Wednesday’s “Not-So-Easy” Leadership Button #3 – SCN Encourager 8/7/2013

Adding – Subtracting – Multiplying – Dividing – My Tax Returns 

When I was a young second grade teacher many moons ago, I attempted to teach math understanding and skills to my students with the idea that we could carry out a super-dooper real-world activity near the end of the school year – something like the preparation of my personal federal income tax return.

For sure, the kids couldn’t do any worse on that 1040 form than I did.

This is why I wrote down this intended activity in my spiral bound lesson planner every fall with such high hopes. I didn’t think it was a stretch at all. Not for my students. Didn’t H. & R. Block (Henry and Richard) form their partnership as seven year-olds?

My second graders had a tremendous teacher – and the official self-assessment in my file today confirms this – so accuracy wouldn’t have been a concern.

And given the messy condition inside their “lift-up-top” wooden desks, I know that several of my tax-deductable receipts were likely squirreled away somewhere within their easy grasps.

Plus, there was a ton of financial expertise in my classroom to go to for tax counsel, as a few of my students had either paper routes or lemonade stands on the side – and probably made more money than I did.

My lesson plans were rock solid.

All I had to do was guide my students through the math curriculum: addition, subtraction, multiplying, and dividing. (And yes, everything was basically taught in this order. The whole notion of 21st learning didn’t really enter the picture back then until… well, the 21st century!)

You’re probably not surprised to learn now – as those final weeks of school neared – that my second grade class never ever actually got around to starting that collaborative, project-based preparation of my tax return.

Our instructional days were simply too overwhelmed by the teaching of math fundamentals along with a host of other curricular areas that were deemed more “essential” by my principal. I also think she left a note in big letters on the windshield of my car that said, “No way!”

I’ve had to do my own tax returns ever since.

-+So what does all of this have to do with today’s “Not-So-Easy” School Leadership Button #3?

Well, the button you see on the left not only flip-flops the sequence of my old second grade math lessons (adding first, then subtracting…), it also serves as a reminder that we occasionally may need to flip-flop the questions we ask at the school leadership table when we’re discussing a problem.

Just like teaching math to second graders, there’s no law that says we must begin with “addition” when planning what to do about a school concern or opportunity.

In fact, many business and organizational strategists suggest that we tackle an issue by first asking, “is there anything that we can subtract right away, or remove from the equation now, that will help us achieve our objective before we even consider adding anything?”

Their recommended “Subtraction first, Addition if needed” approach seems sound to me.

And it might help me prepare my taxes, too – without the need for any second graders.

At any rate, it’s given me a fresh perspective on my tax situation.

When it comes to my income, I’ve definitely got more subtractions than additions.

Tom Page, SCN
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