Sunday, August 28, 2016

Failure...How Do You Embrace It?

This is a post written by two school leaders; Jeff Kubiak, current Head of School at The Gardner School of Arts & Sciences in Vancouver, WA, and Eric Ewald, current lead learner and chief storyteller at Van Allen Elementary School in North Liberty, IA.


  1. lack of success, nonfulfillment, defeat, collapse,

lack of

Failure, in EDUCATION....Must not only be an option, but a certainty.

Remember the phrase from Blockbuster Movie “Apollo 13”? titled, “Failure is not an option”?  I just found out it was written in by scriptwriters for the movie, not actually said by anyone from NASA. But wow, let’s use NASA as the example here. If NASA had never NOT failed, what would
our space program look like?  How many iterations of rockets, spaceships, spacesuits and MARS rovers would they have NOT gone through?

As educators, the term FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION  does NOT sit well with us.
As you look at today’s world and challenges, the educational institutes,our model companies, and especially some of our most inspiring heroes and athletes, one common trait holds true: Failure is a must. A given. A for sure. An absolute. A 100% guarantee to growth, success and beyond.

Next, let’s just look at a guy named Michael Phelps: 5 Olympic Teams, 28 Olympic Medals, 23 of them GOLD! Not everything was all roses for our fine dolphin-esque friend. Two DUI arrests, a viral photo of him smoking a bong, failed swim sets, bullied at school, diagnosed with ADHD and mental illness AND struggled in school. Now, he has a fiance, a baby boy, a great coaching job and endorsements galore. Seems to me that he learned from every one of those misfortunes we call failures and became without a doubt, the History’s Greatest Olympian Ever!

“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
  • Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins

It’s okay to fail. It’s going to happen. We’ve got to embrace failing. We have to encourage failing as a part of the process. And then we have to get back up. We have to keep going. We have to relentlessly persevere. If/when we do these!

Failure + Perseverance = Success

Michael Jordan and Nike created one of my all-time favorite commercials that they titled “Failure.”

The commercial begins with Jordan stating, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.” What if Michael Jordan had given up after his first missed shot? What if he would have quit? We would have been robbed of witnessing one of the greatest clutch athletes of all-time!

Failure is ALL around us. So why are we, as a society, (sometimes) ashamed to fail? It’s okay. We have to make it okay. As educators (and parents) we have to ENCOURAGE OUR KIDS TO FAIL; we have to ENCOURAGE OUR KIDS TO LEARN FROM THEIR FAILURE; and then we have to ENCOURAGE OUR KIDS TO TRY AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN while cheering them on along the way.

As a child that grew-up in the 90’s, I get fixated on anything Michael Jordan fairly easily. Fortunately, for me, with this topic he is all over the place. He was featured in another great Nike commercial, titled “Maybe It’s My Fault.”

We all want to ‘Be LIke Mike.’ But let’s remember this message, from Mike, “I’ve failed over, and over, and over again in my life. And that is why, I succeed.”

Hey! How about a dude named Thomas Edison? You may have heard his name once or twice. Well, Thomas was called “too stupid to learn anything” by his teachers and classmates. He had over 1,000 failed attempts at inventing the lightbulb...Can you imagine? Talk about resilience, grit, tenacity and focus. Other non-winners, such as miining methods, cement companies, cabinetry, pianos...the list goes on and on didn’t work either for our friend TE. I think one of my most favorite quotes of his is “I have not failed 10,000 times, I have found 10,000 ways things did not work. Where would we be today without a light bulb, phonograph and motion picture camera?

(Jeff) In my lifetime, I have failed over and over again in school ( yes, there were some D’s), sports ( missed the ‘88 Olympic Team by .12), relationships, music playing and arts to name a few.But I have to say, the BEST teachers and coaches I have had lead me to believe in myself, to try again and again, improve, and not give up...ever.

As leaders (we all are, by the way), this is what we MUST do everyday for all of our students, workers, friends, and family. Be there. Show them. Lead them. Encourage them. Cheer them on. Push to greater heights. Mentor. They ALL deserve it...and so do you and I.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Unlimited Together

This post was co-written with Lindsy Stumpenhorst, an amazing educator who is Team Kid all the way.

Previously, I (Eric, a principal in Eastern IA) wrote a blog borrowing the title and including Nike’s commercial, ‘Unlimited You.’ (Nike always puts-out great commercials. And, right now, they are on fire with their advertising. That blog resulted in some back and forth Voxing with my (Eric’s) PLN/Admins In Action friend, Lindsy, a principal in Northern IL. Our conversation resulted in the decision to co-write a blog. An idea was born. In addition to ‘Unlimited You,’ Nike also has ‘Unlimited Together.'
Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.57.00 AM 
Phrases from this clip spoke to the both of us, if you have a few spare minutes to watch you won't be disappointed. 

We Need Glory for a While…. Doesn’t it feel great to receive recognition? When my own children do something special, I (Lindsy) always point it out, because chances are...if I recognize it, they will do it again! We expect teachers to do a good job, care about our kids, and go the extra mile. I hear often “That’s part of their job!”...but let me tell you about teachers. Teachers send you a photo of your child smiling on the first day (because you cried at drop off), Teachers create a memory book of your child’s school year so they can remember how amazing 3rd grade was, and Teachers spend hours writing notes to every student in their class so they always remember how special they are. Teachers go above and beyond their job everyday, because they love kids. Let’s give them thanks, we all need a bit of glory. 

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.57.22 AMWherever You Go, I'm Right By Your Side...I (Eric) told teachers that some things might take a little bit longer to get done during this first year in my new position because I was going to heavily invest in relationships. As a result, I’ve been forced to wait until after dark to begin checking, sorting, and replying to email. This has been when I am dog tired. But these past couple of nights, I have been absolutely blown away by a couple of the emails that I’ve received. I’ve received a couple of the kindest, most encouraging emails from some of our teachers. Reading those emails is like the equivalent of drinking an entire pot of coffee. It is re-energizing. It feels great. Heartfelt, positive encouragement is the best resource that we have at our disposal. And it is unlimited. We can give it out whenever, wherever, to whomever. What are we saving it for? Let’s make an effort to make someone’s day, everyday. We are all in this together. We have to be. 

We Want Some Heroes In Our Story… Yes! Of course we want heroes and happy endings in all of our stories. A hero doesn’t have to wear a cape, though, either. Like Batman says in the The Dark Knight Rises, “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulder to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” Heroic acts happen ALL OF THE TIME in our schools. But too often we take those acts for granted. We only feel the urge to celebrate the monumental accomplishments and/or events. Let’s change that; let’s work really hard to acknowledge our heroes, daily, for their amazingness. I’m (Eric) guessing, if we do this, the heroic acts that we see in schools are going to increase. 

Save The Day… I (Lindsy), have seen teachers cry, laugh, hug, and celebrate with their students. No, wait...with their kids. They’ve been called “mom”, “grandpa”, “hey you”, and sometimes a not so nice pronoun, but still, they respond with a smile and a gentle word. Life happens for teachers. They have stress, problems, and tragedy...just like the rest of us. Although unlike the rest of us, kids don’t understand adult problems, nor should they. Last year my staff became aware of the tragic unexpected passing of a staff member minutes before the start of the school day. We made the decision to begin the day as usual, greeting students on the playground after first matter how hard it was to be selfless. Teachers swoop in to save the day and rarely do they ever ask for thanks. They have stars in their eyes on the first day of school, and tears in their eyes on the last. 
Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.57.54 AM

People, People, We Would Like You To Know We would like you to know this...teaching has never been easy, and it never will be. The future looks bright, because we see the Angels who shape it everyday. We see the life changing impact of our teachers. We’re right by their side...please join us, and be right by their side.    

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Unlimited You

I ran a seven mile road race earlier this evening. The school year started for me, Friday, when teachers officially returned to work. There are quite a few connections that I made between these two events over the course of seven miles.

The race starts down hill. My pace is fast. The school year starts fast, too; there is a lot to get done to get the year off to a seamless start.

Once you get down a hill, you have to come back up a hill. My pace slows down. This is true for the school year, too. Eventually you start to settle in to go at a rate that you can sustain throughout the distance.

My watch beeps. I've run one mile. This is a check-point; you could make the comparison to a benchmark assessment, progress monitoring, the end of a quarter, a trimester, or a semester. How am I doing? What do I need to alter based off of my performance.

My watch beeps, again. I've run two miles. The first mile is usually run at a quicker pace, as I mentioned earlier, the second mile usually slows down a bit. When I look at my watch, I'm almost shocked to see that my pace has increased. It's way too fast. I can't sustain this pace over the course of seven miles. Wait! What? I'm telling myself that I can't do something. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can continue at this pace. I WILL continue at this pace.

As educators, we will have enough things throughout the course of the year that will make our jobs difficult. Our own self doubt should NOT add into that mix. Yesterday, I showed the following video to our teachers. It has a GREAT message - we can do anything!

I continue on. And with this new attitude, my pace continues to increase. I am pushed by the pack ahead of me. They are where I want to be so I devote myself to gaining ground on them. I'm not focused on the finish line, but instead I am focused on the next person in front of me. Get to him/her, I tell myself, and then the next, and then the next; eventually, I will get to the finish line.

I am also pushed by the shadow alongside of me. I'm not going to settle for where I am. I have to keep moving forward. I cannot let the shadow behind me catch me.

There is a water station. I stop and get a quick drink. These are the opportunities that we have throughout the year to recharge our batteries - Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break.

My headphones died! What?! I did not expect this to happen. This, the unexpected, is the norm in education. We just keep going. We deal with it the best that we can, and we try to make improvements while we just keep going. And it is okay; the race continues.

I'll also mention that it was a windy race. I went into today thinking that the heat would be the biggest element that I'd battle for an afternoon/evening race in Iowa, in August. I was wrong. Temperature wise, it was very pleasant, but there was a strong wind. A wind that I didn't expect. I had to deal with that, too. How often does that happen to us as educators? We are expecting A, but then we receive B. It happens all the time. And, again, we deal with it.

It's the final stretch of the race. It's the end-of-the-school-year. I can see the finish line. It's almost summer. Will I coast? Or will I kick? I kick. I set a PR in a race that I've ran four times. I finish strong.