Do it for Oscar

New Rule: Do it for Oscar

As I reflect on over forty years in education, “it has always been the kids and staff that gets me out of bed in the morning.” As a building principal, there is nothing more meaningful to me than to see a staff member be successful with kids. AND to see kids go, ‘oh, I get it.’ There is nothing more important to support learning than the synapse that happens between the teacher and the student. If it doesn’t happen there, not much is accomplished. The rest of the organization should support that synapse and the relationship between student and teacher.

At Eden Prairie High School, two students came to see me during the first two months on the job.  They were doing an article for the student newspaper.  Their question was, ‘why did you come out of retirement to come here?’  Sara and Stacey caused me to think.  I said, give me a minute. Finally, I said, “oh, I get it.”  I love it when I see students do that. I really like it when I see staff members do that.  But I love it most when I say that to myself, “I get it.”  Thank you to  Sara and Stacey for deepening my understanding.

I am grateful to Ted Dintersmith (2018) who quoted Oscar in his new book What School Could Be.  This book, with another book he co-authored with Tony Wagner, Most Likely to Succeed (2015) provide a vision to reimagine what schools can be.  I wholeheartedly endorse buying both books.

Dintersmith told the story of Oscar who he met outside one of the schools he visited in his fifty-state tour to find schools who engaged students.  These schools attracted and engaged staff and students.  Oscar said, “I read in history class about how adults in our country worked together long ago to put someone on the moon. Do you think adults can work together to make our schools great?” I still get goosebumps when I read this quote.  The answer is YES.  The question is, will we?

Ron Edmonds (1979) wrote, “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” This is still true today.  My question is, what are we waiting for?  Let’s make it happen.

I have lived through the whole language v. phonetics debates, the computation skills v. word problems in math issues,  and the theory X (kick butt) v. theory Y (everyone decides) management models.  What I have learned is the answer is usually both/and, not either/or.  Are we going to continue to argue over who is right or will we use all of our repertoire of learning strategies to help students prepare for their future? We really do not know what our students will face and we must prepare them for an uncertain future.

I have seen this quote, or parts of it, attributed to several people.  We must prepare students for their future, not our past.  How do we do that?  Those ‘back to the basics people’ have a point.  Tell me what the basics are of 2030 and I am your guy.  Until then let’s concentrate on transferable skills like ‘learning to learn.’  One thing I am sure of, if you are alive, you will be required to keep learning or become a recluse shutting the world out.  Of course, shutting out the world is impossible. Let’s use every learning strategy we have. With the continuing diversity of students, schools, and communities, we will have to keep learning ourselves if we want to prepare students for their future.

The Eagles have a song, ‘Get Over It.’  I agree.  Are, the adults, educators, business leaders, and government officials willing to get over it, move on, and create something more sustainable for the long-term?  I do know a couple of things.  Without the best leadership in schools, it won’t happen for kids or colleagues.  Yes, there will be great teachers doing good things for kids behind closed doors.  Isolated pockets of excellence will always exist.  Eleanor Drago-Severson (2016) says we need to get to a level of self-transformation to scale up from an individual or a classroom to have systemwide positive effects.

Every school that has increased student engagement and learning has the leadership to initiate and sustain it.  As I review principal or central office leadership, how is the ‘kick butt, take names’ practice working for us? NCLB & RTTT has produced flat scores over the past many years.  How long will we keep those methods of the blame-shame game going? Andy Hargreaves promotes Collaborative Professionalism (2018) as a positive alternative for cultures of learning.

It is easier and happens faster if we have leaders with positional authority providing leadership for learning.  Learning increases more with teacher leadership focusing on sharing repertoire and demonstrating efficacy for their impact on student learning.  In the business literature, which I read, there is constant reference to use the ideas of those closest to the end product for best results.  DUH! Learning increases, even more, when the adults can develop student leadership.  Bring student voice and choice into the process.  I didn’t say students are running the school, however, without their involvement, we continue the ‘done to’ rather than the ‘working with’ process.

So, let’s stop whining, stop pitching a fit (Eagles), stop blaming.  Start igniting learning for yourself as a professional and others you work with.  Be the catalyst for change and engagement.  We can do this.  Get over it and get with it.  Dintersmith closes with a quote, Oscar, don’t give up on us. Let’s do it for Oscar and all the Oscars out there in 2019.


Dintersmith, Ted. (2018). What School Could Be.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Drago-Severson, Eleanor. (2016). Tell Me So I Can Hear You.  Cambridge, MA:

Harvard Education Press.

Hargreaves, Andy & O’Connor, Michael. (2018). Collaborative Professionalism.

Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press

Wagner, Tony & Dintersmith, Ted. (2015). Most Likely to Succeed.  New York: Scribner


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!