Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/1/20 – Dr. Michael Hynes works as a public school superintendent of schools for the Port Washington School District, Fulbright Specialist and an associate professor of education and leadership on Long Island, NY. His mission is to spread the message of the importance of a holistic approach to educating children. He emphasizes the importance of play, recess in schools, mental health and yoga and mindfulness in the classroom. He’s also a public school advocate, TEDx and keynote speaker and has published numerous articles and featured on several podcasts and articles on school leadership. Hynes has focused his work on transforming schools by tapping into Potential Based Education, which focuses on the significance of social, emotional, physical and cognitive development for students as well as developing strategic plans for school buildings and school districts. Dr. Hynes educates organizations on global school initiatives and universal best practices. He has studied and worked with the Finnish school system. His new book, “Staying Grounded” 12 Principles for Transforming School Leader Effectiveness is receiving rave reviews from his peers.
Tell us about your new book, “Staying Grounded” 12 Principles for Transforming School Leader Effectiveness.
I wrote ‘Staying Grounded’ for the purpose of my wanting a book to read and learn from when I first became a school leader 18-years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a mentor when I became an administrator. This book fills that void. Many times I learned what NOT to do with my on-the-job training. I sincerely believe nothing is more valuable than hands-on experience but it’s always comforting to know you have someone to share your worries and concerns with. Unfortunately, too many of the administrators I worked for modeled characteristics or attributes I found undesirable. I know it sounds terrible, but it’s true.
From a practical standpoint, this book serves dual purposes. First, it is intended to provide the reader with clear, concise, and useful information for one to be successful within your school or district. Second, it is intended to make you think and push you. I want to stretch the mental models and internal structures about where education used to be, is now, and where you think it will be. The 12 Principles I outline delve deep into a balanced approach to serving yourself and a school community.
How do children flourish?
Children flourish by creating the conditions for them to maximize their potential and discover their talents. A healthy mix of self-directed play, arts, physical education, academic subjects and more creative endeavors will allow children to delve into a much needed “inner” and “outer” journey wherein the end, they can self-actualize.
Your holistic approach to education is transforming education. Have you always thought “Out of the Box?”
I believe I’ve always had an unconventional view of the true purpose of school. I never thought the purpose was to receive high grades and regurgitate information. I didn’t like school as a child and believe many children are stuck in “purgatory” and endure thirteen years just and can’t wait to finally “get out”! Schools are notorious for standardization…creating a “sameness” of children as well as ranking and sorting them. I never did that as a teacher and certainly push-back against that as a school superintendent.
What would happen if you became the State Commissioner for Education?
I can only answer this question by stating what I would like to see happen where I live in New York. Now is the time for our school leaders to generate a new compelling philosophy of education and an innovative architecture for a just and humane school system. We must refocus our energy on a foundation built on a sense of purpose, forging relationships, and maximizing the potential and talents of all children. A new State Commissioner must take advantage of the possibility that our nation’s attention can shift 180 degrees, from obsessing over test scores and accountability to an entirely different paradigm of physical, mental, and emotional well-being for students and staff. It is our collective responsibility to foster engaging and meaningful environments when educating our children in the new era of a post-pandemic education. As the great philosopher John Dewey stated over one hundred years ago, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” This is something I strongly believe must happen now.
Share a few personal stories of some of the challenges and rewards of being a Superintendent.
Les Brown, one of my favorite inspirational speakers, once said, “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” As IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has said, “Growth and comfort don’t coexist. That’s true for people, companies, and nations”. All of this is true. I say to school leaders, stepping outside our comfort level can be very difficult. I’m here to tell you, if you don’t take chances and try new things, you will never reach your fullest potential. That is the challenge and the reward of being a Superintendent. The life of a school leader brings multiple challenges of leading, innovating, motivating, growing, evaluating, communicating, and risk-taking. When someone becomes homeostatic and content, they will never allow a leader to be the best they can be. You can’t do any of those things very well if you stay within your comfort zone. The end of your comfort zone is where your real leadership begins. Moving beyond your comfort zone is when the real growth takes place. Effective leaders know that leading from their comfort zone means they’re not learning, growing, developing, or getting the results they are looking for.
Your trip to Finland changed your soul. Share your perspective.
As I traveled through Finland with my dear friend Willaim Doyle (a NYT Best-Selling Author), we met with top government officials, education professors, classroom teachers, and elementary-school students. We were stunned by what we observed: A society that selects and respects teachers like elite professionals; a world-class network of vocational and technical schools; a school system that reveres and protects childhood and encourages children to experience joy in learning… and where teachers shower children with warmth and attention; where children are given numerous free-play breaks; where special-education students are supported; and where children thrive. This is a philosophy of education I whole-heartedly believe in. In my book, Staying Grounded I frame out the importance of articulating one’s philosophy of education, understanding your purpose, and understanding the importance of child and adolescent development.
What does utopia look like to you?
Now is this the time to revolutionize this antiquated system built on old structures and ideologies. I recommend we change the purpose of schooling to the following core values so we can make a utopian school system possible:
- Emphasize well-being. Make child and teacher well-being a top priority in all schools, as engines of learning and system efficiency.
Upgrade testing and other assessments. Stop the standardized testing of children in grades 3-8, and “opt-up” to higher-quality assessments by classroom teachers. Eliminate the ranking and sorting of children based on standardized testing. Train students in self-assessment, and require only one comprehensive testing period to graduate from high school.
- Invest resources fairly. Fund schools equitably on the basis of need. Provide small class sizes.
- Boost learning through physical activity. Give children multiple outdoor free-play recess breaks throughout the school day to boost their well-being and performance. We observed schools in Finland that give children four 15-minute free-play breaks a day.
- Change the focus. Create an emotional atmosphere and physical environment of warmth, comfort, and safety so that children are happy and eager to come to school. Teach not just basic skills, but also arts, crafts, music, civics, ethics, home economics and life skills.
- Trust educators and children. Give them professional respect, creative freedom and autonomy, including the ability to experiment, take manageable risks and fail in the pursuit of success.
- Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education. Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.
It’s imperative that schools focus on a balanced approach to education, one that embraces physical, emotional, cognitive and social growth. We have an enormous amount of work to do, but our children deserve nothing less.
“Michael Hynes is one of America’s most respected educators. A celebrated teacher and visionary superintendent, he is driven by a deep conviction that education must address the whole child – mind, body and spirit – and that leaders and administrators have crucial roles on making sure it does. He knows exactly how taxing those roles can be and that, whatever the pressures, they have to be guided by humane principles and compassionate practice. Staying Grounded is a trove of ethical and practical wisdom for managing the system as it is and for leading the changes that are needed for all our children to flourish as they must.”
Sir Ken Robinson, Educator and New York Times Best Selling Author
“Michael Hynes is a visionary superintendent and Staying Grounded lays out a core set of principles to guide school leaders. In focusing on the inside work defining the leader’s attitude and purpose, the outside work of creating a compelling philosophy of education, and the future work of understanding where we are going, he creates the architecture for a just and humane school system. By starting with a foundation built on a sense of purpose, relationships, and taking care of yourself, he reminds us of Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism: ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.’”
James Harvey, President of the National Superintendents Roundtable