The Uncommon Denominator

We truly live in an age where worth and value are driven and determined by a new order of measurement and accountability.  Status is maintained and enhanced by how many likes, friends, and followers fill our social media spaces.  Business or industry success is predicated on a bottom-line of profit and sales over the level of customer service provided.  The effectiveness of our schools graded on one-time high stakes assessments, foregoing more authentic indicators.  In our modern times, speed and efficiency often eat climate and culture for lunch.  Milton Chen’s piece in Edutopia addresses this obsession, sharing the comment of one educator from India…“Here, when we want the elephant to grow, we feed the elephant.  We don’t weigh the elephant.”  You might say we have gotten real good at weighing the elephant.

Yet, not all have jumped head first into this pool.  Some of our greatest institutions and organizations still realize that not everything important is quantifiable.  Or, as Einstein states above…“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Business and education are two institutions that have delved deeply in current times around the need to provide increased levels of accountability.  Vigorous assessments and measurements have enveloped the landscape to assuage the growing assemblage of stakeholders.  And yet, there are some who still emphasize the non-measurables and their significance in this new age of accountability.  Two influential leaders that come to mind in the arenas of business and education are Walt Disney and John Hattie.  Each provide examples that defy what we would commonly refer to as viable and “measurable” strategies for our modern times and institutions.

Walt Disney was an entrepeneur and innovator extraordinaire as we have ever had in America.  The Walt Disney Company has grown into a world-renowned organization and one of the greatest business institutions in America.  The Disney Company highlights in their leadership work, Be Our Guest“Walt Disney World employs 55,000 people in the Orlando area.  They are working under 10 collective bargaining agreements with 32 separate unions and in 1,500 different job classifications.  All are called upon to work hard.”  They continue that…“Walt Disney World is the largest single-site employer in the United States and it operates every day of the week, year round.”  And with that powerful statement, a business strategy that continues to drive The Disney Company…“And the energy that powers this city?  Magic.”  Yes…“magic” and “pixie dust” are two real and viable drivers that provide the strategy for the Disney experience for all that visit.  Not the usual terms or strategies that we often hear discussed in most business settings or board rooms.

For the Walt Disney Company, “magic” and “pixie dust” are tangible…they consider “magic” as “the quality, the innovation, the beauty, the coming together of families, the magic of their cast members.  The magic is all of these things bundled up.”  According to the Walt Disney Company…“You cannot assign a numeric number to this magic, but it plays a powerful role.”

Turning from business to education, we can view the work of John Hattie, best known for…Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement and his second follow-up volume Visible Learning For Teachers.  It is through these two volumes of work that he urges educators to focus on making “learning visible” and being able to “know thy impact” on each learner in your the classroom.

As I dive back into Hattie’s work, i reflect on the meta-analysis’ he provides to verify those strategies that show an ability to effectively increase student learning.  And yet, even with the deluge of data from his meta-analysis’…Hattie puts a distinct finger on the importance of “passion” as being an essential component of an effective educator’s practice.  As Hattie shares in Visible Learning for Teachers…”We rarely talk about passion in education, as if doing so makes the work of teachers seem less serious, more emotional than cognitive, somewhat biased or of lesser impact.”  He goes on to say that “Passion reflects the thrill, as well as the frustrations of learning, the most prized outcomes of schooling.”

So as we march forward into this age of accountability, one littered with high-stakes assessments and measurements of every variety…we have to remember that “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  Many of our greatest institutions and our greatest work is based less on quantifiable, measurable data than they are on the “magic” and “passion” infused into the work and the organization.  The “magic” and the “passion” are often the uncommon denominators that define the experience…between the memorable and the not so memorable.  The difference between good and great.  They serve as the great differentiators that push our organizations, ourselves, and our work to the highest level.

Choose to let a little “magic” and “passion” serve as the difference makers in your life and your work.


3 thoughts on “The Uncommon Denominator

  1. What a great post David! We need to continually refine what we are actually measuring to ensure that we are moving forward as teacher, school and system. But often, it is the passion of the individual that makes the difference and that is difficult to measure with a simply a number. Education is a business but more importantly it is a human business. This humaness must never be marginalized because it doesn’t measure easily.

  2. Great post, David. As you know, I couldn’t agree more. Passion and magic are two key ingredients in the Teach Like a PIRATE philosophy and are key ingredients to effective leadership in any field. Well done, as usual!

  3. I once listened to a great Ted Talk that emphasizes that good teaching comes down to ordinary magic. In his Ted Talk, Dr. Goldstein refers to the fact that the day-to-day experiences with educators has clearly been found in having a powerful force in shaping the lives of young people. I think that most of us know and understand this, but it is through these connections with young people that the essential groundwork is laid for fostering relationships of trust, strength, hope, and optimism. He also points out that if we can connect our hearts with the minds of our students we are in even a better position to have positive influence over them helping them along their learning paths.

    He says that making these connections isn’t nearly as hard as people think and that it comes down to ‘ordinary magic’. As educators, we all have the ‘ordinary magic’ that makes learning a very special experience for our students . I found Dr. Goldstein’s short video excellent in helping me to reflect on the importance of these little day-to-day interactions with my students both in and out of my PE classes.

    If we are to help our students overcome adversity, deal positively with mistakes, and learn to be more resilient in nature, we are definitely better preparing them for the difficulties and challenges that they are sure to face as they progress through school and into adulthood.

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