Thursday, 14 May 2015


This phrase, “taking time off” is interesting because time is never off.  Like it says in the old ad 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 amusing ways people speak about time.  “I didn’t have time to do it.”  What they 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? “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 vary.  We are often like Pavlov’s dog.  The bell rings and we respond whether by changing activities, answering a call, looking at a text 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 a 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 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 or even driving a car, 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 may be some exceptions and here is one 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!

Saturday, 9 May 2015


Andrew approached me with his paper in hand, presented it to me and said, “Here, is this what you want?”   I was teaching an elective in "creative writing" for juniors and seniors in high school and Andrew was one of those edgy students who often seemed unhappy with an assignment but worked hard to fulfill it.
I said to Andrew, “Is this what you want to give me?”  And he replied, “You made the assignment.”  I said that I did but that this was his work and I wondered if he was satisfied that this was his best work or that if I gave him another 24 hours to revise it and make it better, would he like to do that?
Andrew looked at me with a suspicious kind of smirk, probably wondering if I was trying to trick him somehow, and he said, “Are you serious?”  I said yes, that I was serious because this was serious work and what I wanted was the best he had to offer and if another revision could make it better, then I would be glad to give him a little more time to make it among his best work.
I held out the paper and said, “Andrew, your writing is important and you’re getting better each week so if you want to polish this further, have a go at it.”   He took the paper, smiled, turned and walked away.  His revised draft was significantly improved.
As I have related this story to hundreds of teachers, I asked them the question if that’s what they want from their students, their best work, regardless of the grade level or subject they teach?  They usually nod their heads in agreement or say yes although “best work” may mean something slightly different to different people.
I then said to the teachers, that is exactly what we want from you, your best work, and if it takes a little more time, that’s all right.  If you need more time to make it better, then it’s up to all of us to find that time, carve it out of an already busy schedule, and have the opportunity to make your work as a teacher the best that it can be. Dedicated, talented teachers are not satisfied with anything less than their best. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


When we were starting a new school, in 1994, one of my first tasks was to hire the teachers who would join us in this adventure of a lifetime.  We projected how many students we would have, the subject areas we would focus on and then worried later about where it would be.  I put out the word that I was looking for creative, innovative, bright, spirited teachers, and the kind who would relish spending their days with 6th and 7th graders.   We were very big on creativity and innovation 21 years ago.

We advertised widely, described the vision for our school, a place that was ready “to prepare young men and women to become lifelong learners with the highest character values and academic goals in a natural New Mexico setting with strong family and community involvement.”  We wanted our teachers to be role models and we wanted a curriculum that was comprehensive, integrated, developmentally appropriate and performance-based.

The applications started coming in and I began interviewing people whom I believed had the potential to join this team of pioneers working collaboratively to provide an exceptional educational experience.  I talked with almost 100 of these people and ended up hiring 8 talented and dedicated teachers – one each for Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, Science, Spanish, Art, Music and Physical Education.   Each one of these people made distinguished contributions to our early growth and success with precious few resources and a makeshift environment for those first 60 students.
All of those teachers had a can-do attitude, were confident and courageous in their use of original sources with few textbooks and hardly any technology in those early days.   The story of the school is interesting in itself and today it is a thriving community of some 550 students, grades 6-12, where the graduates continue to make their contributions to the world at large.  (

One teacher in particular, the science teacher who is still there after 20 years and going strong, used the local outdoor surroundings as his primary classroom, teaching the students how to conduct field studies in a thoughtful, systematic and meaningful way.  One parent, coming into the school where students were organizing and interpreting their findings asked this teacher what text he was using and his response was: “Mrs. X, we are writing the books that other students will read to learn about science.”  As a university professor she was both amazed and favorably impressed.

This teacher’s work, and that of his students, fed data into several local, state and federal agencies making multimillion dollar decisions about how to allocate their resources.  Students had the opportunity to not only learn but also to experience first-hand how their work made significant contributions to the community where they lived and beyond.  That program expanded into the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP)  that now involves over 5,500 students up and down 300 miles of the Rio Grande, far exceeding the water that flows in the river.

The point of this story is that there are few limits to what you can do if you have the right people in the right seats on the bus, a la Jim Collins.    It’s also important that the bus has a capable, competent driver who knows where he or she is going and what it will take to get there.  Equally important is that the bus is in good operating condition and adequately fueled for the journey.

The impact of one teacher influences his or her students to consider how they want to contribute to the world to make it better.  The power of that teacher extends far beyond the classroom and laboratory to the farthest reaches of the globe.  My response is enormous gratitude for the talents, skills and commitments of these kinds of teachers, doing what they do every day, year after year. 

Monday, 4 May 2015


These elements we accept without thinking, without a deep sense of appreciation and yet they sustain life as we know it.

Fire - It keeps us warm and we can’t live without it whether body temperature or the proverbial fire in the belly; the furnace that both digests what we consume and drives us to do what we do.  When you are “on fire” with a project, there is no holding back.  Fire can cook and it can destroy.  We depend on the sun and ever more so with solar power as a renewable energy source.  “A day without sunshine, is you know, night.”  Steve Martin 
Earth - Live close to the land, listen to its heartbeat, commune with nature and you will never be lost.  The earth, as fragile and precious as it is, constantly renews itself, and it is our home in space and time.  We must work in concert with the forces of nature rather than trying to harness and control them.  We have taken so much from the earth and it might behoove us to see what we can give back.  Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.    Rainer Maria Rilke
Air - We cannot see the wind, we do not know from whence it comes nor where it goes but we can see the effects, in trees, flags, smoke and even on top of the water.  We need air to breathe, cleaner air, pure and crystal clear, unpolluted whenever possible.  A clean air act won’t do anything by itself.  Clean air needs living, breathing people to insure the future   “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are, in fact, plans to protect mankind.”  Stuart Udall
Water - The universal solvent, covering two-thirds of the earth’s surface, water comes in many forms whether in the oceans, or treated and potable water from wells and aquifers.  Rain, rivers, lakes and streams, water is all around us. Floods and tides can destroy and when there is not enough water there is drought.  Too much or not enough, either can be disastrous and the right amount is a blessing for people, plants and animals and the earth itself.  “Water is the driving force of all nature.”  Leonardo da Vinci
Spirit - In almost all world languages and cultures there is a word for spirit.  The meaning from the Greek psyche, is “spirit” that gives life to all animate beings.  Sometimes translated “soul” it can be understood as a force that mediates between mind and body, between the physical world and that which cannot be seen.  Spirit transcends worldly matter and some world religions assign a deity as the creative force that brings into being that which is not.  In Latin creatio ex nihilio, creating from nothing to bring into being that which is.  
“Changing is not just changing the things outside of us…we need the right view…of being and non-being, creator and creature, mind and spirit.... crucial for transformation and healing.”  Thich Nhat Hanh