Fearless Writing

Fearless Writing

fearless writing

What is a multi-genre project?

“A multi-genre paper arises from research, experience, and imagination. It is not an uninterrupted, expository monolog nor a seamless narrative. A multi-genre paper is composed of many genres and sub-genres, each piece self-contained, making a point of its own, yet connected to other pieces by theme and content and sometimes by repeated languages, images, and genres. A multi-genre paper may also contain many voices, not just the author’s. The craft then–the challenge for the writer–is to make such a paper hang together as one unified whole.”

Why should you and your students write a multi-genre project?

“Expository writing monopolizes thinking in education. As students move through school they writer fewer and fewer poems, metaphors, images, stories, and narratives. Exposition becomes their sole writing diet: reports of various kinds, summaries, essay exams, traditional research papers.”

“I oppose such exclusivity. Writing is a big mural world, not a snapshot. Writing is book reviews, email messages, notebook entries, news stories, love notes, commentaries, technical instructions, poems of many kinds, so many sub-genres that assembling a comprehensive list of them will almost certainly be incomplete. I don’t want students–kindergarten through postgraduate school–to become Johnny-One-Genres, which is what I was until I got to college.”

Tom Romano’s multi-genre website 

Have you tried a multi-genre project? Tell us about your experience and any tips you have gleamed.

Adopt a Letter of the Alphabet

Adopt a Letter of the Alphabet

Roy Peter Clark wrote a book that I absolutely love called Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every WriterEach chapter is a brief, accessible skill that can be read and implemented instantly. For example, I learned the power of descriptive verbs that show action, not from any of my teachers, but from Clark’s book. It transformed my writing. I taught action verbs to my AP students to help their essays stand out as more descriptive amongst the stacks of essays read each summer by the evaluators.

So, when I noticed Roy Peter Clark wrote another book called The Glamour of Grammar, I had to buy it. And I was not disappointed. The books are not written for a middle school audience per say, but that is the lens through which I view them, scouring for any and every useful nugget of knowledge I can share with my students and colleagues. Skimming the table of contents, I was immediately drawn to Chapter 3: Adopt a Letter of the Alphabet.

glamour of grammar

I cannot explain why, but ever since I was a kid, of all the letters in the alphabet, the letter ‘T’ has always been my favorite. This sounds like something that would resonate with younger Middle School students. What’s your favorite letter? What if you adopted it and studied it? How many different things could you learn about grammar, writing, and language with a prompt like this?

At the end of Clark’s chapters, he provides a few bullet points that serve as next steps for the reader/writer. Always one to enjoy games and embrace challenges, here goes…

“Make believe you have a favorite letter. Write the letter on a piece of paper and then randomly list words that begin with that letter. Read the words aloud. Consult with the dictionary and write down other interesting words that begin with your letter. Now write a hundred-word profile of your favorite letter.”

My favorite letter is…


Words that begin with ‘T’ (off the top of my head)…
Train, table, tablet, talker, tasty, terrible, two, Tuesday, tomorrow, together, truth, trust, tried, treated, torrential, treatise, treatment, treaty, trick, tick tock, tome’

Other interesting words I found in the dictionary…
tactful, takeoff, tap, takedown, touchdown, target, tax, teach, teammate, technology, tear, technique, t-bone, tai chi, tiny, tendon, Tennessee, tobacco, tattoo, taboo, tenfold, tenor, tepid, terse, tequila, Teddy

100 Word Profile
Throwing my mind back in time, I recall a forever fondness for the letter T. As a toddler, trains travelled across the top of my window sill; decorations tastefully tacked up by my mom. Truth, as an absolute, has always intrigued me and captivated my thinking. Tennessee is a place I wouldn’t mind traveling to or, in a somewhat distant tomorrow, residing. Theodore Roosevelt is one of my top five presidents. T is still my favorite letter.

What’s your favorite letter?

New York Times Review of The Glamour of Grammar

Great by Choice

Great by Choice

Great by Choice

In preparation for an upcoming executive team meeting, our team read chapter 2 of Jim Collins’ book ‘Great by Choice.’ The introduction was particularly fun to read as it compared two expedition team leaders – Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon, in their preparation and pursuit of being the first to reach the South Pole. ‘One leader led his team to victory and safety. The other led is team to defeat and death. What separated these two men?

Some favorite quotes:

‘You don’t wait until you’re in an unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance.’

‘You prepare with intensity, all the time, so that when conditions turn against you, you can draw from a deep reservoir of strength.’

‘And equally, you prepare so that when conditions turn in your favor, you can strike hard.’

‘Amundsen systematically built enormous buffers for unforeseen events. He designed the entire journey to systematically reduce the role of big forces and chance events by vigorously embracing the possibility of those very same big forces.’

In Collins’ research, he identifies what he calls “10Xers” (pronounced “ten-EX-ers”) – a term for people who built 10X companies (enterprises that beat their industry averages by at least 10 times.) 10Xers share a set of behavioral traits that set them apart from other leaders. They are not necessarily ‘more creative, visionary, charismatic, ambitious, blessed by luck, or prone to making big, bold moves.’

10Xers embrace a paradox of control and non-control. On one hand, they face continuous uncertainty and cannot predict significant aspects of the world around them. On the other hand, they reject the idea that forces outside of their control will determine their results, accepting full responsibility for their own fate.’

Fanatic Discipline – They display extreme consistency in action – consistency with values, goals, performance standards, and methods. They are utterly relentless, monomaniacal, unbending in their focus on their quests. They have the inner will to do whatever it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult.

Productive Paranoia – maintaining hyper-vigilance in good times as well as bad. Even in calm, clear, positive conditions, they constantly consider the possibility that events could turn against them at any moment, without warning. And they’d better be prepared. They are not distinguished by paranoia per se, but by how they take effective action as a result.

Empirical Creativity – At times of uncertainty, while most people look to other people for their primary cues about how to proceed, 10Xers look primarily to empirical evidence (meaning direct observation, conducting practical experiments, engaging directly with evidence rather than relying on opinion, whim, conventional wisdom, authority, or untested ideas.

Rank order the core behaviors from your strongest to weakest. What can you do to turn your weakest into your strongest?

Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback

Our team has recently discovered this fabulous book, recommended by Meredith Monk from Folio Collaborative. The authors outline the 3 types of feedback we all need and receive as human beings: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation.

None of these concepts are new, but the clarification of each one, as well as the interconnectedness of them are providing important insights for us. Just the summary from Chapter 1 alone has given us great fodder for discussion and reflection.

“Feedback” is really three different things, with different purposes:

Appreciation – motivates and encourages.
Coaching – helps increase knowledge, skill, ability, capability, growth, or raises feelings in the relationship.
Evaluation – tells you where you stand, aligns expectations, and informs decision making.

We need all three, but often talk at cross-purposes.

Evaluation is the loudest and can drown out the other two. (And all coaching includes a bit of evaluation.)

Be thoughtful about what you need and what you’re being offered, and get aligned.

Book Insights: The Advantage

The AdvantageBook Insights: The Advantage

A couple of years ago, our executive team read ‘The Advantage’ by Patrick Lencioni. The book is rich with insights and guiding ideas for any team or organization. Here are a few of the key takeaways.

Question 1: Why do we exist?
Employees in every organization, and at every level, need to know that at the heart of what they do lies something grand and aspirational.

Question 2: How do we behave?
If an organization is tolerant of everything, it will stand for nothing.

Question 3: What do we do?
a simple, one-sentence definition, something your grandmother can understand (no offense to grandmas).

Question 4: How will we succeed?
An organization’s strategy is nothing more than the collection of intentional decisions a company makes to give itself the best chance to thrive and differentiate from competitors.

Question 5: What is most important, right now?
Every organization if it wants to create a sense of alignment and focus, must have a single top priority within a given period of time.

Question 6: Who must do what?
Without clarity around division of labor, the potential for politics and infighting, even among well-intentioned people, is great.

The Advantage

The AdvantageThe Advantage

The Table Group

Lean Startup, Design Thinking, & Innovation



I’m reading a series of books together this month and enjoying the common threads of design thinking, as well as a process/cycle for innovation. It’s rewarding to see a high degree of similarity between what entrepreneurs and adults in the marketplace are reading/doing alongside what is being discussed and practiced regularly by students and teachers in our school.

WRAP Your Decisions

wrap your decisionsPeople are actually kinda bad at making good decisions. The book “Decisive” identifies the 4 villains of decision making as well as 4 steps for improving the process. These 4 steps are known as the WRAP process. This morning, our administrative team participated in an exercise to help reinforce that process as part of our regular practice.

wrap4 wrap1 wrap-process1

Scaling Up Excellence – Notes from Chapter 2 (Part 3 of 3)

There are numerous scaling choices including…

* national culture v organization mindset (how strongly should you weigh each when you expand to a new country?)

* careful advanced planning v learning by doing (how and when do you make the trade-off?)

* centralization v decentralization (how much power should rest with a few people at the top v many people throughout the organization?) do you believe loss of control will mean a loss of excellence?

* make, buy or rent decision (is it better to create your own pocket of excellence, buy an existing team, or smaller organization that has what you need, or rent consultants to develop and spread excellence to your people?) (at one point we compiled a list of more than 50 different scaling decisions)

“During World War II, sixteen U.S. shipyards built over 2,600 Liberty Ships. When first built in 1941, it took about six months to complete each one. By late 1943, it took about thirty days; but whenever a new shipyard started building, it still took a year or so before the new shipyard became that efficient.”
shipyards3 shipyards2 shipyards

“The burdens of expansion can be enduring, and disastrous, especially when bad assumptions are made about new locations, employees, or customers.”

“The key to using the guardrail strategy is specifying as few constraints as you possibly can–picking those previous few that matter most and pack the biggest wallop, and then leaving people to steer between and around them as they see fit. Keeping the list of constraints short also reduces the burden on leaders and teams that are charged with scaling, and on frontline employees who are asked to live the new behaviors and beliefs.”

Scaling Up Excellence – Notes from Chapter 2 (Part 2 of 3)

“Though there is no magic formula to make the vexing tensions and trade-offs vanish, the best leaders and teams stay on the lookout for signs of overkill. They search for signs of excessive “localization” or “standardization” – signs that it is time to move a little, or a lot, toward the other end of the continuum.”

Three Questions That Can Help Detect When a Move is Wise

1. Do you suffer from delusions of uniqueness? 
Shrewd adaptations to local constraints are essential for expanding a footprint. But beware of leadership teams that balk at replication because they–or the settings they are in–are so “special” or “different.” They may be suffering from delusions of uniqueness that foster misguided Buddhism. Too often, we humans convince ourselves that proven rules or technologies don’t apply to us or the apparently unique place or situation we are in, when, in fact, we are fooling ourselves.”

“The biggest complaint tat people have about health care is that no one ever takes responsibility for the total experience of care, for the costs, for the results.”

2. Do you have a successful template to use as a prototype?
“Finding the right blend of “standard” and “custom” when you are scaling up an organization often requires a messy, time-consuming, and costly process of trial and error. But some strategies speed such learning. If you aren’t sure, a good general rule is to start with a complete model or template that works elsewhere and watch for signs that certain aspects of the model aren’t working and need to be rebuilt, replaced, or removed.” We recommend resisting the temptation to roll out an unproven mishmash of best practices if you can avoid it. It is essential to identify a template that can be ‘seen’ and ‘touched’ in a single, specific location.”
prototype suit1Iron_Man_film_armor

3. Will bolstering Buddhism generate crucial understanding, commitment, and innovation?
“Relying on prebuilt, replicable, and proven “subassemblies” usually produces cheaper, faster, and more reliable solutions. As we saw with those Boston knee surgeons, there are times when-no matter how mightily people object–replication is a superior strategy. Delusions that each of us is a special person in a special place can gum up the works. Yet injecting a bit of Buddhism has advantages (beyond just enabling customization) that should be factored into scaling decisions.”

Scaling Up Excellence – Notes from Chapter 2 (Part 1 of 3)

Chapter 2 begins with a story about ‘Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, or as everyone calls it, “the d.school” – founded in 2005 to teach and spread design thinking – a hands-on approach to creativity that focuses on identifying and filling human needs.’
d.school-FC-2A philosophical debate about how to “scale up” began with some questions…”What is our goal? Is it more like Catholicism, where the aim is to replicate preordained design beliefs and practices? Or is it more like Buddhism, where an underlying mindset guides why people do certain things – but the specifics of what they do can vary wildly from person to person and place to place?”
buddha-christ“Managing the tension between replicating tried-and-true practices and modifying them (or inventing new ones) to fit local conditions weighs on decision makers, shapes key events, and leads to success or failure. When should we shun local customization vs. rail against the “replica trap,” the misguided belief that we can accomplish the same result widely by simply doing the same thing all over the place?”

“The best leaders and teams often strike the right balance between replication and customization, between Catholicism and Buddhism, by acting much as if they are working with Lego bricks.”

“Four seasons specifies 270 “service culture standards” (down from 800 in the 1990s) that capture lessons from hotels across the globe, providing guidance for managers and front line employees, and ensure predictability for guests.”

“If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”

“Laboring to create a local translation of a mindset magnifies the feeling that “I own it and it owns me. Local ownership also creates commitment because the adjustments that locals decide to make will help determine success or failure; such responsibility–and the justified credit and blame that often go with it–fuel the feeling that a scaling effort is “mine” or “ours.”

“…most scaling studies in schools focus on the “expansion of numbers” and the maintaining of “fidelity” (i.e., precise replication of the original model). The role of local “reform ownership” is usually ignored. Yet giving people the power to tailor the template they implement can bolster understanding throughout a team or organization.”

“Tilting towards Buddhism is especially useful when you have the right mindset in your organization or project but don’t yet have a complete template that has worked elsewhere. Even a dash of Buddhism can spur motivation and innovation.”