has a view of Marsha Mason’s bosque across the river.  I heard that she finally sold her property “Resting in the River” which was put on the market back in 2008.  The 247 acre estate and ranch was most recently listed at 7.9 million, down from the original 13 million where it started.
Our 12 acres of paradise here at The River House provide more than enough pleasure and work to keep us fully engaged on a daily basis.  We added a menagerie that includes mini-donkeys, chickens, (down to 11) and the usual domestic dogs (2) and cats (4) plus a pond of koi (7) and we often reference to this place  as our own Peaceable Kingdom, reminiscent of the painting by Edward Hicks.  However I don’t think we’ll be adding more to our herd, flock and school, although a few more free-range chickens might be welcome.  The peace is sometimes disturbed by beavers taking their share of trees and saplings or a flock of geese overhead or sandhill cranes making that wonderful clicking noise.  And then a chorus of coyotes joins the symphony and the scene is almost complete.
Fall is time to prepare for Winter, and Spring, but it’s also time to enjoy Fall to the fullest and this sunrise is just about the greatest way to begin another day, one filled with joy, beauty and a lot of connections.  This day, like every one yet to be filled, is a gift. The promise is large, the opportunities are immense, and there are glad surprises to be discovered all along the way.  Cool nights, warm days, brilliant sun and the road beckons. It's time for exploring beyond, taking in ever more sights, sounds and the delicious delights of a new day.  The words from Beethoven's finale of Ode to Joy: 

Be embraced you millions,
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy...
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity

Monday, 10 October 2011

"It's About Time!"

Here is an interesting phrase, “taking time off” because time is never off.  Like it says in the old ads for Timex, it just keeps on ticking and one day, we will run out of time, or walk out, or lie down and check out.  Think of some of the amusing ways people speak about time.  “I didn’t have time to do it.”  What they really mean is they did not choose to take the time to do it, whatever “it” was, but who is going to say that they chose something else?    How about this one?  “It’s time to eat.”  That was mother calling from the kitchen.  Whether you were actually hungry or not didn’t matter.  It was “time” for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  One family I knew quite well, not my own, sat down precisely at 5:30 PM every evening for dinner and everyone was expected to be there and be on time.  Being “on time” is highly important to many people but different cultures regard that behavior with more or less value.  Personal priorities about being “on time” may also vary.
We are often like Pavlov’s dog.  The bell rings and we respond whether by changing activities, answering a call or checking something in the oven.  We are conditioned and regulated by time.  It’s “time” to go to bed.  It’s “time” to get up.  It’s “time” to go to work.  It’s “time out” and “time” to start again.  It’s “time” for the meeting.  It’s “time” to leave in order to get there in a reasonable amount of time.  It’s all about time and yet time is an invention, a construct for our convenience and we are bound by it.  How we measure time and how we use it reveals an enormous amount about who we are as individuals and who we are as a culture.
Here’s another phrase that amuses me because of the double entendre. “It’s about time” we say, meaning in one way that we have waited for some time for something or other to happen and finally, it has taken place. Whether that expresses gratitude, relief or annoyance depends upon the context.  A long-awaited package arrives at the door and we say, “It’s about time!”   And really, it is simply that it has taken longer than was expected or desired for the delivery to be accomplished.  Big deal!  Get over it!  At least we got the package.
In order to get more done in the same amount of time the phenomenon of multi-tasking has appeared and it seems to have arrived in conjunction with the advent of computers that are able to perform several functions at the same time.   Recent research at Stanford on multi-tasking shows that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

High-tech jugglers are everywhere – keeping up several e-mail and instant message conversations at once, text messaging while watching television and jumping from one website to another while plowing through homework assignments.  But after putting about 100 students through a series of three tests, the researchers realized those heavy media multi-taskers are paying a big mental price.

When it comes to our brain’s ability to pay attention, the brain focuses on concepts sequentially and not on two things at once. In fact, the brain must disengage from one activity in order to engage in another. And it takes several tenths of a second for the brain to make this switch. As John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” says: “To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” (

When we are in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, we are apparently not able to filter out what's not relevant to our current goal.  That failure to filter means we are slowed down by that irrelevant information."

However, that said, there are examples and instances that may show some exceptions and here is one such illustration.  The song, “The Time of My Life”  was the music and lyrics used in the final scene of the movie Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, and was written by Frankie Previte.   Previte said: "I received a call from Jimmy Ienner who asked me to write a song for this little movie.  I told him I didn't have the time and he said, 'Make time. This could change your life.'"  Frankie's former bandmate John DeNicola and his friend Don Marowitz came up with the music for the song. Says Previte, "I received a track from John and Donny and I wrote the lyric and melody for the chorus in the car while I was driving along the Garden State Parkway, going to a studio session for another song."

Here’s the message:  Making or taking time to do what is really important can change your life. The question is, what is really important?  And if you’re driving, be careful!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

No Virtue in Being Busy

I receive at least a dozen or more emails, telephone calls or messages each week (I don’t text) that are filled with comments about how busy someone is and I am often guilty of the same kind of remark.   And for those who must travel for work, that adds a layer of time consumption, creating more pressure and stress on the schedule, calendar and one’s self.  Add up the demands and expectations of a family, a specific job or task, running a household, managing a business, dealing with the oxymoronic customer service, absorbing the news, being entertained, using the social media networks, watching and listening to others, and perhaps most importantly and more often neglected than not, taking care of ones own mind, body and spirit.
Yesterday my wife and I set out to winterize our mist away system for the elimination of mosquitoes.  Without going into the details of installation early last summer, let me say simply that it is an engineering and chemical mystery and marvel that sprays pyrethrin (an organic compound) around our house and garden according to a programmed computer system and a 55 gallon drum of the mixture inside a shed adjacent to our house.  It has to be “winterized” and now I laugh at the scene although at the time it was anything but funny.  We had to call the “source” three times to accomplish what should have been a simple task.  It took over an hour and a half. 
I now watch or listen with some degree of amusement as a friend or colleague refers to an electronic calendar to find a slot where a meeting is possible or impossible and I do the same thing although my calendar and schedule have more leeway for the first time in 49 years.  When I served as an interim head of a school last year, I remarked that I was fortunate to be able to work half time.  That was 6 to 6!  And there were those evenings and weekends that added hours of work, most of it meaningful and productive.
Another thing I am fond of saying although it does not resonate all that well with some others goes like this:   A friend or colleague says, “It was a very long day” and I know what they mean but I have the audacity to respond with, “I have news for you. They are all the same length, 24 hours.”  The point is that we all have the same amount of time and it’s simply how we use it, how we spend it, how we choose to invest ourselves in the moment or the hour or in the day that has been given to us.
Maybe there is a way of looking at the day or the week not as something to be filled up but rather as this miraculous and precious gift of time which, in fact, could be our last day.  If that were to be, how would we spend it?  The point is not to create a personal drama but to be sure that we are including some of those things that we value the most and not postpone them until we find the time or have the time.  Now, go put some of those into your schedule and on your calendar and see if it makes a difference.  Go ahead.  Just do it!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Essential Needs and Requirements of Leadership

"The Times, They are A-Changin"

In some recent research by IBM, 1500 business leaders from 60 countries and 33 industries were asked to list the three most important qualities needed in this new economic environment.  The top three may surprise you, maybe not.  They were: creativity, integrity and global thinking.  The next six (in order) were: influence, openness, dedication, and focus on sustainability, humanity and fairness.
Some of these qualities are listed in recruiting school leaders but the skills and abilities still preferred are things like the capacity to inspire and motivate others (still valid in my opinion) vision (also a necessary characteristic) and a high level of energy and enthusiasm for advancing the mission of the school.
One of the largest challenges seen by these business leaders is the ability to manage complexity and perhaps that says it all.  As our society has added layer upon layer of information technology, increased economic uncertainty, added to the density of population centers, looked at infrastructure and environmental concerns, and a spawned a revolution and paradigm shift in education, leaders will need an amazing repertoire and personal resource bank of intellect and emotion to deal with it.
Holly Green, CEO of The Human Factor, puts it this way:  “Leading in new ways will require a lot of things, but it all starts with recognizing that we have to learn additional skills and learn how to unlearn some of the ones we have relied on for success to date. We have to develop an awareness of our own thinking processes and be willing to shift them. Then we have to challenge our beliefs and assumptions, constantly considering “what if…” not just about our customers and our markets, but about the way we do things within our organizations and why we do them that way. We have to develop the ability to consider multiple perspectives and focus on winning despite all the noise and distraction. We must constantly ask the right questions and be flexible when everything changes again.”
I would equate “winning” with being successful and say further that we need to be able to have laser like focus on what our goals are and how we intend to achieve them.  It is rather like the athlete, musician or artist who spends a lot of time training in order to do well or to express his or her craft at the highest level.
Finally, from all that I hear, see and read, it seems like this next generation of leaders will need to be especially well-versed in creativity and innovation.  And that will require some real expertise in designing, managing and implementing change, perhaps in alignment with some of the biggest changes in this century.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

What works and what works best. (What's it all about, Alfie?)

In the 1970’s I learned a lot about human motivation, human development and human behavior. I worked in schools, universities and hospitals. I learned about organizational development and how systems worked and learned why sometimes they didn’t work.  It seemed to me that a system worked because it was designed with the users in mind and involved them in the development and application process. A system often didn’t work because it was designed by those outside, was pre- fabricated, imposed and not tailored to specific needs.

If we are to succeed in our work and in our country, we must learn how to build collaborative energy, how to listen carefully to what is and what is not being said, how to ask questions that are penetrating and honest, how to discern the real from the superficial, and how to help a group move forward with a purposeful, shared vision. 
What has seven decades of learning taught me to understand and to appreciate, to celebrate and enjoy and to use most readily in my profession and my work?  I have learned most of all that it is about who I am, not simply about what I do.  I learned that there is an important distinction between my work and a job.  My work is my passion, what I care about the most and my job is what I have to do in order to get to my work.
My work has been with people, helping them to learn about who they are and how they can get closer to their dreams of what can be.  And it’s about becoming, that we are always in process of becoming more of a human being, not a human doing.  What I do is about who I am.  That means developing and growing our humanity, our human spirit and being in touch and in tune with the natural world such that we not only know who we are and what we’re about but that we place the highest premium on the sacredness of every person, starting with ourselves. 
We can learn the benefits of how to support each other, how to give what others need, and that may not necessarily be what they say they want.  I am reminded of the beggar on the street asking for money.  If his real need is for food or clothing or shelter, then give food, clothes and shelter, not just money.  The needs of the world are overwhelming but we can begin with each person we meet along the way.  At least, that’s what I have learned that works for me and a lot of others.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Fussing About "Thought Leaders"

So I read something earlier this morning about thought leaders, tweeted it and there it rested for moment until I said, ok, I'll write a blog.  Ever notice how so many people now start out by saying, "So....?"
  It must be the transition from the experience of being constantly connected and streaming consciousness and what's happening in the brain around it never stopping to rest.  Whew!   I think that I learned the word as a conjunction although I know it could also be an adverb as I used it in the second sentence above, "so many people."   Most often it is a substitute for a preceding clause as if one is continuing the conversation, "As I was saying earlier...." and that blows my mind.  I didn't hear what they said earlier!
Now, back to fussing about thought leaders, as I was saying earlier.   I have been in the thought business for along time, personally all my life, 75 years of it thus far and counting, and professionally for 49 years, same age as my daughter.  That's a lot of thought but doesn't necessarily make me a thought leader.   What I hope it makes me is a thoughtful, mindful, careful, caring and sensitive leader who knows how to lead, when to lead and when to get out of the way and let others lead.   This has put me into the practice of mentoring and teaching others something about leadership based on my years of experience learning what works and what doesn't work.  More on that later!

Sunday, 2 October 2011


I have been using the following idea recently at the end of my email messages: "Leading is building collaborative energy, listening, asking questions, discerning, and helping groups move forward with a purposeful, shared vision." 

There are six main points in that statement about leading, perhaps too many to digest in one quick reading.  However, here is an attempt to define those six characteristics of leadership in a summary fashion. A longer discussion can provide an opportunity to explore these notions in greater depth but let these stimulate some further thought and perhaps some exchange of ideas and experiences.

First is building collaborative energy.  Everyone is talking about collaborative models of leadership with precious little time given to the energy required and the synergy that results.  When the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts, you can at least sense that you may be headed in the right direction.  The leader's job is to marshall and harness the energy of one's self and your colleagues with whom you are collaborating and your role is to keep that energy focused on the issues that merit your attention and focus. Of course, you may have to decide which ones rise to the top and which are less important and why.

Second is listening, taking the time to be fully present with another person or a group to the extent that they know they are being heard.Fully Present Feedback helps the others know that you have indeed listened carefully and attentively to their ideas, to their concerns, to their suggestions and to their contributions to solutions to any shared problems.  Whether or not you have achieved consensus will be revealed as you start to move forward later.  It is better to have the disagreements earlier rather than later.

The third characteristic is asking questions.  As you know from having been in the role of a teacher, sometimes the best response to a question is not the answer but another question that is designed to take both of you farther and deeper into the issue.  There you may find more specific and concrete details that heretofore were undisclosed.  That gives you a greater likelihood of a better response, one that is more comprehensive and thorough.  And that will be more satisfying than the quick and easy answer.

Discerning is often defined as "keen insight and good judgment" and yet those are somewhat relative terms. Understanding what needs to be done may well be the first step while having a plan to get a  job done is equally important.  There can be tons of understanding with little or no resolution.  Making good choices that are reasonable and realistic with attainable goals shows a measure of good judgment when assessing  projects that are deemed important, even critical to success.

Helping groups move forward and not simply be content with the status quo means that you will often have to become the "captain at the helm" and give directions and instructions to the crew.  Each person on the team has specific contributions to make to the entire operation and the leader is very much like the director of the symphony, putting all the parts together and making it look and sound terrific.  However, it is not just an appearance or an impression but about the reality and how it plays ouy and how it wears over time.  In the final analysis you can measure progress.

Finally, using your mission, vision and values' statements, you must demonstrate in your own actions some kind of purposeful engagement that is both visible and palpable.  People will take their cues from you in terms of what you share with them as being important and how that contributes to making your school community a stronger, better place. And then, they are much more willing to be an active participant and share some responsbility for helping the organization move forward.

Mind the Gap: Distance Between Real and Ideal

Perceived discrepancies between the "real" and the "ideal"  OR What my mentor forgot to tell me!

After two years of living and working in London, "mind the gap" became more than a popular phrase used on the underground transportation system.  There, of course, it referred to the distance between the train and the platform, an area of obvious danger.  The imperative announcement was offered frequently, especially in the older stations that had not been updated.  While the discrepancy between our ideal and our real selves is not necessarily a danger, it can have some implications, especially if the gap is wider than we can see easiMind the Gaply and well.

The London Underground was the first under-the-surface train system in the world, opening in 1863, and it was the first to have electric trains as well.  It is also the second longest metro system in the world,  after the Shanghai metro.  In London, this system is commonly referred to as The Tube.  And it's the third busiest system in Europe after Paris and Moscow.  We liked it because it made travel in and around London so easy, at least most of the time, but not when there was a strike or mechanical malfunction.

I do not want to push the metaphor too hard nor too far but there are some similarities between The Tube and the traffic between our perceptions of real and ideal, whether in our job, in our relationships or with our own selves.  And I am not talking about the mechanical parts of the system nor necessarily it's management.  Regardless of those similarities, let's take a brief look at what we might learn and how we can use this information.

In the first place, many of our perceptions are unseen because they are "underground" and either not spoken aloud or not readily apparent.  To bring our perceptions of real and ideal to the surface and to the light of day can be a helpful exercise.  We can do this through an open, honest and candid discussion or through a paper and pencil exercise with ourselves or in partnership with another person or group.  The classic question is what is the difference (gap) between how I regard my ideal self and my real self?  Or what is the distance between how I see myself and how I am seen and regarded by others?

In our work as school leaders, our roles are often defined by others through a myriad of expectations, and we know that the assignment comes frequently with something called a job description.  We often end up establishing our own priorities and hopefully helping others to be in concert with ours. We merge our expectations and priorities with those of others. When those two perceptions - self and others - have too much space between them, you can count on increased stress and frustration, as well as conflict between the two sources.

We can minimize the conflict or at least reduce the distance between real and ideal by understanding how to moderate our idealism with a healthy dose of realism. Think about your relationship with another person, significant other or colleague. What are your ideal and your real perceptions of the other and what are the other's perceptions of you?  Honest and open dialogue can help greatly to bring the two together and strengthen the working relationship.

A new year, calendar year or school year, often provides the opportunity for assessment, looking back and looking ahead.  This is another place where the gap cannot be too great in terms of what has and has not been accomplished and what the goals are for the months and year ahead, whether personal or institutional.  So, dear friends and colleagues, mind the gap, and all good wishes as we leave this station and move along to the next one.