Calling All Zombies - WAKE UP!

In 1932, Victor Halperin directed White Zombie, a horror film starring Bela Lugosi sharing his view of zombies. The film depicted zombies as mindless, unthinking henchmen under the spell of an evil magician. Although Zombies are rather on trend, thanks to The Walking Dead, far too many individuals spend their days powering through life, racing from email, to text, to twitter, oscillating between online and real time, unable (or unwilling) to slow down. Mindlessly pushing through the day. There are far too many zombies out there, and unfortunately education is full of them.  Recognizing who they are and realizing that if you can wake-them-up they can move an initiative far faster and deeper than almost any other group in your organization. Zombies are often the unofficial power brokers of the school.

Teachers who have taught the same lesson for the past 20 years.  Students who only do as much as is required to not get into trouble. Parents who see education as the total responsibility of the educators, and administrators who hop from one school to anther every three years never being a catalyst for change may all be considered zombies. If you are a school leader look around you.  I know you have a few.  Roughly 60% of the population wants to maintain the status quo – they keep the organization afloat but often aren’t looking to chart a new course or head out into unknown waters. Who are the zombies in your organization? If you are unaware of these modern day zombies, you may just be one of them yourself. When’s the last time you learned something new, tried a new approach, sat in a meeting and really listened to others or talked to someone outside the field of education?

Transformational leaders know that to move forward they must be aware of and wake up the zombies.  Why? Because, experiencing life and embracing change involves being deliberate with your attention, mindful of choices and intentional in your focus. To be fully awake means you will need to let go of past baggage, and grab onto intentional awareness.  According to Dan Tricarico author of The Zen Teacher; Creating FOCUS, SIMPLICITY, and TRANQUILITY in the Classroom “Waking up means noticing, observing, feeling, watching, caring breathing, and enjoying.  Waking up means being present. Every day.” That is what you want in your organization – a staff that is fully awake, mindful and intentional.

Exactly how do you do this?  Model- Model- MODEL! You must be present in the moment – looking people in the eye, listening deeply and noticing the subtle shifts around you.  You need to put your phone down and be intentionally attentive. Ask about the thought behind the thought before jumping in.  Listen for and dig for the deep desires people are hesitant to express.  Notice when someone subtlety, or not so subtlety, shifts their body, their language, hesitates, pauses to take a deep breath, laughs or giggles.  All of these are an indicator that there is a thought behind what they are saying and it is those thoughts that will bring life back into the individual.  Master the art of being genuinely curious and asking – “What was that about?” or saying “Tell me more about _____.”

Ask zombies to empty their cup
"Once, a long time ago, there was a wise Zen master. People from far and near would seek his counsel and ask for his wisdom. Many would come and ask him to teach them, enlighten them in the way of Zen. He seldom turned any away.

One day an important man, a man used to command and obedience came to visit the master. “I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind to enlightenment.” The tone of the important man’s voice was one used to getting his own way.

The Zen master smiled and said that they should discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the wealthy man. Finally the visitor shouted, “Enough. You are spilling the tea all over. Can’t you see the cup is full?”

The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind.”

Instead of asking a Zombie to embrace something new, take on a new challenge try a new strategy ask them to stop doing something.  Often zombies are overwhelmed and feel as if they cannot do one more new thing.  So instead ask them to give something up – to let go of a practice.  If at all possible let them choose.  Ask – is there anything you are doing right now that if you let it go your job would be easier.  Then be ready to hear something you may not want to hear. I can hear you now- what if they want to stop doing something that is imperative to the success of children.  It is important here to know what is nonnegotiable. You can frame the question with the nonnegotiable, “Other than ____ what would be something...?” Or you can ask for a list – this will often give you wiggle room.  Another strategy would be to frame is as “What is something you could stop doing that both of us would agree to?” Remember just like the cup when people do not have an empty hand they cannot grab onto something new.  Zombies often are stuck because they have continually added to their practice without letting go of something else. Open the door to freedom and they may surprise you. Besides letting go is part of the transition process.

Send them away to camp!  Remember during the summer when you were young and the thought of you being underfoot for three whole months about set your parents on edge.  That’s why sleep away camp was invented – to get you out from under and see that home wasn’t such an awful place to be.  Just like children zombies when sent out into a new environment can get homesick and recognize life at home isn’t so bad.  The added advantage is if you send them to the right camp – they can come back awake, refreshed and ready to try something they experienced.  One of the best ways to help people transition into a new way of being is to show them a model of some place it is already happening.  Seeing is believing.

Ways to send educators to camp:
EdCamp - Across the globe EdCamps have started popping up.  They are free, they attract innovative, creative educators who are willing to give up a Saturday to learn from each other. “Edcamp events bring together teachers and administrators and promotes learning through an organic, participant-driven experience where educators drive the agenda of their own learning, providing an alternative to traditional professional development.” (

Twitter – Who ever thought that 140 characters could shake up education?  Educators can develop relationships with PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) on just about any topic in education.  Twitter chats and challenges allow teachers to learn from those in the field around the globe in short spurts and on their own schedule.  Participate ( ) allows educators to curate resources including full feed twitter chats, earn badges and take charge of their own professional development.

Traditional conferences- Just the other day someone came into my office and said – “I think I’d like to find out more about leadership. Do you know of any conferences or trainings I might try to go to?” I said “Great let’s take a look.” As we were exploring possibilities I asked about where the idea had come from to attend a conference.  “I keep hearing other people around here talking about where they’ve been and what they saw and I decided hey - why shouldn’t I get to go somewhere.” When there is a buzz all around you it’s hard to resist. Be sure that you have a system in place that individuals who attend conferences are asked to share what they learned.  We have a school Flat Stanley we borrowed from our first graders and we spent 2016-17 taking him around the globe to conferences educators attended and posted it on Twitter and Instagram. Get the buzz started.

Site visits- whenever I’m at a conference or on Twitter or Pinterest I pay attention to where people are from.  I’m always on the lookout for places to go see, or to send people to, where educators are already doing what I’d like to see happening back home. Buddy Berry from Eminence Kentucky has taken this to a whole new level ( Not only has he turned the school around he has brought over 500 visitors a year to town and boosted the local economy.  Now that’s a place I want to go see.

Maybe some of the zombies don’t want to go to sleep away camp so let them stay home and see new practices in action. 
In house lab-sites- We have slowly been working a new innovation up through the grades.  Now that the lower grades have had a chance to transition into the practice and are comfortable with it we are using their classrooms as lab sites.  Freeing up teachers who will be asked to shift their practice to visit their colleague’s classrooms and debriefing after. We used the See-Think-Wonder process to debrief their visits.  What did you see – What do you think – What are you wondering about.  We also asked what resources will help you make this transition.  A little hand-holding never hurts just be sure to be clear that the goal is for them to transition safely on their own.

Global challenges – Another way to go to camp without leaving home.  One example Global Read Aloud ( Using Edmodo, Skype and other online resources teachers connect across the globe as their student are all reading the same book.  Last year one of our Senior Kindergarten teachers, at our school participated and the kids are still talking about their friends in Canada.  Next year we are hoping that one of our Spanish teachers will organize a Spanish version.  Or try the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge ( ) “The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is an annual competition that asks teams of students and professionals to address critical global issues with nature-inspired solutions. The challenge is hosted by the Biomimicry Institute, in partnership with the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.”

One of the first things to try is often the last thing we try.  Simply ask “What would help?”  I believe the answer is within the person who is shifting. As leaders we can make far too many assumption about why people aren’t moving forward. Alan Alda, actor, director, screenwriter and author reminds us “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.” Asking what would help places you on the same side of the window as the zombie. Seeing what they see. Help them clean their window. When you are both looking at the same view, then together you can see what’s out there.   


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