Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Curiosity and Inquisitiveness

(Luis Valentino) Among the many challenges in raising our son is helping him to understand the social construct that is school, the community he engages with, and the home he inhabits.  Setting expectations, providing opportunities for him to practice and reflect on them, and establishing a system of accountability for a six year old an important part of our parenting.  However, establishing boundaries for him cannot, and do not (at least we hope) stifle his creativity and his curiosity.

As Gini Cunningham describes in the article below, Curiosity and Inquisitiveness, keeping our children's curiosity alive is a collective effort.  Together, we can help students to be explorers and discover their world, and not stifle its possibilities.

By Gini Cunningham

Kids are naturally curious as they inquire about their surroundings and the rest of the world. Few
children refuse to admire bugs, even going to the extent of picking them up, petting them, and often trying to sneak them into the mouth for a quick flavor check. Kids wonder at sparkling rainbows, gurgling streams, fluttering birds, and flashing stars. Their curiosity grows as older siblings, friends, family, and parents inspire study and discovery. This curiosity is snuffed when this same group is too quick with explanations, thus extinguishing exploration, or with discouragement when it comes to figuring out answers through experimentation and wonder. Some of this tamping down may be a necessity in a burgeoning classroom of students or with harried, exhausted parents racing to meet urgent needs, but it is sad to watch kids slink into "Just give me the answer" mode for the sake of speedy teaching and learning.

To retain and build curious, inquisitive minds we need curious inquisitive parents, instructors, and school leaders. While tossing out the correct response is simple and fast, it does little to ignite the imagination of young minds and so, over time, kids develop their "get it done fast" way of thinking. Why show work in math when it can be solved mentally (or by copying from a friend)? Why delve into the cause and effect of an event when the aftermath is already visible? Why use hands-on experimentation when a brief glance at the Internet will reveal the potential answer with no muss or fuss? Why write an essay, a letter, or jot down notes when novel thoughts and ideas are not hailed or encouraged? Why stress about thinking when instant data from multiple-choice exams churns out numbers galore offered up as proof or failure of concept attainment? Why hire and mentor highly trained teachers when a computer program can warehouse enormous numbers while expediting a worry-free, thought-free, assembly line class of students?

Because, as you already can surmise, an excellent instructor supplied with ample materials and tools, can reach and teach and change lives in personal ways that no sure-shot program or purchased media can. We do not need more kids in isolation. We already have this in the game-enthralled, finger-tapping engrossed, electronics-addicted kids of today. Notice the next time you chat with a youngster or adolescent if they are able to make instant eye contact as you launch a conversation. Many do not, or worse yet cannot, because they are accustomed to looking down at a device not up at a face. When the child's eyes finally engage yours, conversation is often difficult as s/he is used to texting not talking. Moving into complete sentences is another challenge. When abbreviations like LOL reign, single word answers suffice as the response of choice. And don't even get me started on writing. Between abbreviations, quick answers, spell-check, and spell-neglect, formal writing is drifting away at an exorbitant speed.

As a teacher it may be tough at first but in time you can bring kids back to inquisitive, curious thought and exploration. "What if... ?" "How come... ?" "Theorize and explain why... " are just three questions that should guide instruction and learning. Hands-on always trumps computer generation of facts; personal research and investigation always beat out a pat answer. Parents, you have an even greater responsibility to step up from birth with questions and situations and experiences of wonderment. While at times the repetitive "Why?" of a child may drive you crazy, focus on the astonishment and surprise, the inquisitiveness and marvel that you are creating. Relegate the video games to the closet, the television to limited access, the computer to a far corner so that you can re-engage and re-ignite wonder of living and life.

Article Source:  Curiosity and Inquisitiveness

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Myth of the Hero: My Reflection For A New Year

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. - Joseph Campbell

One of my favorite scholars is Joseph Campbell who is known for his PBS video series, The Power of Myth.  I appreciated the edification it provided viewers, and the impact Campbell had on George Lucas' production of the Star Wars series.  We were the beneficieries because were were able to enjoy amazing science fiction movies with powerful messages.  And now that the new blockbuster, Star Wars: The Force Awakens,  is all the rage, the works of Joseph Campbell are once again being reflected through the words of journalists, critics, and audiences.  And while the philosophy behind the movie was impressive, I was even more affected by his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  The book reflects Campbell's grand narrative through myths and tales told throughout history by peoples around the world. It is the monomyth of humankind's heroic journey; a journey we all take.

I was later reintroduced to Joseph Campbell while working at Paramount Pictures.  During the shooting of a movie (whose title I can't recall), a memo was shared that focused on the writer's journey.  It described the Jung's archetypes, and framed the hero journey through Campbell's outline. As you know, many novels and movies reflect the mythology that Campbell introduced.  

Meaningful for me was the emergent construct, which lent itself to answering universal questions about the meaning of life, who I am, and what I am doing here on earth.

As I look to 2016, I can't help but reflect on the work of Joseph Campbell.  He has created a space for me to to reflect on my own journey, where I've been this past year, what I accomplished, how I handled the challenges faced, and what I am looking forward to creating for myself and my life moving forward.  The  frame I'll use is comprised of the 4 phases of the Heroes Journey cycle.
  • Call to Action/Adventure:
  • Supreme Ordeal/Initiation
  • Unification/Transformation
  • Road Back/Heroe's Return
Embedded in these phases are 12 steps that describe discrete actions to help me better understand the key aspects of my journey.  These aspects include:
  1. Moving my family to Albuquerque and buying a home
  2. Being hired and resigning from my new job after only a few months
  3. Starting the Valgar Institute: A Book Publishing Company
  4. Reflecting on the results of those actions and the learning it has provided
  5. Revisiting family connections
  6. Identifying the next steps
  7. Creating new opportunities
Along my journey and reflection this year, I am hoping for sound lessons that become a part of who I am and what I represent. For as Margaret Wheatly says, "Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful." Through this process I believe that I will be creating new possibilities that build upon the blessings I have received throughout my life, manifesting a face along the hero's journey.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ramon Cortines: His Work, His Legacy

I received an email this afternoon from a former colleague in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of working with him during my 24 years with LAUSD.  His email surprised me because it contained a copy of the farewell letter Ramon Cortines had sent to the staff. And while I knew that Mr. Cortines was leaving the school district at the end of the semester, I didn't realize that today would be his last day.

I had the honor of working for Mr. Cortines during his three stints as interim superintendent, following the separation, resignation, etc., of a previous superintendent.  I will say that Mr. Cortines had a style of leadership that many found challenging to embrace.  At times he was brash and impatient. At other times he was warm and friendly, and easy to talk to. It wasn't' always easy to figure who he was going to be during an interaction.  

I had the pleasure of working for Mr. Cortines when I served as Principal and Director with LAUSD.  I, too, struggled at times to figure out how best to address him. And while I didn't see him all that often, eventually, I came to realize that it wasn't necessary to try and figure him out. It was more about my becoming clear that what mattered to him was serving student and community, and everything else was secondary, including the adult interactions.  Mr. Cortines truly believed in putting students first.

I recall an evening during my time as Director when he came to visit, Gratts Elementary School, now known as GLAYS.  I was working with the school team to write its Pilot school proposal.  We were working late into the evening when he showed up to see how we were doing.   We all thought he needed something, but in fact he came to ask the team how he could be of service to ensure that whatever the plan espoused, it be directed toward meeting the needs of the students in what was a highly impacted community. He shared that he understood the challenges faced by the teachers and staff in that school community, and wanted to reassure the team that he was there to make sure the plan did what it was designed to do. 

I believe that a large part of his legacy will be his commitment to children.  It is clear that in serving the way he did, he was striving to transform the live of young people, and their communities, for the better.  And he did so not only in Los Angeles and California, but across the country.  There are many individuals throughout the country, who were in a district he led that have grown up to be successful in life because of his commitment to them.  And while much will be joked about regarding his crankiness and impatience with people, even more will be said about the difference he has made to advance the institution of public education.

Nelson Mandela once said that, "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead."  Mr. Cortines, I truly believe that you have led a significant life, and truly deserves our gratitude for having chosen education as both his vocation and his avocation.  I wish you well sir, as you move to the next phase of your life's journey.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Valgar Institute: "We All Have A Story To Tell"

 "Storytelling is the most powerful way 
to put ideas into the world today." - Robert McKee

Growing up, one of the events I always looked forward to was when my grandmother sat with me and tell me stories about  our family's adventures, past and present, as well as tales she remembered that could have taken place, or not.   And while my grandmother felt that she did not have much to tell, or the affinity to tell a story, I thoroughly enjoyed being transported
to locations where the events had taken place. As I got older, I began to find the same joy in the books I read.  I always wondered how the stories my grandmother told  would have read had she put pen to paper.  They would have been great stories to read, and reread.   

My father, a polymath, became a published author of literature and poetry.  And while I didn't grow up with him, I had the opportunity to go back and read the few works in my possession. This inspired me to write my own story. So, I decided to first write a teacher handbook and, later, Libby (my wife) and I wrote a snowboarding book.  Both were great experiences.  In time, my experiences led to my interest in the idea that we all of a story to tell.  If given the opportunity, how many people would sit down and write their story for the world to read. 

So, Libby and I decided to bring the Valgar Institute: A Publishing Company, back online (I made an initial attempt several years ago).  Jean Luc Godard said that "sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form."  We are hoping to create a community for writers and readers who believe that everyone has a story to tell.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Moving Forward

This past July, my family and I moved to Albuquerque, so that I could serve as the Superintendent of the Albuquerque Public Schools.  I was truly humbled that I had been selected to lead the work in this city.  We purchased a home in the city, Libby (wife) enrolled Anthony (son) who was starting kindergarten, in the Albuquerque Public Schools.  By all accounts we were settling in, believing that Albuquerque and the school district, had chosen us. 

But that was not the case; my tenure was short-lived.  A series of events led to my separation from the school district after only 3 months. I was stunned.  I could not imagine finding myself in this position - I truly believed we were here for the long term.  And while the media had a field day with the story, there is much that might never be known or understood. Hopefully time will provide a broader perspective and things will become clearer.

I will be honest when I say that leaving APS was very difficult.  The opportunity of making a positive difference in the lives of those I was hired to serve was real, and my commitment to affecting change within the community was full.  Worse yet, my leaving happened at the same time that Libby's dad passed away.  Libby and her dad were extremely close, and she had been dealing with it for some time.  Anthony was starting school and I certainly didn't want for the little guy to have to deal with my situation.  The last thing they needed was for me to burden them with my situation. At the same time, I know that Libby and Anthony felt the stress, and were very supportive: it was a difficult and lonely period.

Coming to terms with the reality that I was no longer the APS Superintendent took some time.  I had never experienced this with any job I ever had. Dealing with previously unknown emotions was a challenge.  Fortunately, there were folks who stepped up.  They checked in on us, letting us know that they were there for whatever I or my family needed; we will be eternally grateful for their support.

After a short time spent licking my wounds, I began to own my response to the situation and the actions I needed to take moving forward.  In addition to acknowledging the support we received from friends and family, I started reading some books and articles that were either recommended to me, or that I discovered.  I won't run through my bibliography, but there is a book that I would like to mention.   Javier Camara and Sebastian Pfaffen wrote, Understanding Pope Francis: Key Moments in the Formation of Jorge Bergoglio as a Jesuit.  It was written in Spanish, and translated.  The book was great in giving me insight into the life of a unique individual who became a word leader.  And while the entire book is insightful, the section describing his return to Cordoba, which the authors call a "time of darkness and purification", has really guided my thinking about my separation from APS.  I recommend the book to anyone feeling lost, who is trying to make sense of things, and looking for direction.   A friend also recommended that I journal, something I did for many years, as a way of grappling my feelings and thoughts through reflection.  So using Evernote, I have spent a good amount of time retelling my story, how I feel about it, and how I'm using that story to move forward. The reading and the writing have both been very helpful. 

I have also started applying for positions.  While in the immediate returning to a superintendency might be less of an option because the exposure the events that transpired have had,  I am applying to a couple that are coming online.  I'm also applying for other positions, and making connections with individuals who can lend their wisdom.  This has refocused my energies in a way that will allow me to get my career back on track.

Hopefully, what happened in Albuquerque was about a learning I needed to have or and experience I needed to go through. As my wife and others have said, "God has a plan for us, and going through this was part of that plan - and sometimes God uses pain for good."   I have certainly gained a new perspective and new appreciation for the role of the superintendent.

During our time in Albuquerque we have met some amazing people who are now great family friends.  My son has new friends he loves to play with, Libby volunteers in our son's classroom, and church is part of our family's experience. We are customers of the school district and residents of the city of Albuquerque.

During my short tenure at the helm, I came to see that APS has the potential to transform the lives of students. I want to see APS succeed, and wish it nothing but the best, and look forward to seeing its impact on students, parents, staff, and community.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


As those of you who read my blog know, I went on hiatus in June.  I am back, and ready to continue sharing my thoughts.  I was not able to successfully archive my previous entries, or its format, so I will be starting from scratch.  The blog will be under construction for a while.