The Act of Being: A Kermit-Like Mindset to Leadership and Beyond

TikTok Inspired

I recently stumbled upon a TikTok post featuring a table-read for the sketch comedy show, The Muppet Show (1976 – 1981). The clip, posted by TikTok user, @muppetmarissa, includes the voice-overlay of creative mind and Muppet creator, Jim Henson, along with his perspective on the collaborative creative process. The clip progresses, there are many other voices of Muppet Legendary, and then comes the wave of nostalgia.

The Fabric

Now, if you made it this far, it should come as no surprise to learn the obvious. I am a huge Jim Henson fan. I mean, I am writing a reflection on educational leadership with an ode to The Muppets. Don’t worry, it has a purpose, I promise.

I am unsure where @muppetmarissa found this particular clip, but very much look forward to viewing what appears to be a documentary on Jim Henson that I have yet to review. I do know there is a highly anticipated documentary in the works about Jim Henson, directed and produced by the dynamic duo of Ron Howard and Brian Glazer. The release date of the Disney Original Documentary is still to be determined and you can read more about it here in this 2022 press release by The Jim Henson Company.

You see, I consider myself a creative. I allow myself the time, space, and flexibility to be creative in all aspects of my personal and professional interests. I credit my creative identity and all my ventures, from childhood to this very moment, to Jim Henson, his circle of like-minded creatives, the imaginary world they conjured for us kids in the 80s, and how that imaginary world has now transcended space and time.

Ed Sullivan, Kermit the Frog and Jim Henson; The Ed Sullivan Show, N.D.

Shared Experience

I also know, I am not the only one who feels this way. Take actor Jason Segel, for example. Segal is best known for his role in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother (2005 – 2014), writing and starring in the iconic film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), writing and staring in the recent the AppleTV series, Shrinking (2023), and [drumroll please], his love of The Muppets.

Segel does not shy away from his love and appreciation for The Muppets, and even refers to them as his “childhood idols.” An additional interest worth noting is Segel’s idolization of Kermit the Frog, the amphibian embodiment of Henson’s legacy. Segel reveres Kermit almost as much as I revere the little green frog. During an interview to promote his mid-2000s film, The Muppets (2011), Segel was asked to divulge his favorite Muppet, to which he replied “… it’s Kermit. It’s always been Kermit.” I get it.

I get Segel’s #ItsAlwaysBeenKermit belief statement because quite frankly, I have an #ItsAlwaysBeenKermit belief statement, too. So here it goes, my Kermit belief statement:

Everything I learned in life, I learned from a little green frog

I really get it.

In 2011, Segal took it upon himself to dust off the Muppet memories for us “80s kids,” thanks to writing and staring alongside them for their return to the big screen. That summer, I took my son, who was then 4 years old, along with his cousins, to see Segal’s major motion picture production. We sat in a quaint, Berkshire, Massachusetts movie theater. What could be better than a summertime movie, in the Berkshires, and watching The Muppets? Nothing. There is nothing better. Trust me.

The lights dimmed. The credits rolled, and so did the tears. Let me be more specific. The credits rolled, and so did my tears.

I wish I could say I was overcome with emotion because it was my son’s first time in a movie theater– it wasn’t that. No, it wasn’t tears of joy. Tears of sadness? Nah. Nope, not tears longing for the days of yesterday. I pretty much cried throughout the entire movie. 

The Act of Being

For the duration of the film, the adult me was very cognizant of the fact that I was in a theater, surrounded by children, one of them being my own, to watch a film in which my own childhood icons paraded on screen. The film, for all intents and purposes, was presented under the auspices of a children’s movie. But to me, I knew this film was not exclusively targeted to the 4-12 year old demographic, but to their parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, neighbors– to those “80s kids.”

The Muppets (2011) was a film targeted to me, and my tears were tears of being; being seen, heard and valued

It was so very apparent, how by watching this film, my personal roadmap, goals, dreams, and aspirations were emphatically validated, and not just by any other person, by another like-minded creative, personally and professionally influenced by Henson and his Muppets.

Jason Segel got it– he got me.

I was being seen, valued, and heard as a person in need of a reminder, a reminder to remember….and I wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t the only one positively influenced by the creative masterminds behind The Muppets. I wasn’t the only one still using the efforts of ingenious creatives, like Henson, to fuel my purpose. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to genuinely find opportunities to advocate for empathy and understanding, to leave my mark on this world, and make it just a little brighter than it was the day before.

There are people, like Segel, who are like me. There are people, like Segel, who, like me, want others to know that even during some of life’s most [fill in the blank] moments, they are seen, heard and valued.

Educational Leadership

As I reflect on my own educational leadership journey, there is the running motif and thematic concept within my writing and it is centered around those three words: seen, valued, and heard (I’ve coined it “the trifecta”). All individuals in an organization need to feel truly seen, valued, and heard for a plethora of reasons; the multitude of stakeholders: who is the cultivator of “the trifecta” one day and who is the receiver the next; interwoven relationships between district, school building leadership and the trickle down effect; leadership philosophy and philosophical approaches to management, transactional vs. transformational…

Now, enter students into the equation. Students must feel seen, heard and valued, and if teachers are the ones to help cultivate and nurture “the trifecta,” then teachers must also be a receiver of those feelings, which then means district and school building leadership must …. round and round we go.

All stakeholders must have equitable access to “the trifecta.” Easier said than done? Meh.

Everything I learned in life, I learned from a little green frog.

I get it, because I believe it. And I also believe in order to cultivate authentic opportunities for others to feel all those things, and more, it takes creative ingenuity, it requires safety and security, transparency, honesty, love, kindness, trust, empathy …. it requires a Kermit-like mindset.

A Kermit-Like Mindset to Leadership and Beyond! That reads as if it’s got some potential, and that is where the next chapter of my leadership journey will start.

The Human Resource

My recent post is associated with a school building leadership assignment. Below is the prompt and my response.

Prompt: During your internship, has anything occurred that was unanticipated or surprising? Is there anything you encountered that was unexpected? If so, what was your major takeaway? If nothing was unexpected or surprising, why do you think that is the case? After the class session, post a reply to this inquiry on the discussion board and respond to at least one other classmates post.

This is the second semester of my school building leader internship.  Interestingly enough, I find myself much more astute at identifying areas of need, at both the building and district level. Additionally, I find myself considering those within the organization, other than individuals appointed to leadership positions, equipped to address those identified areas of need.

I’m aware that there are resources, human resources, readily available to assist those in the designated leadership position, human resources who may in fact be more equipped to address the identified area need than the person in the designated leadership position to typically address those needs. But for leadership to truly benefit from the human capital within the organization, it requires a transformative mindset, or at least a mindset working towards a full transformative overhaul and cognizant of the need to be open minded, as well as a fortified ego, ready to withstand some of the most daunting moments of self-doubt.

I often find myself thinking, if I were in a current leadership position, how I would incorporate these outstanding educators, to honor their strengths and their desire to be a part of the larger systematic plan of improvement? If students want to be seen, heard, and valued by their teachers, wouldn’t teachers want to be seen, heard, and valued by their leadership team? At the end of the day, people are people.

I always tell my colleagues how proud I am to work alongside them, wish for more time for collaboration, to learn from one another– my colleagues know they are seen, heard, and valued, but it’s me that’s doing the seeing, and hearing and valuing.  As one colleague said during a recent conversation, “You’re going to make a great principal one day….” I brush those comments to the side and change the subject, not because it doesn’t feel good to hear, but because of what their comment really says about how they feel, and how their words that followed directly reflected an area of need: school culture the teacher’s perspective on their value and worth, and the degree to which the teacher perspective was aligned with the leaderships’ perspective.

How does one address an identified area of need specific to the school culture from the perspective of the teacher, when it is assumed by some (not all) in leadership positions that there isn’t a problem at all? When does an identified area of need become an identified area of need?  Is it in the eye of the beholder, or the one in a leadership position? And if the role of the leader is integral to addressing the need, is the need only a need worthy of attention when it directly impacts the transactional leader? More questions than answers.

I’ll continue to lift my colleagues, and contemplate all the possibilities to address the embedded needs in questions like those above. In all honesty, I would be disappointed if the only thing to come out of this reflective response is further confirmation for how I want to lead as school building leader, but it just might be all that a response like this is destined to reaffirm.

ChatGPT. A Dystopian Tale Foretold?

The school building leader internship is one of the final required components associated with the New York State School Building Leader Certification. To learn more about School Building Leadership Certification for New York State, visit New York State Education Department Office of Teaching Initiatives: School Building Leader Certificate Experience Requirements and Position Titles.

Currently, I am three weeks into the second semester of my year long, school building leader internship. This time around, I find myself contemplating a myriad of hot topics as a parent, secondary educator, aspiring school leader, and advocate for the social-emotional well-being of adolescent students.

Last week, my professor posted the following assignment:

Prompt: In this week’s discussion post, please select one quote, then make one comment on how you believe this technology may impact education. Please respond to at least one of your classmates (sic) posts. Do not create a new thread, simply respond to my post and to classmate’s (sic) posts.

Article: ChatGPT banned from New York City public schools’ devices and networks

I invite you to read my adapted response below:

During the fall months of the 2022-2023 school year, the one and only AI platform, ChatGPT, commandeered secondary department meeting agendas, as well as the group text threads and Snapchats of secondary students. There were mainstream publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, presenting bold-print, ominous headlines of the AI platform’s stealthy omnipresence. Then came The Atlantic’s subsequent op-ed from a high school English teacher, how cliché.

ChatGPT was a topic of conversation among parents while I stood on the sidelines at youth sporting events, during holiday celebrations with family, and even among my extended PLN of educators and other professionals. In all three scenarios, I listened to concerned perspectives. Statements like, It’s the end of the world, there goes humanity, teachers are insignificant, here come the robots, and variations of such, were followed by a barrage of rhetorical questions.

Do students need to learn how to write?

Why do students need to learn how to write?

If there are computers that can do it for them, why waste their time with writing?

As people prepared for the end of the world as we know it [cue REM], I kept reading, listening, and observing fellow educators and non-educators alike.

The words I read, the voices I heard, and the actions I observed were mere reflections of the dubious undertones emanating from those mainstream articles alerting readers, education and humanity of … what exactly?

The more I read, the more I listened, the more I observed, the more convinced I became that there was something worth adding to the docket.

Pre-ChatGPT Era. Let’s be real for a second. I’ve been in secondary education for 18 years. ChatGPT is no different than the tutor who only “helped,” the Google search results producing a plethora of graduate school level work worthy of a ::highlight, click-copy-paste::: into an 11th grade essay of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, or the older sibling/neighbor/cousin assigned the same senior thesis assignment 5 years prior, etc. Educators today need to consider how, if at all, pre-ChatGPT era students are more similar than they are different than students of the ChatGPT generation.

I asked my students their thoughts to that same very question. Their collective responses are captured in this paraphrased statement, If a student wants to cheat, they are going to cheat, and they don’t need ChatGPT. It needs to be known my students also provided an empathic rationale for why students might feel the need to submit something that does not represent their own original thinking, resort to cheating or using an AI platform like ChatGPT.

We have to get into college and get money.

All everyone cares about are grades.

Sometimes you aren’t prepared.

There isn’t enough time.

Stuff happens, and sometimes people don’t get that stuff happens, so what else are we going to do?

I’d rather play with my dog…

Keep this empathic level of adolescent transparency in mind as I share a recent comment and rhetorical question from a professional colleague with no affiliation to my current place of employment. The professional colleague stated, “If there was ChatGPT when I was a student, I would’ve used it. Wouldn’t you?” While I believe the intentions of the statement to be rhetorical, I vehemently responded, “No.” My answer was no, is still no, and will always be no, and here’s why–– the adolescent voices represented above.

Those voices, all of them, make me think about my own high school experience. I loved my formative high school years and believe they contribute to my pedagogical stance on education and curriculum. As a result, I skillfully craft authentic curriculum for my own students and continuously create organic opportunities for students to demonstrate learning on their terms, as much as possible. Nothing comes from a handout, or a book, or an online platform which allows educators to pay other educators for their products. My lessons today, look nothing like my lessons from 2005, the year I started teaching, nor should they reflect the needs of students from almost 20 years ago! Same goes for assessments. Formative and summative assessments are not the same from year-to-year, not the same from class period to class period, sometimes not even the same within the class period. I am always fine tuning lessons, assessments, differentiating and giving autonomy to the students (it is their learning after all). I am reflective, constantly wondering if I am being culturally responsive to the ever-changing needs of my students, diversifying texts and text types, and asking for their feedback.

When I was a high school student, I knew I was seen, heard, and valued by the way my teachers interacted with me, the lessons they created, the diversity of the texts, the way they allowed me to creatively represent my learning, by the way they listened, allowed me to be the gregarious change-maker who challenged norms and advocated for others, and they acknowledged my reality in a non-judgmental way.

Now, I pay it forward.

Seen, Heard, & Valued. Whether pre-ChatGPT era students are more similar than they are different than students of the ChatGPT generation really depends on three seemingly simple, yet ever-so necessary words–– seen, heard, and valued. The trifecta!

My students, your students, they are people, and I believe, as I am sure you do too, all people deserve to be seen, heard, and valued. Students want to know they matter, not just to any person, they want to matter to you, their teacher, their parent/guardian, their adult role model. And not just sometimes. Students want to matter all the time, for all their thoughts, ideas, mistakes, wrongdoings, successes, and they want to matter when it comes to their learning process.

I believe it is essential to unearth a student’s root decision to utilize AI platforms like ChatGPT, rather than submit their own thoughts and ideas. I believe it is essential to evaluate the extent to which a student’s perception of themselves as a learner, influences their decision to utilize alternatives like ChatGPT, and to what degree their actions are influenced by their perspective on how others may see, hear, and value them as a learner. In short, we need to illuminate the influence of the trifecta’s presence, or lack thereof, on the secondary students perception of self, and understand the possibility of such a factor influencing the decisions of secondary learners.

Today ChatGPT, Tomorrow Robots. No, I don’t believe robots are going to take over the world, or America’s classrooms. Do I think there is a concern for the well-being of humanity? Maybe, but my concern for the well-being of humanity is not because of an AI platform.

Humanity’s well-being can teeter if today’s students become the adults of tomorrow, who are one day responsible for humanity’s survival and simultaneously harbor self-doubt, the belief their words and the words of others are insignificant, the belief their thoughts and the thoughts of others have no purpose or aren’t good enough, the belief they aren’t good enough, the belief there’s no need to write or communicate or advocate, or the worst case, harbor the belief it is easier to embrace apathy because… why bother with any other mindset?

Who You Gonna Call? To protect humanity, we don’t need to condemn innovation. We must deconstruct the illusive apathetic mindset. Psst, I’ll let you in on a little secret, the apathetic mindset is creeping behind the letters, C-H-A-T-G-P-T, and it is looking for a spot to take root, but ChatGPT didn’t disperse the seeds of apathy.

Before any deconstruction takes place, we need to ask some questions, which may or may not start with the word, Why:

  • Why was the ChatGPT platform generated in the first place (think about Stone’s concepts of welfare and security)?
    • Literal rationale for its creation
    • Figurative rationale for its creation
  • Why would a student opt to submit anything other than a product representative of their authentic voice?
  • Why would a student resort to a sterile computer response, a response that could hold serious inaccuracies intertwined with “big SAT words,” rather than their own?
  • Why would a student resort to a sterile computer response that could violate a student code of conduct and result in serious consequences?
  • Why does the student value the “thoughts” of AI over their own thoughts?
  • Why would a student think their teacher would prefer the submission of AI generated “work,” over age and skill appropriate submissions which reflect who they are as a person and learner?

ChatGPT is here for a myriad of plausible reasons. I am highlighting one plausible reason being the messages students receive on the daily; messages of who is seen, heard and valued; why they are seen, heard and valued; and the need to figure out a way to be seen, heard and valued.

But, who would send a message like that, you ask? Schools, towns, stakeholders (educators, school building and district leaders, parents, state and national figures), external curriculums like AP and IB, state standards, national standards, SAT, ACT, societal norms and expectations, all send messages, intended or not. Which brings me to another set of questions to ponder:

  • To what extent do the intended messages sent differ from the messages students’ receive?
  • How, if at all, do parents and/or guardians contribute to disseminating messages which compel students to turn to AI platforms like Chat GPT, rather than their own thoughts and ideas?

Ready, Set, Deconstruct. Good educators will keep asking good questions, and by good questions, I mean challenging questions, like those I crafted above. Good educators will keep creating a good curriculum, and a good curriculum is differentiated, student centered, authentic, inquiry based, rooted in student choice, performance based, and sends an important message to the student they are seen, heard, and valued. Good educators will keep incorporating purposeful technology use in the classroom, for who are we to deny students with the 21st century skills needed to communicate, create, advocate, and protect humanity.

Now is not the time to get distracted from the good stuff. We cannot get caught up in futile efforts to catch or prevent student use of technological advancements. We cannot have a John Lithgow, Footloose (1984) level of control in our schools when it comes to mitigating the rapidly changing contours of technological innovation.

Footloose (1984)

We cannot run away from technological advancements– just think if we took a defensive stance against the printing press, or “the calculator, which was decried as the death of math” (Rosenblatt, 2023)! We cannot point fingers and place blame for ChatGPT indiscriminately; technology is not the enemy here. Neither is innovation or ingenuity–– Elon Musk, is not the antagonist of this dystopian tale. I’m not certain it’s even a dystopian tale, at least for right now.

Balance is Key. I’ll stick with the Hollywood motif a little longer and quote Mister Miyagi from the 1984 classic film, Karate Kid. During the “Rowboat Scene,” Mister Miyagi, the film’s archetypal sage, guides protagonist, Daniel LaRusso, with inspirational words. Mister Miyagi states, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?”

The Karate Kid (1984)

No one is walking away from technological advancements in the classroom. No one is packing up their bags and going home.

We need to “get the balance right” (Depeche Mode, 1983) when it comes to technological innovation, which requires trial and error.

So let’s embrace technological innovation!

Incorporate it!

Model it!

Respect it!

Learn from, and with one another (and I am talking about collaboration with students)–– about the emerging technological trends, model the behaviors we hope to instill in our students through our own responsible use of technology to present a true, unified digital citizenship initiative.

Maybe this offensive-line strategy will help to realign the messages we send, reflect their true intentions, and be received as such in the hearts and minds of our students. At the end of the day, our students are people–– people, sitting in a class, hoping their teachers see, hear, and value them (that has some Julia Roberts Notting Hill (1999) vibes, no?). Our students deserve to receive this message, and then some.

As educators and emerging school leaders, now is the time to reflect upon the individual and collective messages we send, the messages students receive, and recognize our contribution to the inception of ChatGPT, a technological response to an identified need we, inadvertently, created (and there are a lot of people, places, and things falling under the words our and we in this post).

But we do need to act, or the only fingers pointing will be those placing blame where it belongs, at ourselves–– and nobody likes fingers pointing while hearing the words, “I told you so.”

Disclaimer: I cannot present an opinion piece about students accessing AI technology without acknowledging an AI tool afforded to teachers! The a-ha!, we gotcha AI platform to determine a submissions level of authenticity, Full disclosure, I use, but I didn’t get into teaching to complete a crime scene investigation on work submitted, and is so much more than a plagiarism “checker.”

Wait, does that mean ChatGPT is so much more than an AI platform doing the work for America’s students? A conversation for another day.