Why Your School Should Invest In a Stuffed Penguin

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(This week's guest blog comes from 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud Jr.)

How often do others get to witness the great things that happen in your classroom, school, or district? The students see it regularly -- but how about the adults?

Likely, it's not that often. This could be for a variety of reasons, but often we in education are not able to share the great things that we are doing, because we are so busy doing them! Recognition can even seem sporadic, at best, but we don't enter this profession to be thanked or recognized; rather, we enter the field of education as a calling to serve others. So many educators all over the world are doing amazing things in their classrooms, but some of it is going unnoticed.

Here's a simple project that can have profound and lasting changes on the culture of a classroom, school, district, or educational organization. It's called 'Operation Fred' and it is incredible!

Operation Fred is a project to recognize educators for the great things happening in classrooms and schools everywhere. It is inspired by Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter, a story of effecting successful change in any environmental challenge. After reading the book and thinking about its implications for schools, you'll likely agree that all educators should know the story of Fred the penguin.

Fred is the main character in John Kotter's fable about the actionable steps necessary to effect and lead change in the face of adversity. Fred succeeded in effecting change through his own and others' actions, and all of those actions represent the actions we in education are doing on a daily basis. From the classroom to a larger level, educators can learn a lot from this tenacious penguin.

We live in a changing environment of education, where the complexities facing classrooms and schools are ever increasing. While it can sometimes feel like our individual actions as educators don't make any impact, it is important to realize that we collectively influence significant success for students everywhere.

Operation Fred is a project that helps to communicate that message to all educators, by encouraging everyone to reflect on the great things that are already happening -- and perhaps facilitate necessary change in areas where things could be even better. Effecting change in education occurs best through educators acknowledging their strengths, sharing success, and collaborating around what works in education. Entire organizations are dedicated to making this happen, such as ours, but we often neglect the resource of our own classrooms and schools to acknowledge and share success.

So what's the first step in leading change?

You'll have to read the book to find out, but what we can tell you is that leading change involves acknowledging the inspirations for change that exist in our organizations. That's where Operation Fred comes in. This school culture project is an ongoing, regularly-occurring, approach to identifying and recognizing the great things that are happening in schools and the people who are doing them.

"By taking on Operation Fred, you'll crowd-source the points of pride for your school, recognize well-deserving staff, and learn new great ideas from colleagues."

Here's what you'll need:

  1. A copy of Our Iceberg Is Melting, by John Kotter
  2. stuffed penguin
  3. A copy of Fred the Penguin's open letter to educators (or your own variation of it)

Here's how the project works:

  • Obtain the items you'll need for the project
  • Deliver the items to a deserving educator in your school, but attempt to do this in a top-secret manner
  • Let the penguin do the rest!

You can customize Fred's letter to fit your school or organization. To capture Fred's adventures, much like a Flat Stanley project, you might consider asking recipients of Fred to send a postcard along with Fred to his next destination, setting up a moderated email-to-post blog where educators can share their experiences with Fred during their visit, post pictures or video of what Fred get's to see while he visits classrooms, or Fred can have an online journal to inspire other educators. Alternatively, if doing this project secretively isn't possible, the exchange of Fred the Penguin can be done at a staff meeting and report-outs from those who got to host Fred can be shared at subsequent staff meetings.

It's an easy-to-implement way to recognize the great things educators are doing in your schools and to help facilitate the sharing of those stories among colleagues. You can customize the concept of Operation Fred in any way you want to fit your school!

If all goes well, Fred the penguin will make his rounds to many classrooms or buildings to witness many great things. Fred's visit should encourage us as educators to focus on our strengths--the things that we are doing in our classrooms that are great--and share them.

Others will then come to know more of the great things happening in your school. Many educators will read come to know Fred's story and be inspired as to how their actions can have a significant impact in their schools and the greater education community.

You can download a PDF of Fred's letter here to distribute with a copy of the book and a stuffed penguin to an educator near you! You can purchase a copy of the book at the author's site.


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