Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/17/20- 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.
How are you a catalyst for change?
It’s difficult to answer this question without sounding boastful or arrogant. I’m not sure if I’m a catalyst for change. I’d like to believe I’m more of an agent of transformation. Benjamin Franklin once said there are three sorts of people in the world…those who are immovable, people who are movable…(people who see the need for change and will listen to it, and there are people who move), and people who move. They make things happen. I am a mover.
As Sir Ken Robinson once said, if you have enough people moving…it will be strong enough for a revolution. Our education system needs that to happen now. It’s what our education system needs and our children deserve.
You are the Superintendent of the Port Washington School District in Long Island. How are you implementing a holistic approach to educating children?
(Port Washington has 5600 students and only has 20% economically disadvantaged students).
We have a strong focus on academics and cognitive abilities but I believe we have been moving toward a balanced approach to schooling. We are really giving deep thought to the purpose of school. We have a strong belief in our students moving often (physically moving). We believe the inner journey is as important as the outer journey. We offer mindfulness and yoga opportunities, we allow our kids to play and have a strong belief in the arts. Port Washington is a vibrant and diverse community. I believe a balanced approach to education where you focus on physical, emotional, academic and social growth is paramount to make sure all students maximize their talents and potential.
What has been the greatest gift that you have received from your students?
The greatest gift I have received from my students is their staying in touch with me long after they have graduated. I have 3rd graders I taught in the 1990s who I still see every summer for lunch. It shows you how deeply connected we really are and what influence we have on each other. I am so thankful and honored my students still want me in their lives. It’s the ultimate gift.
What are you doing to make a difference?
I engage stakeholders in thoughtful conversations about what our purpose is and what we need to do. I do believe the more I speak and work with parents, teachers, administrators, and students…they begin to understand that very few school systems define the purpose of what it means to go to school. Students spend over 14,000 hours and over thirteen years attending school yet nothing has really changed. Very few school systems have a core set of non-negotiable values they are willing to build their educational foundation on. Too many schools try to get to the end of the week, to the end of the month and then the end of the year. Then they rinse and repeat that cycle.
Too many don’t have a vision or mission…or if they do nobody knows what it is. I really focus on student and system wellness. I want others to understand and learn about universal best practices. There is a loud call from families, students, and educators to end the current school system and strive for a way to educate children so that they become engaged, life long learners.
Share a few personal stories of some of the challenges and rewards of being a Superintendent. How have students inspired you throughout the years?
Many of my challenges and rewards are all related. I am a firm believer that recess is on the endangered species list, soon to be extinct if we don’t do something about it. I shadow students every year, meaning I follow them for a full day to see what a “day in the life” is like. I have to say….it’s not easy.
As I followed a 3rd-grade student one day in one of my schools I noticed recess was very short. In fact, by the time the students went outside, picked the things they wanted to do…it was almost time to go inside. Soon after we changed that! We went from a 15-minute recess to a forty-minute recess. As simple as that sounds, it’s not that easy to do. Challenges aside, it was so rewarding to watch our children flourish when they play. Children need to play and play often. The sad fact is federal prisoners have more “recess” every day than most children in our schools.
What are your thoughts on education in Finland?
My trip to Finland changed my educational soul. It’s something I’m very thankful for and at times is like a curse because I know now what a great education can look like. 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 — 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. In Finland, we heard none of the clichés common in U.S. education reform circles, like “rigor,” “standards-based accountability,” “data-driven instruction,” “teacher evaluation through value-added measurement” or getting children “college- and career-ready” starting in kindergarten.
You are well-known for your TedX Talks and Keynotes on school leadership. What is your best advice for school administrators?
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recently, I have been listening to a few of my favorite inspirational speakers on some thought-provoking podcasts. Podcasts that would hopefully assist me in maximizing my potential and at some point assist me in becoming transcendent, meaning I want to work toward surpassing the ordinary and exceptional as a school leader.
For years, Wayne Dyer has been one of my go-to inspirations to assist me in reframing the way I see the world and why living a balanced life is so important. In essence, he is saying we can live in harmony within the society or organization we live and work in.
As we work in schools and the systems they operate in and under, we will work toward being in a state of balance and harmony as often as possible because it’s taxing physically, mentally and spiritually. Working with children and adults in the education space is not only a calling, it’s truly a privilege. Teaching children what and how to learn is no easy task. It’s complicated, exciting and at times, incredibly exhausting. I contend that leading teachers and inspiring them is just as, if not more difficult during these polarizing times in the society we live in.
Our children and adults within our schools need you to be at your absolute best. An educator who is constantly working toward “Staying Grounded” will be someone who is a strategic leader who leads within and amongst the levels of self, others, and the organization they serve. Leadership of self includes the responsibility of being self- aware and proactive in developing personal strengths.
What is your mantra and how does it relate to educating your students?
My mantra is we need to ensure all children get what they need and deserve…every single day. Many of the talents our children possess are dormant, and we must provide them with the seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come around. This must happen in every classroom in every schoolhouse every single day.
Do you have any additional thoughts?
I believe Abraham Lincoln once stated, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” If public schools are the birthplace of future citizens and leaders, the focus on what it means to be a productive citizen must escape the contracted mindset of today’s education reform. Instead, public education needs to be reassessed, with the goal of cultivating optimal conditions for all children to grow to their full potentials.
Our current system, based on flawed standards and enforced by high-stakes tests, has led to a situation that is no longer healthy or productive for our children. We must create a new philosophy of what it means to be truly educated and how we plan to achieve that.