The more the data banks record about each one of us,
the less we exist.
-Marshall McLuhan, The Medium Is the Massage (1967)
Things that cannot be described by numbers should not be described by numbers.
As we attempt to quantify every part of schooling and learning with measurable indicators, be wary. A lot of the most important, actionable “data” from a classroom cannot be tortured into an integer, benchmark, zone, indicator, or anything else that looks good in a report.
That’s why the professional commentary from a teacher/hall aide/specialist/bus driver/custodian is the most important data. Like the lookouts in the mountains of Aeschylus’ Oresteia or Lassie scratching at the well, your people who are working with and around students have the best data-- their observations, thoughts, and intuitions.
Across fields, from the military to medicine to meteorology, the best leaders know that numbers only capture a slice of what is actually happening. Making “data” the supreme indicator of what’s happening at your school makes everything else less meaningful and actionable.
There are few people more dangerous (or useless) in a school than a leader whose perfectly organized spreadsheets have made them comfortably numb.
The above excerpt is from Teachernomics' upcoming book "OTHERFULL," an earnest and irreverent guidebook on leadership for great superintendents, principals, and other school leaders.
OTHERFULL, by Mike Kleba & Ryan O'Hara. ©2019.
An international speaker, author, artist, and entrepreneur, Mike Kleba has been a public high school English teacher and theatre director for 20 years. He serves as co-organizer of the NYEdTech Meetup (the nation's largest) and sits on the SXSW EDU Advisory Board. Interested in courage and vulnerability, he’s run the NYC Marathon, gone hang-gliding in Brazil and bungee jumping in New Zealand, and has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro
How being OtherFull changes everything
To begin, I have no idea how to talk about suicide.
I‘m sure that I’m not alone in feeling that way when it comes to talking about this and other don’t-embarrass-us topics like sex, race, gender, death, and poverty. Look, we can claim we’re all getting woke in the 21st Century. But for some things, it’s still very much the Victorian era here in the home of the free and the brave.
I’ve had my share of brushes with suicide. A good friend of mine killed himself in high school; a dear friend has lost a parent to it. And, like probably every single teacher you know, I’ve seen a more than a few of my students and grads leave a bewildered wake of anguished family and friends behind. It’s an awful, awful business.
I’m not here to talk about suicide — but I’m not sure I can talk about Anthony Bourdain without mentioning it. His loss hit me personally, like it did to so many others. His work inspired me to start writing about the power of teaching more than a decade ago. Bourdain’s death sucks. For those who knew the man, worked with him, shared their lives with him, for his family and his dear friends, we can only offer our weak condolences. To all those left behind by suicide, I wish whatever healing, truth, and peace they can find.
I wanted to write a few words about why I think Bourdain was such a powerful influence on so many people. Why so many people felt an intimate connection with this self-admitted crusty old soul. Why people the world over gravitated to his storytelling, his humanity, and his passion. Why they wanted to literally do what he did, eat what he ate, listen to what he listened to, watch what he watched, and read what he read.
For me, it’s simple. Anthony Bourdain was an amazing teacher.
I can’t claim to know about him as a man in his personal life, but his influence on millions through the page and screen reveals his keen understanding of how to teach like a master. Here are three things Tony did — and that you, dear reader, if you have any desire to teach, lead, or influence, should do too.
1. Bourdain met people where they are
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.” -Anthony Bourdain
Great teachers must first be great learners.
Becoming a visitor in another town, country, or culture is an act of humility, especially if you do it with a true dedication to discovery. Leaving your own dialed-in comforts and boundaries forces you from your easily-overlooked dictatorial power. You have to leave having your bed the way you like it, your bathroom routine, your coffee style, your “I’m the master of my own world, damn it, and I like it the way I like it” world every human craves. Every one of us loves to be King (or Queen or whatever-title-ya-like) of our own realm.
Many of us travel in bubbles in which we try to recreate our home lives around us. We don’t go to be changed. We go to be handled. To be fêted and fawned upon.
We say things like:
“They don’t even have HAMBURGERS?!”
“This beer is fking WARM”
“where’s the air conditioning?”
“A barefoot lady cooking in the kitchen?! Umm…NO.”
As travelers, so many of us suck.
Hell, I’ve taken high school students from Long Island on tours to three different continents and more than a dozen countries. Those kids will turn down the best morcilla you’ve ever had in your life in order to stuff their faces with vending machine Pringles and Coke. Unless it’s instagramable, they couldn’t give a rat’s arse about going into that 1000 year old church or taking that tango class. And before we laugh: how often do we go out of our way to go somewhere to be uncomfortable on purpose?
2. Bourdain ate what other people ate
“I was in Liberia, and I think it was a tribal situation. They were eating out of one bowl full of unrecognizable protein. It was hot, very poor hygiene, definitely iffy. To be polite, I joined in. I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen.” When the inevitable occurred, “it was really touch and go,” Bourdain [says] with solicitous understatement, so as not to trouble a delicate stomach. “I was crawling around praying for the better part of 48 hours. It was bad.”
-excerpt from “Anthony Bourdain Will ‘Try Anything Once’ — but He Isn’t Calling in Sick”
I was a picky eater when I was kid. Butter noodles, pizza, and fries or die!
I lived in a small world, indeed. That is, until I went to Kenya as 21 year old privileged white boy at the end of college. At that point, I’d never had curry, Chinese food, or even that alien green paste called “guacamole.” I was a wise-cracking idiot, joking about the “Ebola stew” that was put in front of me at our first meal. The school leader of my trip, a missionary Catholic priest named Father Don, put me in my place. “Mike, you are embarrassing me, our hosts, and yourself. These people are PROUD of who they are and the food they put on the table. You look and sound like a child.” My face turned purple. It did the trick: not only did I knock off the bad comedy, I started to eat everything. I ate it all: antelope, ugali, goat— and I suddenly transformed from a tourist to a traveler. I was no longer eating — I was discovering. And many trips, tours, and experiences later, I’ve never been the same.
3. Bourdain let other people tell their own stories
The power in Bourdain’s sincerity speaks to the greatest power a teacher can wield: genuine and passionate interest in other people. Teachernomics' cofounder Ryan O'Hara and I call it being “otherfull” and we are writing a series of essay about it. We can think of few people who presented a better professional example of it than Anthony Bourdain. Because he started with respecting that other people’s stories were important, almost everyone opened their doors to him. They wanted to teach and learn from him.
Imagine a world in which every teacher — and every leader — was driven by being otherfull. A world in which we relished other people’s stories and let them impact us as much as we want to impact them.
I hate that Anthony Bourdain is gone and the way he left — but, man, let’s remember the way he lived and learned. You want to have an influence? You want people to follow you, learn from you? Get out of the center of everything. Be curious. Listen. Pay attention. Lose those reservations.
Sources not already linked above:
You already have everything you need to become an amazing leader
Isaac Newton believed a lot could be learned from spinning a bucket filled with water.
Of course, Newton believed something could be learned from anything. Everything. A piece of glass in sunlight taught him about light frequencies. Marbles taught him about thermodynamics. An apple taught him about gravity.
Newton’s experiments grew out his curiosity about the world around him. Centuries later, scientists and science-haters alike still use his work to explain big ideas in simple ways. His willingness to try new things helped him invent calculus and physics, which you shouldn’t hold against him.
And while we all know Isaac Newton, many of us have never heard of his experiment that inspired a young Albert Einstein to create a theory that would change the world. In fact, it was another thinker named Ernst Mach (after whom the speed of sound is named) who put Newton’s experiment in Einstein’s lap to help him erect E=mc2. Don’t know what that most famous formula in the world even means? Don’t worry. Almost nobody knows what the hell it means. But this might help. Have fun with that later.
For now, all you have to think about is Newton’s bucket of water — and how it can help you unlock the secrets of the greatest influencers, teachers, and leaders in human history.
everything is connected
Go out into a field some clear night, somewhere you can actually see the stars. Look straight up into the sky and start to spin around, as if you were a bucket in the 17th century. Notice two things: the stars appear to be “circling around you” with the ones over top your head going slower than the stars closer to the horizon. Also notice that your arms begin to pull away from your body.
Notice too that you are alone, spinning in a field in the middle of the night. This is what has become of your life. Maybe this is a good thing?
Mach theorized your arms floating upward were somehow related to the stars spinning, in the same way that Newton thought the water spun because the bucket spun. Put simply, your arms lifting from your body as a result of centrifugal force are directly connected to your understanding that the stars are spinning. You can’t see the stars spin like that unless you also experience centrifugal force. Einstein, thrilled by this notion, explained it by saying that “a particle’s inertia is due to some interaction of that particle with all the other masses in the universe.” The big point: everything ever is somehow connected to everything else.
You might already be interested in this idea. You might be a fan of the Butterfly Effect, in which a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing causes a tornado in Wichita. You might be a Moneyball baseball fan who sees every piece of meaningless-looking data as a yet-to-be-understood number that could help you predict the next World Series winner. Maybe you are political and believe this is why globalism is inevitable and that all humans are of the same family. You might find spiritual comfort in this insight as well, seeing it as proof that there is a reason for randomness, tragedy, and the inexplicable.
You might also be a believer in the idea that Kevin Bacon really is only six degrees away from every actor in every film ever.
Stop explaining, start contexting
When you study the great thought leaders in the history of the world, you find that they aren’t explainers, they aren’t coercers, they aren’t even leaders.
They are the ones who are relentlessly concerned with how other people see and understand the world. They know that connections are waiting to be unearthed; they believe that every single person’s point of view is an opportunity.
They are Contexters.
Mike Kleba has been teaching high school English and Theatre for nearly 20 years. Co-founder of Teachernomics.com, Kleba has spoken on stages around the world about the importance and power of teachers in leadership. He believes that humanity’s most important asset is the imagination.
"Theatre is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."
Subsequently, stories are the most powerful tool in the human toolbox. They are omnipresent and all encompassing. Nothing that happens in the human experience doesn’t have stories told about it. Everything we have ever understood can be understood through a story. Fiction or history, journalism or joke, a story is the basic building block of human thought and influence. All stories are a kind of theatre.
The word "theatre" comes from a Greek word that means “the place where we observe the world.” Consequently, the seemingly common role of directing theatre is, in fact, extraordinary. Singular. Theatre direction works with the deepest and most complete machinery of humanity’s first storytelling. The entirety of the job is as ancient as our DNA and as common as laundry.
So, whether you are an author, philosopher, theologian, politician, CEO, advertiser, filmmaker, teacher, marketer, instagram influencer, celebrity chef, or parent, you are a theatre director. You must commit to building a culture of collaboration if you want to have any real and lasting influence.
In my 15 odd years of directing theatre, I’ve come to learn that there are powerful leadership principles at work in the job. Beyonce, Steve Jobs, Oprah, Colin Powell, Yo-Yo Ma, to Anthony Bourdain, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Warren Buffet apply most, if not all, of these principles. If you lead anything or wish to influence a group of people, follow these simple moves.
1. Believe that every person has talent and ability. Let all of your team or followers always see that belief in your actions, words, and philosophy.
2. Honor all acts of bravery and creativity, even ones that annoy you. This is the secret to creating a culture of curiosity and imagination.
3. Share/hand over as many real responsibilities with team members as you can. This is the secret to creating a culture of ownership and investment.
4. Carry yourself always as an artist and learner in progress. You have more experience than those you lead — often, that is your only leg up on them.
5. Physical safety is the most important boundary in which you are authoritarian as a leader — be clear, without jokes or apology. When boundaries are crossed, be transparent and unequivocal — but avoid guilt, shame, or social punishments for anyone in your organization, company, or community.
6. Be aware that your own biases can derail your goals. Your social values, beliefs about gender/race/age/ethnicity, “appropriateness,” sex, violence, etc. are your own — and sometimes they should stay that way.
7. Judge team members’ work and behavior — never the people themselves. Maintain this separation! Model this for your team.
Great leadership is the single greatest force in human history.
There are a few simple things I’ve come to believe to about leadership. For example, most leaders suck. Many of them prefer people who agree with them. Most are hard to persuade because of their ego, confidence, or simple need for confirmation bias. Most would rather see you fail than see themselves fail.
In these ways, leaders are like most of us. Isn’t my criticism in the first paragraph applicable to almost everyone you know? Even you? Definitely me.
Now, gentle readers, do not be dismayed. I like people. I like leaders. I even like NY Giants fans. (I mean, not all of them. But some of them.) Humans suck for lots of reasons I simply don’t have time for in this 4 minute read.
But just because we all suck doesn’t mean that we can’t get a little better. And nothing in our human experiment is more important than improving leadership.
Great leadership is the single greatest force in human history. There’s nothing more valuable nor influential. In a world of families, villages, towns, states, countries, corporations, religions, schools… great leaders drive culture.
This is because leadership is the business of people.
And so this one is for you leaders out there who really want to make a difference.
I’ve been a critic of Mission Statements Written On Walls* for a long time. (*NOTE: I’m not a critic of Mission Statements themselves. Especially the act of writing them — it can be a remarkably useful way to bring a team together and focus on shared values, visions, etc.)
My problem is with posting them up on your wall at your workplace or website. Yeah, I know it seems like a good idea to put the Mission Statement on the wall. It's easy to imagine that seeing it on the wall inspires your own people and attracts new partners and clients.
I actually think it does the opposite. Here's why.
Three Reasons To Take That Mission Statement Down
1. It provides cover to a**holes.
When you put a Mission Statement on the wall, no one has to change anything. No one has to act out the Mission Statement because, well, everyone is already doing it. The default IS the Mission Statement. The work is already done. Any of the weak members of your company/team/whatever can just point to the wall and say “that’s what I’m doing” no matter what they are actually doing. Don’t make it easy for those folks — they’re the last people you want to help on your team. They're why we can't have nice things.
2. It’s inefficient and unconfident.
None of you customers or clients will believe your mission statement unless your organization/company actually proves the mission through action. Writing it on the wall says "we're worried you might not know what we believe unless we write it up on the wall." Believe in your culture. Trust your people. Empower your people to BE the Mission Statement.
3. It turns your mission into a compliance order.
Every time you or your organization doesn’t measure up to your Mission Statement, your employees/members look at it and see the moral hypocrisy of your leadership. Every leader is a hypocrite at some point or another. You simply cannot be aspirational without falling short from time to time. Posting your Mission Statement can incentivize you and your people to care more about complying with the Mission Statement rather than embodying it. It makes people into lawyers on behalf of the Mission Statement (“well, you can see how we were really trying find a good solution during that colossal f**k up”) or to be harsh critics on the attack (“yeah, we believe in equality so much that so-and-so has been a jerk to every sales team member”).
This is not a new idea
As revolutionary as it might sound, ripping down that Mission Statement isn’t even a new idea. We have tons of aphorisms in our culture that speak to how it doesn't matter what you say-- it's what you do:
“If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and eats like a duck…”
“You know a fruit by it’s tree”
“You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you”
When I was a kid, we used to sing this song at Bible school: “They’ll know that we are Christians by our love.” Look, I wasn’t the best kid at Bible school. But I liked the singing part. And I liked that song.
People will know your Mission Statement by how you walk, talk, and eat. No matter what you have written on your wall, they are watching and judging you. Everyone else already knows what you believe. They read it on you every time they interact with you.
Our Mission Statement:
We ASPIRE to be judged by how we act. Let us know how we’re doing.
In the movie “High Fidelity,” the character Rob (played by John Cusack) explains “the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.”
As anyone who’s ever received a killer mixtape knows: a mixtape can not only introduce you to new music, it can change how you hear the songs you already know.
So… I've made you a few mixtapes. I know, I know. We barely know each other. But check it out: instead of songs, I’ve curated a list of SXSW EDU 2018 conference sessions. My goal? To introduce you to some of the hottest innovators in education right now: Teacher Leaders.
I’ll be featuring working preK-12 teachers who are running companies, leading policies, innovating products, and sparking movements, all while they’re holding down a teaching gig. These Teacher Leaders are coming to Austin from every corner of the country– including of course, Texas. Heck, we’ve even got a Canadian teacher bringing some.
The making of a good mixtape is a very subtle art. many do's and don'ts.
Collect all four!
Mixtape #1: Justice League Teachers
Sessions on equity, race, justice, and inclusion
Including the timely “Let’s Teach About Race,” a panel that will feature elementary school teachers Akiea Gross and Yvonne Tackie mixing it up with a professor and edtech product specialist.
02/13 Mixtape #2: Let the Teacher Drive
Sessions about teacher leadership/partnership in schools, industry, and policy
With featured session “Human Skills for Digital Natives,” presented by middle & high school science teacher JP Connolly and WNYC podcast host & writer Manoush Zomorodi.
02/20 Mixtape #3: Teacher Toy Story
Sessions featuring gaming, design learning, and the maker movement
Including “Toy Hacking, Robotics for the Rest of Us,” led by creative elementary school teachers Sara Boucher and Cicely Day.
02/27 Mixtape #4: The First Ones In
Sessions about teachers as edtech champions & the most important power users in the game
Including the visionary panel “Students Can Build the VR/AR Worlds of the Future,” featuring high school teachers Jordan Budisantoso and Mark Suter.
This article originally appeared on the SXSWedu blog.
“These vaults, the crotch vaulting- look at it, amazing- are the work of unknown craftsman from the 14 and 1500's...” The voice of our guide, Salome, echoes into nothingness, quickly replaced by the muffled chatter of the students. “You are standing in a place that represented the place between heaven and earth for the people of this town. Hundreds of years ago, if you'd been a peasant, you would have been in awe.”
The high school kids appear split into groups on this, in classic adolescent fashion. Some are bored and tired, barely aware of where they are. Others are fighting the ennui, trying to make sense of any of it. And then others: transfixed, mouth agape, eyes filled with wonder.
how do you think they got up there, dude?
I make eye contact with one of them, a boy named Nick. It's been a long trip from NY to Spain and we've been here for days. I raise my eyebrows with a “what do you think?” expression. He looks at me and says, “Wow, Mr. Kleba, I had no idea. It's incredible. How did they do all this?”
The right response to him is, of course, "How do YOU think they got those stones up there, dude?" The ensuing conversation would be lovely and productive. But I pause.
I look back up to the towering heights of the stone arches, questions of my own echoing in my head. Nick's reaction is the holy grail in education, the sublime moment. Normally at school, he's distracted and out of it, watching the clock. I've had him in class. But right now, he is wide open, ready to learn, thrilled by the idea of understanding more. He's prime meat. In the cool dark of this cathedral, he is so bloody teachable. At this moment, he could learn just about anything.
And I ask myself: how did he get to this moment of wonder? What series of events led to this kid's specific experience? Why is he in the zone while others are not?
The best teacher you ever had-- think about him or her for a moment-- was a master at getting you in the zone. You never liked math until you had Ms. Murphy. Social studies made no sense until Mr. Psota breathed life into it. Chemistry was an inscrutable cloud until Mr. Ferris helped you pilot it.
In the zone, you found yourself more interested in learning. You let your wonder free. You forgot about the burdens of everything and became engaged in the matter at hand. You suddenly cared about how or why something worked.
Nick got in the zone because a bunch of teachers, working outside of the typical parameters, did a lot of stuff to help get him there.
- TRAVEL. He had to leave the world of comfort and stability back home. Getting out of the unfamiliar was required. Strange language, strange food, strange bed-- all of it had an impact.
- INVESTMENT. He needed to be invested in the trouble of it all-- paying a lot money to travel helped with that, but so did the work of packing and traveling he put in.
- GREAT MATERIAL. He had to be confronted with something worth learning, something bigger than himself. Something with undeniable value and meaning in of itself.
- CREATIVE TEACHERS. He needed teachers who could create and facilitate zone moments.
We are having the wrong conversations about education. We want a more perfect education system-- and it's crazy. We are spending too much money and time keeping kids in systems. Our education culture is stilted in its repetitive, construct-based model. We don't need better curricula-- we need better teachers. Frankly, we don't even need better testing-- we need better opportunities for the kids.
We can't address what's not working in education by taking all the kids on field trips- that's not the point. But creating conditions for kids to experience beautiful, inspiring, and challenging moments should be our prime focus. And, culturally, politically, and economically, we aren't even talking about how to do it.
Can we afford to take kids to Spain? No, definitely not in this economy. But can we afford not to?
All photos are mine, collected on a student tour in Spain, 2012.
This teacher changed you — made you rethink the world and your place in it. The best teachers don’t just improve a person’s understanding — they change a person from the inside out.
We live in a world where everyone is trying to get a leadership edge. Your company wants to get more attention and convert people into followers/customers/clients. No profession has more experience in capturing and converting followers than teachers.
My nearly 20 years working in schools has allowed me expert access to what makes great teachers such leadership rockstars. You want to be a leader that your team/clients believe in? Engage like a teacher.
the secret to great leadership?
Every message has context. Simon Sinek told you to know your “Why.” I’m telling you to know your “Who, When, and Where.” I call it Contexting.
You need to be a communication monster when you are a leader. Build your messaging around who you are talking to, their background knowledge, what they care about/are afraid of, where they are, and when they are. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
People aren’t empty vessels waiting to be the recipients of your genius. Have respect for the fact that everyone hears/sees things in a different way. If they don’t understand you, they won’t pay attention to you.
2. Take full responsibility for miscommunication.
People get so caught up in what broke down in a miscommunication. “Whose fault was it?” people ask. Who cares? Even if it isn’t your fault when you were misunderstood, it’s your job to fix it.
Miscommunication is one of the greatest creators of problems in human history. This is true in markets, too. Be the adult in the room. Deal with it.
3. Listen because you mean it.
Respect and loyalty are plants in a garden. They take time to develop and are easy to kill. If you act like you give a shit but you actually don’t, your listeners will figure it out. And then they’ll not only bail, they won’t want to come back.
You want to build an audience/employee team without loyalty? Fine. Watch them leave when the next shiny object floats by. Pay attention to them — their needs, their worries, their dreams — and they’ll resist leaving you.
4. Your greatest success is achieved through others.
Teachers know: you can’t do anything TO your students. You can only achieve things THROUGH your students.
Your clients need to believe that their success is of critical importance to you — not simply a collateral consequence after you get them to sign a contract. Same with your employees: when the people who work for you believe that you actually care about their success, they’ll work harder and longer for you and with you.
Remember: your people are the ones who “graduate” — not you.
Great teachers aren’t selfless. They are “otherfull.” Make your work about building greatness in others.
Isn’t that what great leadership is all about?
It was the spring of 1964 and Dylan had been on a cross country road trip with a few friends, seeing America and writing songs, including one that would become his enduring hit “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Critics would speculate that the song was inspired by the cajun and jazz music of the Mardi Gras krewes that Dylan would have undoubtedly heard in NOLA.
A year and a half later after Dylan recorded it, the genre of Folk Rock was born when The Byrds exploded at the top of the US and UK pop charts with their cover of Dylan’s selfsame “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Music historians contend that The Byrd’s version impacted music for decades, including work by The Beatles, The Animals, Tom Petty, The Smiths, Fleetwood Mac, the Black Keys,
and that damn-him-for-being-good Harry Styles. The song has literally shaped music history.
What Instrument Turns Anyone Into a Musician?
When I began researching the tambourine, my goal was to find the definitive roots of this amazing instrument. It was sparked by a typically random classroom tangent in my IB theatre class.
Somebody was musing about how some instruments take years of practice to sound good (violin, accordion) while others make a decent sound even when played by someone who sucks at music (triangle, bongo). Another kid brought up the tambourine and said it was actually “like, an ancient instrument.” She added that there was a Bible story about a prophet who played the tambourine.
I have always loved the tambourine — I love it in everything from Motown to rock to gospel to folk — I even like synth tam. It’s the secret sauce that brings in the soul, taking songs to new emotional levels. I love that anyone can play it. And, I loved the idea that it had ancient roots. I wanted to know more.
I began to realize something remarkable: the tambourine is f*cking everywhere. In the history of the world, it’s as common as religion and prostitution.
Shake Your Moneymaker: A Brief History of the Tam
Nefertari, wife of Ramesses IIKnown by dozens of names, the tambourine cannot be claimed by any one culture. Pharaoh Queen Nefartari can be seen shimmying with a tambourine-like sistrum in hieroglyphics dating from at least 1250 BCE. The tambourine also appears multiple times in the Bible, played by angels and mortals — and, yes, in the hands of prophet Miriam as she dances it up in the book of Exodus. The ancient Greeks used the tambourine to celebrate and honor the gods. The ancient Chinese Eastern Zhou dynasty had tambourine players, dating tambourine origins in East Asia to more than 2000 years ago.
Since its invention, the tambourine has spread around the world. It‘s been featured in music from cultures in Azerbaijan to Argentina, from the Islamic Javanese of Indonesia to the Maori of New Zealand, from African American slaves to Russian gypsies. An instrument of celebration and misery, of community and loneliness, the tambourine belongs to the globe.
It’s as if the tambourine was a musical tool that demanded to be invented.
Great Design Releases the Imagination
Any great tool — the wheel, the knife, the lever — reveals its greatness in its capacity to channel curiosity and new ideas. A great tool is useful to everyone because it meets you exactly at your proficiency level, even if at first you suck at using it. It becomes more useful as you learn to use it.
The tambourine is a brilliant example of this.
A tambourine demands you pick it up and shake it. Put it in front of a three year old and she will not just make sounds. She will explore sounds. This is because a great tool teaches you about yourself and the world.
My research of this jangly drum with cymbals clarified some things I’ve been trying to put into words for years. What has made the tambourine so universal — and so playable — reveals the essential elements of great tool design. I’ve made a short list of design fundamentals that I’ve learned from the tam. Maybe it will be useful to you.
a great tool teaches you about yourself and the world.
I call it “The Tambourine Principle.”
- Need no instructions. They teach the user how to use them through play and use.
- Develop the user’s skill by being adaptable to his/her will and use.
- Reward curiosity with delight, satisfaction, and/or understanding.
- Grow in value as the user’s imagination grows, the more the tool is used.
Tools like the tambourine give flight to one’s imagination. They are powered by the user’s capacity to try new ideas. These tools (or toys or instruments — call them what you like) don’t just accomplish a job that the user desires.
A great tool changes the person who uses it. Put another way: the greatest tools shape the human mind, not the other way around.
It’s also why the internet is probably the greatest tool ever invented. Yet.
And, as for Dylan
I don’t know if you buy it, but here’s what I think: “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a tribute to the imaginative power released by a beautifully designed tool.
Teachers are one of our culture's greatest undervalued assets.
The fact that teachers are overwhelmingly absent from leadership in companies, policy think tanks, edu organizations, and politics isn't merely sad-- it's foolish. Specifically, companies that work in education are wasting money and time, bereft of the rich and dynamic input that working teachers could offer.
there is a surging energy out there
A few weeks ago, the amazing team at SXSWedu invited me to come to Austin to tell my story. SXSWedu offers a week of tacos, good beer, and in one of the live music capitals of the world-- along with the chance to mix it up with leaders of the state of the art in education. Who would pass that up?
Not this guy.
I've been fortunate in connecting with SXSWedu. I've gotten to work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, started relationships with and consulted for various companies, got scouted to speak at the National Charter Schools Convention in Nashville, and traveled to London to speak at EdTechX Europe.
And it's been fun. I've learned a lot, heard tons of stories, and met people who are truly passionate about improving education in this country and around the world.
More than anything, I've gotten the chance to see just how much people want to talk about the paucity of teachers in leadership. There is a growing energy out there-- a movement waiting to happen. It's a movement that I know will change schools, change companies, and impact how people are learning.
Put teachers on your leadership team. Hire teachers-in-residence. Invite a working teacher to sit on your Board of Directors or Advisors. Hire a Chief Teacher Officer.
You want to improve schools? You want to make money doing it? Get some working teachers in your bullpen.
just a Fact:
Teachers are injecting value into every corner of our society.
is the CEO and Chief Teacher Officer of DegreeCast. He's also a public school teacher who lives with his wife and dog in Brooklyn, NY.
is the chair of the English Department at a school district on Long Island and was a high school teacher for more than a decade. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Old Beth Page, NY.
Bill And Melinda Gates
Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation
Board Of Directors
Chief Teacher Officers
Crime Against Humanity
EdTech X Europe
FIRST Robotics Competition
Foundation For Child Development
Future Of School
Jimmy Dean Sausage
Lincoln Financial Field
Los Angeles Times
Men's Fashion Week 2015
National Charter School Convention
Neil DeGrasse Tyson
New York Fashion Week
Point Of View
The Brian Lehrer Show
The Imitation Game
The Theory Of Everything