Tuesday, October 15, 2013


At some point in May of 2013, I attended an in-service for administrators. While I typically try to make the most out of such events, I grew particularly frustrated with this training from the very beginning. Scheduled for a 9:00 a.m. start, the training didn’t begin until sometime after 9:30. I hate to waste time, so even though I plowed through emails and kept busy in my mobile office, I entered the training less than enthusiastic. 

Then, the topic centered around anti-bullying. A noble focus, but when we began to do a close-reading of the anti-bullying policy, my frustration swelled. I taught high school Language Arts. I’ve published articles and written research projects in graduate school. I can definitely read. In fact, I can read pretty well. So, to take time to do a close read of this document seemed like a further waste of my time. 

After going through each line and putting it into our own words and finding words that really strike us and asking questions of the interpretation of colleagues and only getting through 1/2 of the document, the morning ended. 

I am not calling the topic unworthy of an administrator’s time. I’m not making a statement about the importance of an administrator knowing what and how to do a close read of a piece of text. Both of these areas of focus have immense merit. The afternoon, though, did not bring with it the promise of a game changer. More of the same, or so I thought, littered the afternoon’s agenda.

Lunch was provided. It was free. It was pretty good. At least I had a full stomach going back for more line by line analysis of this policy.

God has a wicked way of getting people’s attention. The afternoon proved to be one of the most productive trainings I’ve ever attended. He had played on my emotions, almost as if to set me up for a dramatic AH HA! moment, throughout a dismal morning. I was unprepared for the thoughts and ideas that were generated, germinated and developed over the course of our afternoon. 

It was, very simply, AMAZING.

The speaker, Dr. Randall Woodard from St. Leo University, was dynamic. He was entertaining. He was polished. He was risky and even challenging in his address. The tenor of the room shifted during his portion of the training. Focusing on the work of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, the leading expert on how to become an expert, Dr. Woodard outlined the steps for anyone to become an expert at anything. And, anyone can become an expert at just about anything. Talent, innate ability and genes are not as valuable as training. 

1. Focus on incremental improvements. The larger task of becoming an expert _________________, must be broken into the most fundamental, incremental steps.

2. Use training tasks that take the performer outside of current capacities. We tend to focus on the things we already do well instead of working on the areas of our performance in need of improvement. 

3. Our attention to our practice must be so focused that we eliminate all facets of automaticity. We have a tendency to settle for good enough in just about all that we do. We reach a plateau and most of us settle to live on that plain as opposed to ascending to even greater heights. 

4. Rely on coaches / mentors to: set goals, design domain specific training tasks, and provide meaningful feedback that allows for growth. Without outside help, we often remain in the secure confines of the plateau-topped heights of good enough. 

Then, Dr. Woodard applied this line of thinking to moral development: is it possible to design a training program, based on expert training, that focuses on moral development? Can we provide the opportunities, the mentoring, the incremental steps to have students become morally excellent?

What if we went back to our schools, Dr. Woodard challenged us, and said, "We are going to develop a training program where people are going to be amazing."

My pen couldn't keep up with the ideas. 

Non-academic character traits needed to become a focus in our school - organization, responsibility, pride, manners, improvement. 

We need to provide students with opportunities to work closely with mentors. 

In alignment with our theme (HOME) for the upcoming school year, my mind jumped after hearing this quote from Blessed Pope John Paul II, "The Christian family is the school of love." What if we included into our school households in addition to homerooms? Students would be divided into multi-aged houses headed by a faculty member. Time would be etched out throughout the year for these relationships to be forged and fostered.

And so, the inception of two initiatives occurred:

AMAZING Training Pillars and Households.

The summer would allow for the growth and maturation of each.

12 Pillars ensued:


In meeting with ICS's Mr. Brett Woodward, our School Counselor, Households, Priories and the Irish Cup started to take on a life and momentum of their own throughout the months of June and July. A cup was purchased. Banners were made. Priories formed. A chant was concocted.

An AMAZING year began...and continues.