Jennifer Abrams -Consultancy that informs, inspires, and empowers VOICE
January 2009

Hello and Happy New Year! I have been doing quite a bit of contemplation this winter break – what feels urgent – what feels compelling – what would be helpful.  What keeps popping up in my consciousness is adult-to-adult interactions at work and how we could be so much better with them and in them.  How do we support and push each other in our quest to help children learn, achieve and grow up?  What modeling do students see when they watch us?   In my research on this topic, I was led to a quote from Tom Brokaw, who said during his commencement address at Emory University in 2005, “In your pursuit of your passions, always be young. In your relationship with others, always be grown-up.”  What might being ‘grown up’ look like and sound like?  What might I begin to say or do differently as I develop and mature?  To answer my own questions, here are two of my resolutions for 2009 that, I hope, get me a few steps closer to being the grown up about whom Mr. Brokaw is talking.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

“In Your Relationship With Others, Always Be Grown Up”

Not Being the Bad Apple

Will Felps, professor at the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, was interviewed on NPR’s This American Life, last week. 
Felps’ research looked at how one bad apple can truly ruin the bunch.  Felps’ study showed that in a group setting, the jerk, the slacker and the depressive-pessimist ‘types’ had such a negative effect on a group that the group performed 30%-40% worse on any given task placed in front of them when one of those types played true to form. That is a lot of energy and time down the drain.  I began wondering about those insults, however sly, the jerk in me might be placing into my comments in any given meeting or how my leaning back and growing ever more distracted during a task brings down the energy of my training team, OR how if I was in a ‘bummer of a mood’ how I might take away from my colleagues being able to do the work set in front of us. What might this research say about individuals in professional learning communities who aren’t intentional, yet still have such a negative impact on the process?  And what about as a tenure decision is coming up taking a look not only at a teacher’s ability in the classroom, but also his or her ability to work effectively with other adults?  Impact is everything.

Being More Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

I had a lot of time on my hands this holiday and I watched C-SPAN one afternoon. :) I was intrigued not only by the substance of the conversation, but by observing my own emotions as I watched The Aspen Institute’s National Education Summit session, “The State of American Education—Where Do We Stand?”
Joel Klein from the New York City Public Schools, Governor Roy Romer, Michael Lomax, the president of the United Negro College Fund, the Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, and others debated as to what needs to happen in the United States in order to create a top-notch educational system for all students.  When I disagreed with something said, I made faces and mumbled at the television.  When I agreed, I shouted approval at the speaker on my TV set.  As I continued to watch, I noticed myself not being as able to see the ideas presented as being outside myself – instead, to my disappointment, I saw how black and white I was with my perspectives – I was too connected, personally and viscerally. While I believe it isn’t a bad thing to bring passion and a set of strong beliefs to my work, I realized that I wasn’t able to contain myself in a way that would have served me had I been on the panel.  I am not yet as professionally fluent as I’d like to be in the ways of advocacy and inquiry.  I don’t engage often enough in vigorous discussions that build up my capacity for the ambiguous and uncertain and dissimilar. This year I aspire to be more open-minded and curious about opinions counter to mine and be less immediate in my woundedness when I am questioned.  I hope to hold an even bigger space for more difference and less judgment. 

Harriet Lerner’s quote on my web site keeps reminding me, “How we use our voice determines the quality of our relationships, who we are in the world, what the world can be and might become. Clearly, a lot is at stake here.”  Indeed.

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Cool Resources

  • My colleague, Bill Sommers, former president of NSDC, and I have been talking about the new book, A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School. The book jacket sums it up with this phrase: “What’s missing and is needed in almost all organizations today, is a real sense of urgency, a distinctive attitude and gut-level feeling that lead people to grab change and avoid hazards, to make something important happen today.”  As the new year begins, what are you most urgent about?

  • Jim Roussin and Skip Olsen, two generous and innovative professional developers, led a session at NSDC’s annual conference last month about incorporating poetry into one’s work as a teacher, trainer and leader.  They reminded me of Parker Palmer calling poetry a ‘third thing’ – bringing it with us into an interaction with another as the third voice can open our hearts, and help us engage with each other in new and inspired ways. For poems to use in your work, check out Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains The Courage to Teach and Leading From Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead – both edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner.

Upcoming Events

Each month I will share with you information about a few of my upcoming trainings.
If I am going to be in your area, contact me so we can say hello, hopefully in person!

Jan 5
Five Linguistic Resolutions for the New Year

Keynote Address
Merced Union High School District
Merced, CA

Jan 22-23
Having Hard Conversations

Utah Mentor Teacher Academy Cohort 1
Provo, UT

Jan 24
Being Generationally Savvy:  Understanding the Dynamics
Of Varied Age Groups Within Our School Communities
Trustee/School Head Conference
California Association of Independent Schools
Los Angeles, CA

For additional upcoming events, please visit my Web site.

Until next time,


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© 2008 Jennifer Abrams | Email Jennifer | 4290 Wilkie Way #L, Palo Alto, CA 94306 |  (650) 858-0699


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