Archive for the ‘School Reform’ Category

Do Teachers Have a Voice In Their Learning? A Gallup Survey Says No.

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Today on gallup.com, results of a survey conducted by Shane Lopez and Preety Sidhu show that new teachers are amongst the most engaged employees when they start their careers, with 35.1% of new teachers reporting they are engaged by their work. I’m not sure that 35.1% engagement is cause for celebration. The data still show that many teachers are not engaged. Additionally, the data reveal that although teachers start out with the highest level of engagement, 35.1%, engagement dramatically drops to 27.9% for teachers with 3 – 5 years experience. After a few years, most teachers report that they are not engaged.

Why is that? What is it that is leading to such low levels of engagement? The data again are informative. Lopez and Sidhu’s survey results also show that teachers are the least likely of all occupations to say, “at work my opinions seem to count.” Think about that. Teachers are less likely to think their opinion counts than service workers, repair workers, bus drivers, construction workers, or in fact, any category of employee.

And do you think teachers are on verge of getting more voice in their professional learning? My worry is they are not. With the roll out of common core, which often involves a small team developing a curriculum and then imposing it on the rest of the staff, there is a danger that teachers will have even less voice (even though your  child’s teacher already thinks her opinion counts less than does the barista who sold you a coffee today).

What would it mean if teachers were more engaged? What if,  instead of 27.9% engagement, teachers were 80% engaged? What would it mean for our children and for this country?

We can give teachers a voice in what they do and we should.  Maybe we should spend less time telling our teachers what to do and more time listening to what they think. After all, our teachers, the people who spend every day with our kids, know a lot about students.  Certainly, it is worth taking a hard look at our schools and asking, can we do a better job of giving teachers an authentic voice in their own learning?

Six Ways Principals Can Support Instructional Coaching

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Dennis Sparks is one of our generation’s most influential educational leaders. His guidance of the National Staff Development Council, now Learning Forward, established it as the world’s leading organization for professional development. His books especially Leading for Results and Leadership 180: Daily Meditations for School Leaders, are packed with wise, practical advice, concisely articulated. His blog pushes, inspires, and educates me, and I highly recommend it.

For all these reasons, I was honored when Dennis asked my to write a guest post for his blog. My column, “Six Ways Principals Can Support Instructional Coaching,” begins as follows:

Instructional coaching has the potential to dramatically improve teaching practice and consequently student learning. But in most cases, a coach’s success is directly connected to how effectively she or he is supported (or not supported) by his or her principal. After working with hundreds of schools where coaches have succeeded and struggled, I’ve found that there are six actions principals can do that will make or break instructional coaching success.

You can read the rest of the column or subscribe to Dennis’s blog here

Should Instructional Coaching be Confidential?

Friday, May 17th, 2013

 

This is an excerpt from my book, Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction.

In instructional coaching the practice of coaching occurs within confidential relationships. There are at least three reasons for this.  

First, when coaches deal with what matters to teachers, they are privileged to see and hear information most others will not see and hear.  To share that private information with others is a violation of a person’s privacy. Second, coaching is much more productive when collaborating teachers are open about their ideas, thoughts, and fears. For many teachers, knowing that instructional coaching conversations are confidential makes it easier for them to talk about what really matters.  Third, when we ensure that instructional coaching is confidential, we increase the chances that teachers will choose to work with a coach.

However, not everything a coach does, can or should be confidential. For example, instructional coaches need to keep principals informed of whom they are working with and what they are working on. Instructional coaches working with the Kansas Coaching Project discriminate between what should and should not be shared by saying that coaches do not share data or evaluative information. We communicate clearly to teachers that instructional coaching is nonjudgmental.  Coaches are partners helping teachers learn new practices, not evaluators. Indeed, in most cases instructional coaches have no administrative training on how to evaluate teachers, so it would not be appropriate for them to evaluate teachers anyway.

In some schools confidentiality is not an issue.  In especially positive, safe settings, teachers may be more than comfortable having their coach share any information.  Indeed, Michael Fullan (2008) identifies transparency as one of his six secrets of change, stating that “when transparency is consistently evident, it creates an aura of ‘positive pressure’ – pressure that is experienced as fair and reasonable, pressure that is actionable in that it points to solutions, and pressure that ultimately is inescapable” (p. 14).

To create settings where such transparency is possible may require baby steps.  In a culture where there is not a great deal of trust, confidential instructional coaching can be the default mode, but over time, if teachers agree, more information can be shared. The greater the lack of trust initially, the more important confidentiality usually is.  What is most important is that principals and coaches clearly delineate what they will and will not discuss, communicate that policy across the school, act consistently with the policy. Perceived betrayal of trust can severely damage an instructional coaching relationship. For example, when a teacher says something to a coach that she think will be kept privately by the coach, and then discovers that what she said was shared with others, it may be impossible for the coach to ever win back the teacher’s trust.

Fidelity and Instructional Coaches

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

This is a column from a few years back for another blog:

One of the most frequent comments I hear when I talk with people about school change is that instructional coaches will only be effective if they ensure that teachers implement new practices with fidelity.  This is an easily justified goal. If teachers don’t teach innovations with fidelity, the thinking is, they won’t get results. So we need to make sure teachers do it (whatever it might be) the way it is supposed to be done. I think, however, that it is worth while to ask, “what is fidelity” before we totally adopt this way of thinking.

There are some thorny issues that we need to think about with respect to the topic of fidelity.  Of course, if instructional coaching is going to be effective, coaches need to partner with teachers to provide the supports that empower teachers to implement new practices in a way that gets results.  But we make a big mistake, I think, if we assume this means that teachers must mindlessly follow a script.

Lucy West, who is an author in a book I edited, Coaching: Approaches and Practices, suggests that instructional coaches, rather than encouraging fidelity, which she describes a “dictum to follow a script,” should strive for mindful engagement of the curriculum with teachers.

I agree completely for a number of reasons, but I’ll mention two here. First, asking teachers to implement exactly what a script says, exactly as the script says, treats teachers like workers on an assembly line rather than professionals.  This means, I suspect, that an overemphasis on fidelity likely leads to low quality instruction where teachers do every task on a checklist but do not teach with passion, or love, or even in a manner that involves reflection.

The second issue, though, is more troubling. I just don’t think it is likely that a heavy emphasis on fidelity is practically effective.  As Thomas Davenport has shown in Thinking For a Living  when professionals (whom he calls knowledge workers) such as teachers are not given the opportunity to reflect and think for themselves, they resist change.  Simply put: what knowledge workers do is think for a living; if someone else (researchers, administrators, policy makers) does the thinking for teachers, teachers will resist.

Now I’m not saying everything is up for grabs, or that a teacher can say, “OK, this year, no more reading and writing, this year it is all hockey.”  That is ridiculous. I’m also not saying instructional coaches shouldn’t worry about high quality implementation, or understanding the teaching practices they share.  In fact, I believe just the opposite.

Instructional coaches need to deeply understand the materials they share, and they should be highly skilled at finding precise and easy-to-understand explanations for those practices.  However, when they explain, model, observe, and explore data, instructional coaches need to present that information in a way that allows teachers to do the thinking.  For example, when explaining teaching practices, instructional coaches can say, “Here’s what the research says. However, do we need to adapt this at all so it will work for you and your students? What do you think about this approach?”  95% of the time, when instructional coaches ask for teachers’ opinions, the teachers say, “let’s do it the way you describe it.”  When coaches tell teachers what to do without honoring their thoughts and voices, however, the first thought if not word for the teachers is, “I want to change it.”

There are several key lessons here. 

First, instructional coaches have to deeply understand the teaching practices they share.

Second, instructional coaches have to find precise language to describe in easy-to-understand language how a new teaching practice will look in a teacher’s classroom.

Third, rather than telling teachers how to do it (encouraging mindless fidelity) instructioncal coaches should engage teachers in reflective conversations about how they think teaching practices might work in their classrooms (mindful engagement).

By treating teachers like professionals–by letting them do at least some of the thinking–instructional coaches have a much better chance of enabling high-quality teaching and better student learning–and isn’t that the whole point?

The Everyday Leadership of ‘Tempered Radicals’

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

This is a guest post by Dennis Sparks, Emeritus Executive Director of the National Staff Development Council, now known as Learning Forward. Dennis’ blog, ”Dennis Sparks on Leading and Learning,” can be found at dennissparks.wordpress.com.

“Radical learners” may sometimes feel like outsiders even when they hold important positions withing their schools.  Debra Meyerson uses the term “tempered radicals” to describe such individuals, and it is also the name of a book she wrote based on studies she has done on TRs, as she calls them.

Drawing on Meyerson’s Tempered Radicals and a 2005 interview I did with her for the JSD, I offer a set of attributes about “everyday leadership” so that “radical learners” can be even more effective in using their unique talents and perspectives to serve students and their school communities.


Who are “tempered radicals”?

“‘Tempered Radicals,’” Meyerson writes in her book, “are people who want to succeed in their organizations yet want to live by their values or identities, even if they are somehow at odds with the dominant culture of their organizations. …  Tempered radicals are likely to think ‘out of the box’ because they are not fully in the box. As ‘outsiders within,’ they have both a critical and creative edge. They speak new ‘truths.’”

Meyerson also sees TRs as “everyday leaders” who are “… quiet catalysts who push back against prevailing norms, create learning, and lay the ground work for slow but ongoing organizational and social change.”

Here are five attributes of tempered radicals who are effective “everyday leaders”:

They speak their truths, even when afraid: “[M]ost conflicts,” Meyerson wrote in Tempered Radicals, “are not created by tempered radicals; but tempered radicals are often the ones who speak ‘truths’ and raise issues that have been suppressed. … Such acts of deviation …,” she writes, “require self-knowledge and conviction to overcome enormous pressure to conform and to suppress beliefs that challenge the majority.”

They have strong support networks: “Allies remind you that your struggles are not yours alone,” Meyerson wrote in her book. “Having people with whom you can compare your experience helps you identify larger patterns outside yourself that need to change. . . . The biggest advantage of working in concert with others is that collectives have greater legitimacy, power, and resources than individuals.”

They have a bias toward action, especially “small deviant actions”:  “Sometimes [TRs] inspire change simply by behaving differently, and their small deviant actions challenge norms and set an example that others emulate . . .,” Meyerson wrote in Tempered Radicals. “Often tempered radicals lead change more deliberately by initiating small wins that result in new relationships, understandings, and patterns of behavior.”

They have clarity about and a laser-like focus on their most important goals: “Effective agents of change at the grass-roots level know who they are and what they are trying to accomplish,” Meyerson told me in our JSD interview. “Effective tempered radicals hold on to their deepest goals, which enables them to push through their fears and to choose their battles effectively.”

They promote, through their example and advocacy, experimentation and deep professional conversations: “Tempered radicalism is sustained through the daily interactions that occur within a supportive context …,” Meyerson told me in the JSD interview. “That’s done when teachers experiment, have some success, and have deep conversations with one another about the things that are working. … Experiments become the stimulus for conversation and the vehicle for professional learning.”


A final thought…

Tempered is an apt adjective to describe the radical learners who are drawn to this blog because of the inspiration and guidance it provides.

The attributes I described above are intended to provide yet another thread in this tapestry of ideas and practices to enable radical learners to better serve their school communities through countless acts of everyday leadership.

Words: The Power of a Shared Vocabulary

Friday, April 5th, 2013

The Eskimos have 52 words for snow because it is so special to them; there ought to be as many for love. Margaret Atwood

We tried to talk it over, but the words got in the way. Leon Russell

Margaret Atwood is right, of course. We could communicate more effectively with more words to describe different kinds of love. But having just one word is infinitely better than none. Words, despite their limitations, help us talk about topics we would not otherwise be able to discuss, and see things we would not otherwise be able to see. A word is a candle held up in the darkness to help us move forward.

Words might be humanity’s greatest invention. A shared vocabulary helps us share emotions, share ideas, learn, grow. And this is just as true in conversation in schools as it is in conversations at home.
An important shared vocabulary in schools, as Phil Schlechty has explained, could be developed around student engagement. Teachers can have meaningful conversations defining and acting on the terms authentic engagement, strategic compliance, and off-task behavior. And once the words are defined, teachers can share ideas and strategies to increase authentic engagement.

Educators can also benefit from coming to a shared understanding of positive reinforcement, and defining such ideas as growth mindset, ratios of interaction, and positivity. When people develop clear definitions of positive and negative reinforcements, they begin to see interactions in a clearer way in the classroom. Some words make the invisible, visible.

Powerful professional learning also happens when teachers agree about the meaning of other words, such as those describing reading strategies, like text-to-self or summarizing, or writing concepts such as sentence fluency, coherence, or voice. The simple act of talking about a word like voice, and working to develop a shared, deeper understanding, can be very meaningful professional development.

Teachers, of course, are not the only people who need to develop a shared vocabulary. When administrators and teachers do not share a common vocabulary about the meaning and importance of observations, admin evaluations have little positive impact on teaching and learning. What good is an administrator’s evaluation when the teacher and administrator can’t authentically talk about what was observed? Worse, what good are observations when observers can’t clearly define what they are seeing?
A clear picture of reality is an essential part of growth, but the picture does have to be clear, and people need a shared understanding if they are going to talk about it.

Students should also be a part of developing a shared vocabulary. When students understand authentic engagement and strategic compliance, they can give meaningful feedback to their teachers on what works and what doesn’t work for them. Sandi Silbernagel, for example, a teacher in Slidell, Louisiana, learns a lot by asking her second graders for their feedback on their level of engagement.

No doubt Leon Russell was right. Sometimes the words can get in the way. But without words, we can’t talk. Language is the means by which communication takes place. And as in life, so in schools. We should do all we can to develop a shared vocabulary. When we can truly talk about what we see, important learning—for teachers, administrators, and students—can really happen.

Teacher Observations, Teacher Evaluation, and Shame

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Shame … is like an exposed nerve on a wisdom tooth, something to be avoided at all costs.

The shadow of shame kills art.

Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly

Getting a clear picture of reality is an essential part of professional growth. When teachers look at video of their lessons or review their students’ work, they can identify professional learning goals and plans that can have a real, positive impact on students’ learning experiences. And clearly understanding current reality, as Robert Fritz and Peter Senge have explained, is a critical part of the creative tension that stands at the heart of growth. Senge writes:

The juxtaposition of vision (what we want) and a clear picture of current reality (where we are relative to what we want) generates what we call “creative tension:” a force to bring them together, caused by the natural tendency of tension to seek resolution. The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.

Teacher observation, therefore, should be a good thing — a way to set up the creative tension Senge describes. Unfortunately this is not always the case. When teacher observations are used solely to show what teachers have done wrong and point out their deficiencies, observations can actually make things much worse, rather than better.

I saw this first-hand in a large US school district where I was invited to lead a workshop on effective teaching. I was asked to present to an entire faculty in a middle school that was at the heart of a high-poverty urban community.

Before I gave my presentation, an important person from the central office stopped in to address the group. “I have looked at the scores for your school,” he said. “They’re not bad scores. Do you know what they are? They are shameful scores. You should be ashamed of these scores. We’re not going to fire you,” he said. “There are worse things than firing.”

And then, I suppose, to ensure that the group would listen to my presentation, he said, “Now here is Jim Knight to tell you what you need to do.”

That was my introduction.

How enthusiastic do you think the teachers were about embracing the ideas in my presentation? The truth is they were so overcome with emotion, they probably didn’t hear much of anything I said. But what they did hear, they hated. Yes, they might implement the practices to comply and keep their jobs, but they didn’t implement the practices out of love. They did so out of fear and shame, and no doubt their students felt that same fear and shame in their classrooms when their teachers did what they felt they had to do.

There are at least two ways of looking at teacher observations. One way is to try and motivate teachers, as this administrator tried to do, by shaming people to act. In The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin explains how shame can be a soul killer, and destroy the creative imagination at the heart of any artist:

When those in power use shame to bully the weak into compliance, they are stealing from us. They tell us that they will expose our secrets (not good enough, not hardworking enough, not from the right family, made a huge mistake once) and will use the truth to exile us from our tribe.

This shame, the shame that lives within each of us, is used as a threat. And when those in power use it, they take away part of our humanity.

An alternative to shaming teachers is to start with the assumption that most people actually do want to do what is best and learn. No doubt, teachers who have experienced years of soul-crushing evaluations and compulsory, top-down professional learning will struggle to trust others when those others start to treat them as partners in their own development. But, my experience has shown, when teachers are authentically respected, they embrace real learning opportunities.

If teachers are offered meaningful choices, if their knowledge and expertise are acknowledged, if teachers have a voice in what they do, and if they are partners in developing their professional learning, they will blow you away with what they can do. (I have written about a partnership approach to professional learning in Unmistakable Impact.)

Shame might get teachers to comply, but shame doesn’t inspire teachers to passionately and imaginatively strive to do their best for students.

This, then, is the question: What kind of teachers do we want for our children? Do we want teachers who use every ounce of their creative imagination to reach their students, or do we want teachers who are shamed into complying with decisions they had no part in?

We know what we want. How we use teacher observation data and teacher evaluation has a huge impact on what we get.

What is the Value of a Coach?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance. Atul Gawande

A district administrator recently wrote to tell me that her district was facing “tough financial decisions” that are naturally causing lower morale.  Everyone in her district feels under attack. And “the coaches are naturally questioning their value.”

All of us experience dark times when we wonder if we are making a difference, and coaches are no different.  So I thought I would do my best to answer the coaches’ question.

What is the value of a coach?

Coaches Support & Encourage Teachers. A coach is a trusted friend to educators, a colleague, a sounding board, and a witness to the good.  These days can be difficult for educators, with increased expectations, decreased funding, more pressure and less encouragement.  Coaches provide an incredibly important service by listening, empathizing, and encouraging their colleagues respectfully and nonjudgmentally.

Coaches understand teachers because they are teachers themselves and most model practices as a part of coaching. For that reason, they can empathize with teachers in ways that are more difficult for others. Coaches get what it is like to have a great day and an awful day (sometimes in the same day).  They know how rewarding and tough teaching can be.

Many coaches have told me that an important part of what they do is to listen to their colleagues when it seems like their colleagues have no one else who is able or available to listen.

Coaches Encourage Meaningful Conversation.  Every organization improves or declines based on the quality of the conversation within it. Michael Fullan, who has written more than 30 books about educational change, sums this up in his great book Leading in a Culture of Change:

We have found that the single factor common to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, things get better.  If they remain the same or get worse, ground is lost.

Coaches study the art of communication—often video recording themselves and reflecting on how they ask questions, listen, encourage, and connect. They know how important each interaction can be, and they strive to engage in positive, supportive, honest conversations at all times.  In this way, coaches move a school forward one conversation at a time.

A coach is a second set of hands.  I don’t buy the line that teachers don’t want to learn.  In my experience, when teachers are respected and treated as professionals, most of them are passionate about their own learning and growth. The trouble is that teachers are swamped with urgent tasks. Often teachers have too much to do to organize learning how to implement new practices.

Coaches make learning much easier. Coaches do the work of organizing materials, explaining the practices, modeling, and providing support.  Thanks to coaches, teachers around the world finally are able to do what they most want to do: find new ways to reach more students.

 A coach is a second set of eyes.  The task of teaching, as I experienced just a week ago, can be a complicated and crazy ride demanding every ounce of a teacher’s attention. When you are locked-in to ensuring that your 33 7th-graders are on-task and learning, it can be difficult to pause and deeply reflect on what is actually going on the classroom.

A coach can gather data a teacher would like to gather if they weren’t so busy actually teaching.  Also, coaches can gather data that might otherwise go undetected, recording, for example, how teachers use their time, students’ levels of engagement, teachers’ positivity ratio, and the kind of questions asked by teachers and students.

A coach leaves a legacy. We go into education because we want to make a difference, to leave our world a little better than we found it. George Lucas sums up what we all know to be true when he writes about the teachers who taught him:

 Apart from my parents, my teachers have done the most to shape my life.

Few people can be more confident that they are making a difference than a coach.  Every time a coach helps a teacher implement a new teaching or learning strategy, the coach is helping every other student that teacher will teach. One step forward for a teacher is one step forward for hundreds or thousands of children.  Multiply that impact by all a coach does every day, and you get a clear picture of the value of instructional coaches.

Education is the way we move society forward. And coaches are one important way we move schools forward. For that reason, if you want to make our world a better place, there are few ways more powerful than being a coach.

What is the value of a coach?  A coach is as valuable as a better future for our children. That seems extremely valuable to me.

Up To The Mountain–Why You Should Teach

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Over the weekend I listened to Solomon Burke singing Patty Griffin’s magnificent song, “Up To The Mountain”—her tribute to Martin Luther King based on the famous mountain top speech Mr. King gave the night before he was assassinated in Memphis.   This song is so important to me that I’ve asked Jenny to have it played at my funeral, which I’m hoping is many years from now.  Here are they lyrics:

I went up to the mountain because you asked me to

Up over the clouds to where the sky is blue

I could see all around me everywhere

I could see all around me everywhere

Sometimes I feel like I’ve never been nothing but tired

And I’ll be working ‘til the day I expire

Sometimes I lay down no more can I do

But then I go on again because you asked me to

Some days I look down afraid I will fall

Though the sun shines I see nothing at all

And I hear your sweet voice come and then go

Telling me softly you love me so

The peaceful valley just over the mountain

The peaceful valley few come to know

I may never get there ever in this lifetime

Sooner or later it’s there I will go

Sooner or later it’s there I will go

There are many important messages in this song—the power of knowing you have a calling, that you are doing what you are meant to do, that you are acting on the force and focus that come from a perfectly clear personal vision.  But what hit me this weekend as I listened was the difference one person can make when all of those factors are united laser-like in action dedicated to making the world freer, more just, equitable, humane.  This is what George Bernard Shaw has written is the “true joy in life,”

the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy…

The people who strive for mighty purposes shine like lights in the darkness of our day-to-day struggles. These heroes, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, seem like saints who have accomplished so much, people so far above us that we can never approach what they do.

And yet, the fight they fight, for freedom, health, equality, respect, goodness, that is a fight all of us can fight.  And that is a fight, I believe, that is especially there for every teacher to choose.  When a teacher’s kindness and empathy help a student find self-respect, when a teacher’s high expectations compel a student to believe she can be more than she realizes, when a teacher’s commitment to self-improvement helps him better teach students to read, the teacher is engaged in the same struggle that our saintly heroes fought—the fight to make the world a better place.  In a real way, profoundly dedicated teachers are climbing “up to the mountain.”  To teach with integrity is to hold up hope that the world can and will be better.

There is no measuring this hard, good work; there is only the knowledge that we are doing the best we can. And who is to say that a second-grade teacher in New Orleans or an AP English teacher in New York City won’t ultimately have as much impact as Martin Luther King.

It was a teacher, after all, that brought Mr. King into the world and taught him how to read.

Finding Common Ground

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

I wrote this column a few years back on another site–but it seems especially relevant today.  Let’s seek out what we hold in common:

The act of finding common ground, I’ve decided, is a bit like trying to create a venn diagram.  I’m one circle. You’re another circle, and the challenge is to find out where we overlap.

I’ve spend the last week traveling back and forth across Arkansas, meeting with instructional coaches all over the state.  I’ve driven, I figure over 700 miles,  seen a lot of the state, and met many wonderful people. Travel like this, it turns out, is a great opportunity to try out finding common ground. I want to share two experiences I’ve had this week as I’ve tried to create venn diagrams for myself and others.

Experience #1. I stayed over night in a wonderful bed and breakfast the Edwardian Inn in Helena. Over breakfast, before I headed to the workshop site, kind of sleepy and lost in my coffee, eggs, and internet, I suddenly remembered our common ground challenge. I decided to search for some common ground with the host of the inn, and I asked him about the BB King poster he had posted in a corner of the hotel.  That simple question led to a lively conversation about the musical history of Helena.  It turns out that the town has an incredible history. The famous King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show had its start in Helena. The awesome Levon Helm, from the The Band, grew up in Helena.  And the “crossroads”made famous by Robert Johnson were only about 30 miles from Helena in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  These are just some of the things I heard. There were other stories about Conway Twitty and Bessie Smith, and the Helena Blues Festival.  I loved the conversation, and I now have a much deeper appreciation of Helena, and I feel I got to know a really nice fellow.  If you go to the Edwardian Inn, be sure to say hi for me.

Experience # 2. Driving from Little Rock to Fort Smith, I stopped at a gas station off the road.  The two people running the station seemed to be just putting in time. I noticed, however, that they had accents that sounded a bit like they were from India, and it turned out I was right. I shared that I had just been there, and we had a great, lively conversation about the food, the scent, the traffic, and the sense of harmony I felt was central to the Indian way of life.  In a flash, it felt like we were friends. I felt a real connection with them, and we all had fun.  Finding common ground was joyous; it brought me closer to two nice people, and when we found that common ground we were all happier and more energized.

I really believe this is our natural state–happy, connected, and enjoying each other’s company. Our communication challenge is all about getting us back to that state, finding our common ground.