February 14, 2015

CHANGE, LEADERSHIP, & THEORIES

EDUCATIONAL WRITING FOCUSES ON CHANGE & LEADERSHIP

I've read an abundance of books, periodicals, articles, blog posts, and anything else that I could read over the past 25 or so years while I've been in education. As I started down the road of a degree in educational leadership about 20 years ago, I would say that 75% of what I've read has been about either LEADERSHIP or CHANGE. In fact, there has been some great stuff about CHANGE LEADERSHIP.

Theory of an Effective Theorist

Many theories abound about how to be an effective leader – a level five leader; many treatises highlight about how to go about change so it is effective, scientific, and will last; a great deal expound about change leadership and how important the leader is to the whole scheme. I may have spent too much time reading all of these ideas — some contradict each other, many focus on the focus on people.

One Simple Reality 

If I had a theory of my own, I would say that regardless of what you do in education, no matter what your role is, or even what title you wear, the number one focus in education has to be on the people — you have to focus on kids first (that's why we do what we do!) and then on your employees. I know that Tom Peters might disagree, but his focus is always on the corporate world. Really, I read a few blogs every day — Seth Godin's, Tom Peters, and a couple of others when they are updated — and many of them focus on the aforementioned topic of leadership.

Tribes & Connections

Godin writes a great amount about connections, tribes, and bringing people together. Peters writes much of PEOPLE FIRST. As an educational leader, I have always tried to create situations where my people can be successful. When they are successful, their students will also be successful. Then, overall, the school can be successful.

What If …

The other topic, CHANGE, has as many theories as leadership. Change, however, scares people, Change frightens everyone involved in the process of change. Change is the great unknown. The fear is always "What if this doesn't work?"

I would suggest, "What if it does?"

No matter which theories you subscribe to, you always have to remember that it's the people that make anything possible. Rule number one in education is that it's about the kids; rule number two has to expand on that idea and expressly state that it's about the people. Bottom line. I've been thinking about this issue a great deal lately. With the right people in place, the systems will take care of themselves. I've often said that with the right curriculum and practices in place, standardized tests will take care of themselves, as well. An educational system is a simple-complex process. And at the heart of that process are the people.

February 13, 2015

Observe versus evaluate versus analyze

Analyze THIS or THAT 

Seth Godin is the reason I decided to start a blog. After about two or three years of reading his work every day, I decided I could do this myself, so I started Rick's Writing Again. I don't post nearly as often as I would like, but I am writing more than I do when I go into my non–writing eras. Godin has written many thought–provoking ideas that resonate with me. One that I especially enjoy is called, "How to give feedback." It makes this reader think about the idea of giving my opinion of what I see against giving an analysis of what I've seen. 


What I want instead of your opinion is your analysis. It does me no good to hear you say, "I'd never pick that box up." You can add a great deal of value, though, if you say, "The last three products that succeeded were priced under $30. Is there a reason you want to price this at $31?" Or, "We analyzed this market last year, and we don't believe there's enough room for us to compete. Take a look at this spreadsheet." Or even, "That font seems hard to read. Is there a way to do a quick test to see if a different font works better for our audience?" (Godin, July 22, 2006)
We can all think back to our earliest years of "evaluating" personnel and what we have since learned. I have had the honor of evaluating many great people during the past 20 years. I've been able to establish a rapport at most times and be able to give honest feedback. I don't think, though, that in the early days I was much good at analyzing after an observation that led to an evaluation. I think in the discussion following observations, I always tried to get my people to analyze WHAT I SAW but I didn't ANALYZE WHAT I SAW for THEM. 

I spent a great amount of time probing during post–observation discussions, asking lots of questions to try to find out more about the lesson, unit, or year plan. Often, I encourage people to think "long" and not focus only on one snapshot, which is why I believe that walkthroughs are important, as well. 
If you're asked to comment on a first-draft proposal that will eventually wind its way to the chairman's office, this is not the time to point out that "alot" is two words, not one. Copyediting the document is best done just once, at the end, by a professional. While it may feel as if you're contributing something by making comments about currently trivial details, you're not. Instead, try to figure out what sort of feedback will have the most positive effect on the final outcome, and contribute it now. (ibid; bold text emphasized by Rick) 
I highlight the previous only to bring us around to the idea that we focus on the wrong — perhaps important, but wrong — ideas from what we observe. Often, that wrong "focal point" is because it's the low–hanging fruit, the easy thing to talk about. Leaders everywhere have to become more willing to discuss the OTHER STUFF — the things that can make a difference. Like what — like whatever it would take just a little more time to ANALYZE and DISCUSS which will lead to better performance and, ultimately, CHANGE. When there is no risk, there often is no reward.


February 11, 2015

And, upon second thought, YES THAT WILL WORK!

WE'VE GOT HIM ON THE SPOT … WELCOME BACK

"Welcome Back"

Welcome back
Your dreams were your ticket out of here
Welcome back
To that same old place you laughed about
The names have all changed since you hung around




Kirk Gibson once visited the Tigers as a member of the Kansas City Royals. Don't ask him about his experience on in Missouri. 

If you've ever read my blog for a week, chances are you know that Kirk Gibson is one of my heroes. When I was a young, impressionable Tigers fan, Gibby was a young, impressionable Tiger. It was the late '70s and he was brash, cocky, and heralded as the "next Mickey Mantle" by his manager, Sparky Anderson.

In 1993, when he returned from an exodus that saw him spend time in Los Angeles, Kansas City, then Pittsburgh, Gibby enjoyed a two–and–a–half year renaissance in Detroit. He then went into the TV booth, then into the dugout, then he was fired. He did his best interpretation of Horace Greeley's quote and headed west once again, to the Arizona Diamondbacks.


I know at least a few people will understand the significance.  

Now, Gibby returns to the booth (as does Jack Morris, former Tiger stud pitcher from the '80s) more seasoned having spent several years as a manager. He even won Manager of the Year for the D'backs. Ironically, it was former Tiger manager Jim Leyland's good friend Tony LaRussa who jettisoned Gibby and Alan Trammell in the fall allowing both of them to return to the Tigers. (If you click on my headline above, it links to a story by Lynn Henning). I believe Gibby's experience in the dugout will certainly bring an added element to the telecasts.

When Chris Brown sent me the tweet asking What are your thoughts? I knew I had to figure out quickly what happened. At first I wasn't sure. At second glance, I thought Yeah that's the right thing to do.


Stories abound that Gibby was upset first at how Sparky Anderson was basically ushered out the door but even more upset with how he and Trammell were fired after the '05 season. And the renaissance of the organization began in 2006 — A REASON TO ROAR! had returned to Detroit. Apparently, according to Henning, some discussions have been ongoing between the Tigers, Fox Sports Detroit, and Gibby. (I'm sure Tram had an impact here, too).


Gibby, #23. 

So, without further delay, let's say Welcome Home to Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris.


February 03, 2015

The RETURN of Kirk Gibson: The Aberration of an Illusion & the 1990s Detroit Tigers

THIS IS NOT ALL ABOUT PETE INCAVIGLIA (Really, it's not) 

BUT THE SLUGGER AND STRIKE OUT ARTIST IS SHROUDED IN IRONY ALL THE SAME

As all of my loyal readers know, I have an affinity for The Sporting News. The newsweekly provided life–changing opportunities for me as a child. I was "in the know" as a youngster because I read the magazine from front to back — not just the baseball information but all of the sports as well. I was disappointed when the writers analyzed the Tigers chances as between nil and none, but I continued to read. I even kept reading it after they let go some of my favorite writers, including Joe Falls who wrote for years as the sports editor at the Detroit News. The Tigers have always been my team, but the Tigers of the '90s and early '00s were "not good."


Mr. I's first year with the Tigers promised "A Whole New Ballgame." For a season, it seemed as if this proclamation were true. It was just an aberration in the midst of a long slide for the Detroit Nine. 

PEOPLE MIGHT LAUGH AT YOU WHEN YOU WEAR THE OLD ENGLISH D (A '90s Happening, Relived) 

TSN always provided a baseball preview issue, as well. But many other companies published an annual baseball preview. I used to look at all of them on the magazine stand. The way I chose which to purchase was based on where the editors predicted the Tigers would finish. If the scribe picked the Tigers to finish first, I bought it without a doubt. However, we Tigers fans went through many years when the Tigers weren't likely to win 60 games, let alone first place. For many (many, many!!!) years it was hard to identify a worthy Detroit Tiger, so I can't imagine how difficult it was putting together annual predictions. No one said much good about the Tigers in the '90s, even if things looked "better" prior to the '93 season.


Kirk Gibson was my first baseball hero. When he returned in '93, it seemed to make baseball right again, if only for a minute. 

RIGHT BEFORE THE DAWN

It's amazing to think that from about 1989 until 2006, the Detroit Tigers put such a poor product on the field. They went through several general managers, even more managers, and a great deal many players. After just missing winning the East Division in 1988, the Tigers went on a spin that was abysmal. Seriously, the lone high spot during that run was 1993 when the Tigers starters had high ERAs, Kirk Gibson returned in the outfield, and two 20-run games in the first month of the season. (It's all true, you can look it up.) The team finished 85-77 and actually had a fun season for the Detroiters. It was a team that would make the Yankees and Red Sox of later years envious: lots of walks. (The 1991 team was 84-78 but that team doesn't stick out beyond Bill Gullickson's 20 win season and Frank Tanana's decent season.)

During the crazy days of the '90s Tigers, the Tom Monaghan braintrust thought it would be a great idea to fire broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell. Later on down the road, the Tigers front office crew with (now, different names) would decide that Sparky Anderson (#11 in the background) also should be jettisoned. The Tigers became the property of Mike Illitch in August 1992, when he bought the team from fellow pizza magnate Monaghan. 

We believed the Tigers prospect–circus when they told us about the youngsters who would become stars. Tony Clark, Bobby Higginson, Damian Easley, and Luis Gonzalez were all entering their prime as hitters. Justin Thompson, Brian Mohler, and Seth Greisinger all seemed to be the future of a great starting rotation. Todd Jones and Doug Brocail anchored a strong bullpen. And Larry Parrish would lead this young team to the promised land. I once read that Buddy Bell had talked with Randy Smith and demanded a contract extension and when that didn't happen, he abruptly resigned. I also heard that the man who would take the helm, Larry Parrish, may have helped in the process … Anyhow, this team did not pan out.

Tony Clark, Bobby Higginson, Damion Easley, and Luis Gonzalez were all entering their prime as hitters. Justin Thompson, Brian Mohler, and Seth Greisinger all seemed to be the future of a great starting rotation.

Dean Palmer joined the fray for the '99 season and Brad Ausmus returned to lead the young pitching staff. Gonzalez was jettisoned to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the upstart Karim Garcia. The team looked like it might be halfway decent. It was not.

MANAGER GO–ROUND

I for one did not recall that the Tigers gave Pete Incaviglia a second cup of coffee with the team in 1998. Am I the only one who doesn't remember that acquisition? Randy Smith the the general manager at the time, Buddy Bell sat in the manager's seat until Larry Parrish suddenly took over. These, friends, were dark days for the Detroit Tigers? We went through Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish, Phil Garner, Luis Pujols, and Alan Trammell during a historic eight–year run. After the 2005 season, Trammell, Tigers' legend, was replaced by Jim Leyland, former Tigers farm system manager. It was the beginning of the return of the coolness of the Old English D.


The Tigers of 2006 begat a renaissance for the organization. 

February 02, 2015

Patriots' Brady Legendary with Super Bowl XLIX Victory Against the Seattle Seahawks

Bill Belichick Now a Certified Legend

That was a Cute Puppy

I admit it. I'm don't watch lots of college football on Saturdays, nor do I wait impatiently to watch the NFL on Sundays — or Thursdays or Mondays for that matter. I grew up a Lions fan, so I suppose I became jaded early on. This must be what it's like to be a Cubs fan in baseball, right? I do watch the Super Bowl every year, and I also watch the commercials. I don't think there were any incredible commercials last night, though the Budweiser puppy commercial tugged at the heart strings. The game was solid throughout, and the halftime show was interesting.



Pete Carroll Will Always Hear the Same Question Now … AND FOREVER

People will question Pete Carroll's decision to throw with 20 seconds left in the game. If the Seahawks had not scored a touchdown at the end of the first half EVERYONE would have questioned why Carroll didn't settle for three points; however, the Hawks scored a touchdown, the game was tied, and the play looked ingenious. I believe that if Seattle had scored with 20 seconds to go at the end of the game ON A PASS PLAY people would have been calling Carroll a genius because he knew that the Pats were expecting a run play, after all, the best player on the Seahawks is Marshawn Lynch. The only thing I question was having Russell Wilson set up in the shot gun. In fact, just before the play, I said, "Why's Wilson in the shot gun?" The answer was obvious …

Fight! Fight! 

The fight at the end of the game could have marred the outcome. Someone out there certainly understands that while Brady dropped to his knee the clock just simply couldn't run out. I was told it was because of all the flags, but I'm not sure that's the case. I think it was good that the game had to continue, though, or it could have ended in UGLY fashion. A game that is knocked for violence ends in violence — that's not what Roger Goodell had in mind, or is it? Conspiracy theorists ...

Super Bowl 50

Now, we have to get set for the first ever Super Bowl without Roman Numerals, Super Bowl 50. Apparently, the NFL thought that Super Bowl L just didn't look right. Look it up, friends, it's true.


January 30, 2015

It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But We Like It!)

Rockin' on the Radio

"When we started this band all we needed was a laugh. Years gone by, I'd say …" 

I never thought I would begin a blog post with a lyric from Motley Crue. It's not that I'm ashamed to be a Crew fan, it's just that their songs don't generally lead to quality content. At least not the kind of quality content I think I put forth here on Rick's Writing Again ... The song referenced is "Kickstart My Heart" which arrived on the DR. FEELGOOD album in 1989. Now, truly, at the time no one thought that 20 years later Motley Crue would be classic rock. It's a great tune and I think it resonates with many people. And this post isn't even a post about Motley Crue but about lyrics that catch people and stay with them … forever. 


KICK INTO GEAR 

The middle part of the song slows down and Vince Neil sort of spoken word says, "When we started this band all we needed was a laugh …" and then the song kicks back into gear and rocks out for another few minutes. The live version released a couple years later is actually a really good live song — and ti's hard to capture a good live song. Critics and fans consider KISS's 1976 live album recorded at Cobo Hall in Detroit and titled ALIVE to be a great live album; however, the fact is that it was heavily improved in post–production. But the song "Kickstart My Heart," which if I remember correctly was the last song on side one, was released as the "B–side" to the single "She Goes Down," but it might just have been the best song on the entire LP. Certainly it's the one that has outlasted the other album tracks. 

RESONATION

The middle part of the song means something different to everyone who hears the song, but anyone can substitute anything else into "band" and come away feeling pretty good. I think that's where the band got it right — the song isn't necessarily about Motley Crue but about the listener — and to me, that's the key for every song that anyone likes. What about *this* song makes sense to me. I think about the songs I consider my favorites and there's something about every single one of them that grabs me. Some songs it's just the jam, the music, but many songs it's the lyrics. 

LYRICS

When I was a youngster and buying every single cassette that arrived on the shelves of Ye Olde Music Shoppe in Elk Rapids or Camelot Music in Traverse City, I would spend hours looking over the liner notes. If I bought a new album and it didn't have the lyrics, I was disappointed; I felt like the artist was hiding something from me. This was 30 years ago, so it wasn't like I could hop on the Internet and see what John Mellencamp was slurring in "Hurts So Good" or get a clarification on a line in a Bruce Springsteen song. I still sing along to songs and realize that I often slur lyrics I don't really know or just skip them completely; if I hear someone else sing a line differently that I always have, I check it out. It's amazing to discover that for 30 years, I've been singing a song wrong — I hope I'm not the only person who has discovered this! 

In "Hurts So Good," for example, listen to the song and see if you know the second line of the song — the second line! I think I slurred that line for years. I know Mellencamp used to pull fans up on the stage to sing Hurts So Good, and now I wonder if anyone got the second line right:

"Hurts So Good" (Mellencamp/Green)
When I was a young boy
SAID PUT AWAY THOSE YOUNG BOY WAYS
Now that I'm gettin' older
So much older

WITH THEIR EARS GLUED TO A HIT 

Another point of reference, Jimmy Buffett's Changes in Latitudes album had the lyrics on the back of the album. I thought it was so cool to follow along to these songs which contained content I didn't really understand. I'm referring to myself as about a nine year old at this point — and then I found lyrics that he actually changed on the recording and wondered why. If you listen to the song "Miss You So Badly" about those surgeons on vacation and read the lyrics at the same time, you'll understand. You'll also get why the nine year old didn't get it! A great album, by the way, that ages very well. Buffett truly hit a home run with that platter.

THINK BACK

Remember those songs you thought were great as a kid? I used to sing along to "Hot Blooded," "My Life," "Lonesome Loser," and countless others. Seen through the eyes of a kid, the songs are just about best friends and sleep overs, but years later … It's uncanny when you suddenly realize what you used to sing about as a kid, totally unknowingly! You know what, though, you still sing that song every single time it comes on the radio, don't you?


THIS SONG WAS BANNED BY MTV. IT'S TAME BY MODERN STANDARDS. ENJOY.



January 29, 2015

The process of releasing a new piece of art (this could be a book, CD, movie ... )

WINNING isn't easy but it can be FUN 


Last February, I found out about a contest just before it ended. But I had an idea so I submitted it. Jeff Pearlman is a renown writer who specializes in telling true stories that read like novels. In The Bad Guys Won he puts you right back in the early '80s growing up with the Mets. In The Rocket That Fell To Earth, you feel like you know Roger Clemens and his family. Right now, as I read Boys Will Be Boys, I'm enjoying getting to know Jimmy Johnson's crazy team once again. After giving my idea, I added,
As a comparison, I have always thought it would be cool if musicians (we’ll use Kid Rock since I’m a Michigan person) would release some of their rough, demo material to their fan clubs for like a 24-hour period. Maybe it would just be streamed and not something that could be downloaded, but it would build up to the release of an album. If Kid Rock did that, I think it’s just different enough that it would further build his brand …  
As Kid Rock has prepped for his new album, he has released all the lyrics on Mondays leading up to the February 24 release date; in addition, he has released one video as well as an audio video for another song. Now, I'm not suggesting that anyone from Kid Rock's camp read the post by Pearlman, but the marketing going into FIRST KISS has been awesome. The lyrics have been cool to read ahead of time and try to determine what the song might sound like — and the videos have been actual songs. Furthermore, he also released a "behind the scenes" video for the making of the "First Kiss" video.

He hasn't released any of the rough cuts or anything like that yet, but he might. He has a month before the new LP drops. Even he suggests that this album has to be an improvement from REBEL SOUL.

"That was a bad album," Rock says. "I didn't spend enough time on it at all. So this one is more pressure."