On the career trapeze – a leap of faith

September 19, 2011

Dear Westminster Junior High Faculty and Parents:

Last week, I submitted to Bill Clarkson my letter of resignation from the post of Junior High Principal, effective at the conclusion of the 2011-12 academic year.

While my choice has been difficult, it has been fully mine, and I now feel great peace about the decision. In all honesty, my life and career path have been well illuminated by serving in the principal role, particularly in the most recent two years. I simply know in my head and in my heart that I need a change – my journey is taking another path. I am grateful to Bill Clarkson for the encouragement and understanding he has given me both professionally and personally, and which go with me on this journey.

In my eight years as Junior High principal, I have learned that I cherish the time and involvement with faculty colleagues, students, and parents. The work surrounding educational innovation and enhancement – the people-work that finds me as a team member in the Junior High School professional learning community, as a co-facilitator of Synergy 8, and as a co-leader with the Junior High Guidance Committee – fills my soul and ignites my deepest enthusiasms as an educator and learner. Also, my connections with the Center for Teaching and the Glenn Institute stand out for me professionally. Nevertheless, I believe I can continue – even improve – my leadership in such work by focusing more specifically on these areas of education, while reducing the other administrative responsibilities that specifically come with the demands of serving as a principal at Westminster.

During my spring sabbatical, I began to explore the possibilities of such a path change, even though I did not start my sabbatical with that particular intent in mind. Additionally, my participation in the blogosphere reveals to me daily the myriad possibilities in schools.

In the coming months I will continue to explore my own learning and career path to serve education in that magical place that exists in the crossroads of what ignites one’s passions and where one can make a positive difference in the world. Like the trapeze artist we discussed at a recent faculty meeting, I must let go of my current bar to reach for the next. The timing of my leap-of-faith decision allows me to look for my next job with full integrity, and it allows for the school to maximize its potential for finding the next principal of the Junior High. I can continue for the academic year to participate in much exciting work we have before us. On every level, Westminster is thoughtfully preparing to meet the challenges of the future, growing in its commitment to honoring Jesus Christ and providing the BEST possible education for our young people.

It has been a great privilege to be a part of the Westminster Community.


Bo Adams
Principal, Junior High School

10 minutes to blog – a random list of learnings today

1. I am grateful for the place and the people that I call “work.” My school allowed me a five week sabbatical to do some important things: 1) further my study of the future of schools and schools of the future, 2) temporarily reduce my typical work week from 75-80 hours to about 35 hours so that I could spend more time with reflection about 21st century learning and, more importantly, my wife and two sons. By doing so, the school sent a powerful message to me and others – you are important to us…your health and happiness and passions for learning are important to our work as a school and a community of people and learners. Many people stepped into the gap for five weeks so that I could take this opportunity and make the most of it. A host of people did more than they even usually do so that I could have this sabbatical. Unboundary hosted me as a 40-year-old intern, and several people welcomed me to their schools (Lovett, Trinity, Bay School, and St. Gregory) for extended visits and observations! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

2. It is an adjustment to return to work and the routine of the usual after a rare and special opportunity to do the unusual. Also, it is virtually impossible to summarize my five week sabbatical in the time and space that many folks want me to do so. I am so thankful for those who have read my blog, posterous, and tweets during my sabbatical…we have been in an ongoing, virtual conversation that enabled some richer face-to-faces today! Thank you readers and commenters and encouragers. And thanks to the fellow sabbatical-experiencer who gave me much good advice today! Invaluable!

3. Saying “welcome back” and seeking out a newly returned person are critically important. I so appreciated the folks who hugged my neck today and, at least, seemed to be glad that I was back. I can get so caught up in my busy-ness that I do not do a consistently good job of this when other people return from an absence – a family medical leave, a conference, a wedding or funeral, etc. – and today I got a taste of how important this human connection is. It feels good to be welcomed back and asked about the time away! I love my faculty, and I need to make sure I show it. This is one important way. Also, I particularly appreciated the folks who simply came to say hello and talk…no work-related question/problem to ask when done with the chit-chat. They just wanted to talk about my time and experience and theirs. I need to do this same for others more often.

4. People need to slow down. Years ago, in the tunnel at Westminster, on my way back from lunch, Lauren Martindale (a former student of mine and now a many-years graduate) said, “Mr. Adams, slow down. You always seem like you are in such a hurry. You would be much cooler if you reduced your speed from place to place.” Today, during re-entry, I remembered Lauren’s sage advice to me. Many of us are too hurried – trying to do too much. We should teach less, learn more…moan less, celebrate more…hurry less, enjoy more. My sabbatical helped me get re-balanced – like good car maintenance – and I hope I can maintain that deliberate, careful choice of pace and number of irons in the fire. Choosing the “right” number of things on one’s plate means we can do more (all?) of them with more greatness. The more we try to bite off – the faster we try to get through the tunnel – the more we miss opportunities to really understand some important things in life.

5. My four year old cried last night and tonight that my sabbatical was over. “Daddy’s ‘sabbitical’ is over…I wish he was still on it!” That’s good feedback. The future-oriented feedback that John Hattie explains is the real, critical kind of feedback.

6. I am so blessed to work with those I worked with today. We had an in-service, professional development day today. We structured it as a “FedEx” day with differently structured time for people to get together in self-assigned groups to collaborate on innovative ideas and educational possibilities. In the morning, I worked with my PLC-F (professional learning community facilitators) team to brainstorm some lesson study possibilities around PBL (project-based learning, problem-based learning, passion-based learning, place-based learning) and current events. It was so fun to work this way and have the gift of time and willing collaborators and creative thinkers. Then, I got to do it again in the afternoon with a team of 6th and 8th grade teachers of students in math (I meant to write it that way – not “teachers of math”). For a few minutes this morning, our whole faculty interacted and engaged with our developing vision statement for learning in this century, and then I had the good fortune to work on two teams who are taking this vision seriously…taking ownership of it…wanting to roll up sleeves and do the work that will narrow the gap between our current reality and our vision. SO EXCITING! Those who took initiative and advantage of today surely got a lot and gave a lot!

7. According to a post from a colleague and blogger I admire greatly, I am a scientist! SEE HERE FOR CHARACTERISTICS THAT I USE IN MY WORK AS AN EDUCATOR!

8. My PLN is a great source of wisdom and encouragement – I received the following email moments ago. It was titled “new lenses,” I think after a blog post I recently completed for edu180atl. I was not supposed to write for 4-8-11, but I would do just about anything for my tribe of fellow educators on Twitter and the blog-osphere. And the idea for the post came from a blogger that I follow and have never met. Being connected is the way to be. Working alone, without a tribe, is not my preferred way to work…and I think not the best way to work for anyone. Have a tribe!


As I was channeling my inner-origami artist and simultaneously figuring out how to get a little bit of TED Stage magic, I was thinking of you as you embark on this new beginning. You know how much I LOVE Maxine Greene’s Teaching as Possibility: A Light in Dark Times, but this especially resonated as I reread her words this evening:

Sometimes, introduced to a reflective or a learning community, someone will become aware of the dearth of understanding in her/his own domain, of the blocks to knowing and to questioning. Sometimes, a teacher or a relative or a friend may pay heed, as does the singer Shug Avery in The Color Purple (Walker, 1982). She suggests to Miss Celie a way of being without “that old white man” in her head, actually a way of becoming free. Celie writes: “Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?) Not the little wild flowers. Nothing” (p. 25). She, too, made aware of alternatives, can discover that “she feels like a fool” because of what she was never enabled to notice and about which she had never asked.

I love that your sabbatical enabled you to notice the big and the small things. To shed light on all that is possible.

Keep up the fine work, Bo.

9. I started writing about an hour ago. I thought I had NO time to write tonight, but my relatively recent commitment to blogging has caused me to practice writing-to-think and feeling positively compelled to take “just 10 minutes” to get something recorded about today. I am glad that I made the time to write and to think. Also, blogging is just different than the writing I did for years that only I could see – creating the potential that even one reader may comment on a post is a kind of art and potential energy and collective-thinking invitation that I have grown to find invaluable…even if no one comments. (But a comment – of just about any nature – is so great!)

10. I am very excited to read the next edu180atl post. When will it get here in my reader?!


Logan Smalley (of Darius Goes West and TEDxAtlanta-RE:SOLVE) and TED recently launched TED-ED and the TED-ED Brain Trust. Because of my good fortune to serve part of my five-week sabbatical at Unboundary, I was able to participate in a conference call with Logan, as well as Tod Martin and Jenn Graham of Unboundary. Today, I made my first extended exploration of the TED-ED Brain Trust, via the Forum. WOW! Through the power of crowd-sourcing (the idea that WE are smarter than ME) and an incredible set of discussions happening on virtually countless threads – all woven together by the myriad ways that TED and education can help advance and enhance one another – the community is shaping the birth and emergence of TED-ED. Below are a teaser video and Logan’s e-mail explanation of the TED-ED Brain Trust. I am thrilled to be a participant in and contributor to this community, and I am beyond excited to add TED-ED to my daily ritual and routine of reading and research.

Dear TED-ED early registrants,

When we announced the TED-ED Brain Trust from the Long Beach stage, we expected a few hundred of you “TEDucators” to express interest in this new initiative. We hoped for 1,000. Your impassioned response to this announcement, however — your collective desire to guide TED in enriching education around the world — exceeded our wildest expectations.

In a little more than one week, over 10,000 of you — educators, students, filmmakers, animators and creative professionals from around the world — pre-registered for the TED-ED Brain Trust. We believe the collective expertise of this burgeoning community is capable of revolutionizing education.

We are so grateful for your personal interest in guiding the creation of TED-ED, and today, we are pleased to invite you to officially join the TED-ED Brain Trust.

What is the TED-ED Brain Trust?
It is an online forum where we ask you, the TED-ED community, to congregate and help shape and accelerate TED’s push into the realm of education. Your input will define this initiative’s trajectory.

We have some budding ideas of how TED content (both existing and new) can be used to enhance formal and informal learning experiences — and you can see these set out very clearly on the homepage, and in various other areas of the site. But in these early, formative stages of TED-ED, we are equally interested in hearing how you, the experts, believe TED can best serve learners around the world.

You’ll find that we’ve populated the TED-ED forum with specific questions on TED’s potential in education. On a programmatic level, finding consensus on these topics is a crucial step in the initial development of TED-ED. You will also find a free-range discussion area in the forum. We hope that you, as a community, will use this area of the TED-ED Brain Trust to express (and improve) your own ideas.

A Soft-Launch — Setting the Tone
We are opening the Brain Trust to all 10,000+ pre-registrants. When you re-register, you will likely find an open and somewhat empty forum. We ask that you swiftly employ your expertise to answer or participate wherever you feel qualified! The comments you make will not only be read by all of the incoming TED-EDsters, but they will also help set the tone of this entire endeavor.

You are the founders of TED-ED. This is your community. If you know someone whose voice needs to be heard in this forum, we encourage you to invite them to join.

We look forward to reading all of your fantastic ideas. Thank you for helping us launch the TED-ED Brain Trust.

Registration link: http://education.ted.com
(You will need to re-register to participate in the forum.)

All the best,
Logan Smalley – TED-ED Catalyst
Chris Anderson – TED Curator

Happy Pi Day – Math, Music, and NPR

This morning, on my way to my sabbatical internship at Unboundary, I heard this story on NPR. http://www.npr.org/2011/03/14/134492882/how-to-transform-the-number-pi-into-a-song

I was saddened, a bit, when the interviewee uttered the phrase, “I am a music person, not a math person.” How did he come to compartmentalize himself this way? Why doesn’t he see himself as both? Aren’t they two branches of the same tree? My pursuit of understanding integrated studies will hopefully shed more light on this way of thinking about oneself and one’s learning.

Here is the YouTube about “What Pi Sounds Like.”

Riffing, Swirling, and Boarding

Had I taken my sabbatical more than four years ago, I believe that my time at Unboundary would have seemed like a journey to a foreign land. As it is now, Unboundary is very recognizable and familiar to me because of the work in which I have immersed myself regarding PLCs – professional learning communities.

In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge writes:

The tools and ideas presented in this book are for destroying the illusion that the world is created of separate, unrelated forces. When we give up this illusion – we can then build ‘learning organizations,’ organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.

During my first week as a sabbatical intern at Unboundary, I witnessed the power of three collaborative tools: riffing, swirling, and boarding.

  • Riffing is improvisational brainstorming. Often team members will declare that they are riffing. This seems to bring into play a set of unspoken, agreed-upon norms – these next ideas are for building more ideas, so don’t shoot them down and don’t add them to the more-concrete draft yet. Just hear me and think with me. Try to pick up a note that you can riff on, too.
  • Swirling is perspective and feedback seeking. It is asking for input and assessment. It provides evaluation from the standpoint of mixing things up so that new lenses can be applied to the thinking and creation.
  • Boarding is communal mind-mapping. Making boards literally means putting index cards up on a tack-board wall (often movable panels) in order to outline and storyboard an idea. By utilizing a board, big-picture visualization and idea connectivity is facilitated.

Watching an Unboundary team riff, swirl, and board is akin to watching a PLC. In a PLC, team members work through the four questions: 1) what should be learned, 2) how will we know if learning is happening, 3) what will we do if it has already been learned, and 4) what will we do if it is not being learned. In a PLC, this work is accomplished collaboratively through such practices as analyzing student work, establishing SMART goals and essential learnings, engaging in lesson study, and participating in instructional rounds. By working together and breaking out of the traditionally isolated way of working in schools, PLC members are able to riff, swirl, and board their ideas…all for the benefit of learning. WE are smarter than ME. Therefore, schools need to ensure time and space for teachers to work together as lead learners, rather than continuing on the path of the egg-crate culture typical of most schools.

In the 21st century, schools and other businesses – all learning organizations – must partner together to share productive and innovative techniques. We need to expand our capacities to create the results we truly desire, we need to nurture new and expansive patterns of thinking, we need to set free our collective aspirations, and we need to learn how to learn together. We need to riff, swirl, and board…together. We need to unboundary ourselves and strive for more significance…together. Imagine the thinking that school and business could do as a team. Imagine the thinkers we would facilitate in schools – thinkers who would grow into the business leaders of tomorrow. Imagine the learning that could happen!

– Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Currency Doubleday. Accessed via e-copy on Amazon Kindle App for iPad.