Make Yourself Clear: KlingSalon Edition

Last week at Teachers College, Columbia University, I presented a “KlingSalon” to 50 graduate students from the Klingenstein Center.

KlingSalon, the brainchild of Klingenstein Center Director, Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, is a series designed to bring school leaders together to listen, share, and wonder in community. I focused most of my planning energy on the latter — wonder and its close cousin, wander.

After introducing three key concepts from Make Yourself Clear — Authenticity, Immediacy, and Delight — I sent teams of participants into the surrounding school buildings and city. Each team was assigned a particular focus . . . and an option for exploration. (See the full assignment here.)

After a half hour outside the classroom and some storytelling inside it, I asked the individual students to translate the day’s experience into their local school contexts, to which they would return in late August. Though forced reflection isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time, I rarely like to leave a workshop without grounding it in the practical, which is different for every participant.

Some students generously shared their takeaways with me, along with some photos, and I grouped some excerpts below. It’s a simple, rough-cut story of what happens when a group of motivated learners are given some slight constraints and the freedom to explore the world around them.

It was really nice to explore with my colleagues. We were able to be both goofy and productive. [The exercise] hit the sweet spot that helped it to be a memorable educational and social experience. I often forget about the social part [of learning] and provide too much structure and individual siloing. This was a great reminder that less-structured group time can be really valuable.

I noticed that our deepest, most authentic interaction with strangers was enabled because of the time they invested in our interaction. Even though the women [we met] did not know the name of the statue [about which we were curious], they stayed with us and shared several anecdotes about the statue. They invested time from their day even after they knew they could not help us with our initial query.

“Nameless Bust”

In returning to my school, I will seek to be aware of the time I spend interacting and try to ensure it is beyond what is simply necessary. This will help create authentic interactions, regardless of context or topic and build deeper rapport across relationships. 

What stood out to me today, and what I hope to bring back to my school, is the concept of immediacy. I am the director of student life and am responsible for coordinating medical leaves. Communication is key in these moments — communication with parents, with the student, and with advisors. Our faculty often [comment] that they do not have the information they need. I want to consider when communication should occur when it is most meaningful to them and to me. My sense is that [the faculty feels] it is too late. I may even explain how I prioritize my communication, so they understand why it is delayed.

One simple takeaway from today’s KlingStudio was the power of activities beyond the classroom. Getting outside creates a memorable learning environment and is a great way to break up the routine of the day. This type of activity is a great way to introduce topics like research, field studies, or interviews. As a teacher, I want to find more ways to invite fun into my classroom and find ways to engage students out of their seats. As a learner, it is a great way to think about what types of activities make us learn in creative ways. As a leader, I need to think about finding ways to break up the monotony of school and create something exciting for my faculty.  

For me personally, I very much enjoyed getting out with people in my group. I haven’t been able to join in many activities with the cohort outside of classroom so this was a good experience for me with the group. This was low stakes and could be useful with faculty and advisories for bonding and reflecting on values and education. I could [also] translate this activity to the language classroom at many different levels to explore the linguistic landscape of a place 

One thing I enjoyed was that by giving some structure, but not too much, you let each group do something that was organic for them. I appreciated that. My group chose a quiet walk and look around an old church, because one of our group members had been there before and wanted to share the experience. It gave us time to walk and talk as a group, and having even a loose focus, led us into a space of curiosity where we were asking questions and sharing stories. 

As the leader of this particular learning experiment, I’m pleased to see the various unplanned — though certainly hoped for — ways that the participants will carry the work forward. I’m also pleased to see that the exercise helped, in some cases, the participants themselves to feel more connected to one another.

Make Yourself Clear: The Keri Potts Edition

Last week I highlighted Jason Wingard’s contribution to Make Yourself Clear. Today I want to highlight Keri Potts, who shows up as a guiding light in our chapter “Communicating with Immediacy.”

Reshan and I met Potts, Senior Director of Communications for ESPN, at a conference for entrepreneurs. Being participants, we were assigned to small groups run by mentors. In each group session, a mentor shared his or her story and then asked us to share a problem or opportunity that was currently on our minds. He or she would then try to share actionable advice or broader coaching to help us figure out our next steps.

The first thing I noticed about Potts (one of our mentors) was the way she blended somewhat contradictory characteristics. When she entered our room, she was strong and charismatic; some might say she “owned the room” from the start. But she was also humble and respectful. As she told a few stories about her work at ESPN, she was candid and transparent about the difficulties of PR and marketing, and the ways in which relationships and luck often make a difference in an outcome. At the same time, she was authoritative and clear — someone who had put in the time and worked hard enough at a craft to ensure a rigor of process, again and again. She was funny and fun to be around, but also appropriately serious.

When Reshan and I were writing about the way immediacy has altered communication practices for businesses, we knew we had to call Potts. It seemed to us — and still does — that she is one of the foremost practitioners of crisis communication in a time when immediacy of information, factual or not, and fair or not, shapes the large scale understanding of events. In her typical fashion, when offering advice, Potts is both pragmatic and aware of the philosophical underpinnings of her craft.

The thing with immediacy that has changed in my industry is having to let go of the foundation that so many of us were brought up with. That is, doing things the right way — everything from getting people on-board, agreeing with the message and how you are going to approach it, [and thinking about] what is responsible, what is ethical — all those things. If you try to hold onto that now, it is the scenario of, “the operation was a success, but the patient died.”

In her section of our book, Potts was reluctant to offer black and white, do-this-and-it-will-work solutions. Instead, she offers something much more valuable — the endorsement of near constant struggle. Like sport itself, we learned from Potts, communication has to be advanced yard by yard, pitch by pitch, shot by shot, lap by lap. You may lose some games, especially when, “public opinion [goes] off and running” so quickly and “everyone is a town crier.” But if you proceed like Potts (or, if you’re ESPN, with Potts), you can expect to win seasons. You can weather bad press cycles, take the time to do things right, put in stopgap measures when necessary, and contain the kinds of contradictions and multitudes that ultimately make you seem fully human to your audience. Just like Potts.

Thank you, Keri, for lending your voice to our book.

Photo by: ESPN IMAGES

Can I Learn Here?

I was silent (here) yesterday because I spent the better part of the day with students in the two-summer Master’s program at the Klingenstein Center, Teachers College. I plan to write up some notes — based on the students’ takeaways — but here’s the learning experiment / activity I asked them to complete. The idea was to use the heuristic from Make Yourself Clear to explore a local environment. The overarching question was, “Can I learn here?”

  1. Walk around the school, library, or surrounding city (not more than a few streets in any direction).  Your walk can be physical or digital, but stay with your group. 
  2. Engage with people, systems, space, etc. in an effort to gather information, goods, or services.  (So as to reduce the cognitive load of the exercise, and allow you to focus on Authenticity, Immediacy, or Delight, here are some options.  Option 1: Check out from the library 3 books about progressive teaching.  Option 2: Find suggestions for Columbia schwag as gifts for a 9 year old and 11 year old.  Option 3: Find five recommendations for dinner in the area.  Option 4: Uncover the history of a statue or other “named” artifact within or outside of the building.  Option 5: Choose your own adventure.) 
  3. As you complete the above transaction(s), take note of the way the experience relates to your assigned term.  Is it authentic or inauthentic?  Immediate or not?  Delightful or not? 
  4. Work with your group to identify and document a story that you think will be most instructive for the full group, when you return to our room.  Your documentation should be boiled down to a single digital image that you can share.
  5. Share your documentation with Steve by either emailing him or Tweeting an image with the hashtag: #MYCxKLI
  6. Return to the room by an agreed upon time and nominate one person from your group to serve as a storyteller who can explain the experience you selected and how it relates to the term you were assigned.
  7. All the while, be thinking, in some deep recess of your mind, about how the overall experience relates to school leadership, learning, and teaching. 

How the Artist Studies

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an interview Reshan and I conducted with Austin Kleon. I’m pleased with a lot of the topics we ended up covering and with the fact that it has connected with so many educators so far.

Here’s a current favorite quote:

KLEON: Much of my adult life has been about trying to figure out how I can continue as a student without school. As someone who’s been out of school for so long now, it’s been interesting to think about how the artist studies; it’s the artist’s job to remain a student forever and to think about how you have to sort of de-school yourself for the kind of work that I do.

50 Mile Friendships

The person in my life with the deepest and most lasting friendships has a simple rule.

If she’s on a trip and she’s within 50 miles of one of her good friends, she finds a way to see him or her. She takes a bus or train. She opens her room, throws a sheet over the desk to turn it into a dinner table, and creates a central place for a visit. She rents a car or hops on a bike. In the time that many of us would spend deciding if we were going to be able to squeeze in a visit, texting back and forth with our friends, she finds a way to bridge the distance. You see, she made that decision — once — a long time ago.

Decades of working this simple system have yielded exactly what you would imagine in terms of warmth, joy, and familiarity — friendships of deep and lasting significance.

Another debunking of the “this just happens” myth.

Foreword Momentum

For Make Yourself Clear, I had a very obvious co-author — Reshan Richards — but we both readily acknowledge that the book weaves together the voices of many other thinkers, writers, teachers, and businesspeople. For us, that’s part of the reason to write a book: to shine a light on (the good work of) others.

The first person you meet when you open MYC is Jason Wingard, Dean of, and Professor at, the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University. He wrote our Foreword — lucky for us for reasons that are about to be abundantly obvious. (Other writing from Wingard. And more.)

Source: https://sps.columbia.edu/school/office-dean

In his Foreword, Wingard widens our frame by talking about the value of “learning capacity” for companies. Ever the teacher, though, he returns often to the individual, and specifically, the individual’s capacity for growth.

Helping customers learn builds brand loyalty; at the same time, it contributes to their lives, providing them with new insights.

Building a culture of learning at a company drives corporate results, sure, but the process can also expand employees’ skills and prepare them to advance in their careers. Employees contribute to mission; the challenge of meeting mission contributes to employees. Wingard’s virtuous cycle.

You’ll glean all of that and more when you read Wingard’s Foreword. What you won’t glean is the extent to which his Foreword helped us to complete our actual book.

It arrived — pitch perfect — after we had submitted our final draft to our publisher. We thought we were finished and may have even opened some champagne. But then our editor asked us to trim 40 pages from the manuscript. We didn’t even know where to start as the bubbles went flat.

Then my wife turned to me and said: “You know, I read that Foreword. It’s really good. You should use it to focus your revision. Cut anything that doesn’t fit within its frame.” And that’s what we did. An annoyance, properly framed, became a blessing.

So the Foreword is good for you, the reader. But make no mistake — it was also good for us, the writers. It helped us to make Make Yourself Clear as clear as possible.