Teach & Serve IV, No. 11 | Lane Eight

Teach & Serve IV, No. 11

Lane Eight

October 17, 2018

Know their hopes and their fears. Know their weakness and their strengths. Know who they are and what they do.

I was blessed to work with a talented administrator and friend for 20 years. He was the Dean of Students (the man in charge of student discipline) when I was a high school student, was in the role when I returned to my alma mater as a teacher and remained Dean all the years I worked there. From time-to-time, we still meet for breakfast and it is ever a delight to chat with him. He knows his stuff.

I served as a Dean of Students in my time at my alma mater and the two years I did the job were among the toughest ones of my career. Deans of discipline are not made, I think. They are born. I was not born to the work, but my old friend was.

Having that kind of longevity in a job as demanding as this surely indicates more than a little something about his ability for the work. And his character. Last spring, at one of these breakfasts I mentioned previously, I and another colleague sat with him and we got to talking (as we always do) about the work we love and share and what has kept us in it for so long.  

He talked about being connected to the students. That is where his focus was. Among the stories about the latest antics the students pull and the serious challenges that our students face, he spoke of maintaining his connection with the kids. He believes knowing the kids – their lives and their desires, their hopes and their dreams – is what keeps educators like us excited for the work.

He is absolutely right.

My friend was a varsity head swim coach (and an award winning, all-state recognized and honored one at that) for many years. His experience as a coach is, perhaps, more impressive than his experience as an administrator. Over his oatmeal and apples at breakfast that morning he put his theory of working with students succinctly into a perfect swimming metaphor:

“Lane One may win you state championships, but you better know what’s going on in Lane Eight. Lane Eight may never win a point, but it can change your locker room and the whole atmosphere of your team real fast.”

That was it, his philosophy in a nutshell.

Know Lane Eight as well as you know Lane One and, by implication, know the swimmers in every lane in between.

Know their hopes and their fears. Know their weakness and their strengths. Know who they are and what they do.

Know them.

It is simply too easy for us as educators to focus only on the challenging students or to center ourselves entirely on the successful ones. We can too readily find our focus narrowed. We can lose sight of the larger picture. We can miss the forest while barking up the wrong (or the right) trees.

Breadth and scope. All the lanes. All the students. All our colleagues.

In as much as it is possible, we must keep our focus wide.

Because Lane One might bring victory but Lane Eight might bring disaster.

Great advice from a special man.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 10.15.18

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.

Saint Oscar Romero

A Journal of the First Year | Five

(L) 1994      (R) 2018


It is my intention to share some reflections on the highs, the lows, the excitement, the routine, the successes, the failures and everything in between which I experience the course of the next 10 – 12 months, my first months as a full-time principal of a high school.  Writing this journal will help me grow. Reading it may make you laugh… 


11 | October | 2018

It is one thing to know something is best practice or a good idea. Over the last few years, I have been thinking about leadership, writing about leadership and talking with others about leadership. I loved it. What I love even more is facing myself in the mirror (the metaphorical mirror) and asking if I am practicing what I preached, discussed, wrote.

On the whole, I would give myself a solid “B” here. I have done a good job, primarily, but there are areas I can improve, for sure. I am a work in progress and I know that I will, likely, never complete the work or reach the finish line and that is just fine with me. I want to live in a growth mindset.

However, one area that has surfaced these last two weeks that I knew was important in theory has borne itself out as even more important in practice and that is remaining calm.

There is much to be said for remaining calm.

I have lived – I do not write “found” because I knew this was true – that every day here is different from the last. There are few uninterrupted routines or thoughts or moments. And that is GREAT! I love that!

However, some of these interruptions, disruptions, changes in charted course are as unpredictable as they are charged with emotion. Some of them are shocking. Some are painful. Some are off-the-wall.

But, if there is a through-line among them it is this: calmly approaching them helps. Remaining calm is an asset. Remaining calm is an imperative. Remaining calm is a leadership function at which I want to get better.

I do think that is a gift I can try to give to the faculty whom I serve. Their lives are just as unpredictable mine. More so. If I project calm (even when I do not necessarily feel it), adopt calm, remain calm, that is a very good thing.

I have seen this play out time-and-again these last two weeks.

Calm.

Got it.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 10 | Supporting the Cast

Teach & Serve IV, No. 10

Supporting the Cast

October 10, 2018

The cast of characters with whom we work in our schools is a diverse one and each and every member of it comes to “the office” with different concerns, different priorities and different needs.

Of the many responsibilities educational leaders carry as part of their work, support of teachers and staff is very, very near the top of the pyramid of the most important of them. Schools that foster positive environments for students and families do not work simply because they have excellent mission statements or have installed the proper policies and procedures. School culture that invites and welcomes and comforts does not result from inattention. Rather, this type of culture arises when educational leaders recognize the value in offering true and genuine support to the teachers whom they serve.

Educational leaders who effectively support their staffs value:

  • their co-workers as individuals,
  • collaboration with the broadest possible constituencies,
  • admission of mistakes and misjudgments on their part,
  • acceptance of opinions other than their own,
  • granting down time, creative time and recovery time and
  • knowing the stories of those with whom they journey.

The cast of characters with whom we work in our schools is a diverse one and each and every member of it comes to “the office” with different concerns, different priorities and different needs. Excellent leaders recognize that their job requires an understanding of and empathy for their staff. They understand that, in order to support their staff, they ought to know them, value them and care for them.

Leaders who grasp the idea that support of their staff is crucial to the health of the school not only will see a happier community of adults around them, they will see a happier school overall and a staff that supports students at a higher level because they feel so well supported themselves.

EduQuote of the Week | 10.8.18

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

Teach & Serve IV, No. 9 | Take the Time

Teach & Serve IV, No. 9

Take the Time

October 3, 2018

Why is she so successful in getting students to care about her and the subjects she teaches?

Because she cares about them. Deeply. And she is not afraid to let them know it

My wife is a high school teacher. A veteran. She has been doing the work for years and she simply knows her stuff. I admire her so much and respect what she does and how she does it. I want to be more like her in so many ways, including the manner in which I work with students. I have been able to watch her in the classroom – we used to team teach – and I have had hundreds of hours of conversation with her about teaching and about students.

I have learned her secret.

Why is she so successful in getting students to care about her and the subjects she teaches?

Because she cares about them. Deeply. And she is not afraid to let them know it.

A case in point: last year, as she was moderating an after-school club, there was an issue with a student. Unbeknownst to my wife, this student was being removed by a coach from a role on a team, a role for which the student had worked very hard and a role he very clearly wanted. The young man was stressed out, maybe by the club, maybe by the coach, maybe by his school work, maybe by other forces. He was at his wits end. And he lost it.

He fled the room screaming and ran from the building – and this was after hours.

My wife, who had been working in another classroom heard the commotion (perhaps it is appropriate to note that the coach who triggered the event did not call for my wife). She went out after him and got him to stop running, quit yelling and calm down. She brought him back in the building, asked him his concerns, engaged him and told him that, given his state of upset, he would need to call a parent to pick him up from practice. She listened in as he made the call.

Perhaps any competent and caring educator would take these steps. While I would argue that experience has suggested to me that may not be the case, let us accept that most would do so.

It is the next steps that distinguish my wife.

She spoke that night with the student when he returned home. She spoke with his mother that night as well. She spoke to them for hours. She made a plan for the student to come to the next practice and meet with the coach – a meeting my wife moderated. Following that meeting, she spoke again on the phone with the student and the student’s mother. She offered to go out to coffee with them. When she realized that the dynamics at play for the kid and his family went beyond his role on the club, she brought in the appropriate resources.

She could have walked away or shied away or dealt with the scenario in any number of less responsible and less satisfying ways.

She did not and the kid’s life was better for it.

My wife took the time to engage the student. She took the time to listen. She took the time to care.

Our students and our children deserve more teachers like my wife in their lives.

EduQuote of the Week | 10.1.18

God’s compassion for you is greater than the troubles you have.

Jean-Baptiste de La Salle

A Journal of the First Year | Four

(L) 1994      (R) 2018


It is my intention to share some reflections on the highs, the lows, the excitement, the routine, the successes, the failures and everything in between which I experience the course of the next 10 – 12 months, my first months as a full-time principal of a high school.  Writing this journal will help me grow. Reading it may make you laugh… 


27 | September | 2018

Parent/Teacher Conferences at my school are happening today. Over the course of the last two weeks, I have been involved in many a conversation about them, about their efficacy and about how we such structure them to encourage people to attend them.

There has been no shortage of opinions on this as you might imagine.

Following conversation, deliberation and reflection, I settled on a format that I thought was good, a message to families I thought conveyed what we wanted to convey and put that out to our community. And I did not hear very much in response.

But I did receive a couple concerns from parents which is a very good thing. Right?

When emails and messages go out, they reach, literally, thousands of people. To assume that everyone who reads them (not sure what that number is actually) is going to complete their perusal and say “yes, that’s exactly right; I agree completely” is ludicrous.

But I so want that to be!

I have said to faculty and staff and parents and students that I want feedback on the manner in which I am serving the school. I have said that in public and I have said it in writing and I continue to seek it out.

What I need to remember is that feedback is not always going to be what I would hope or what I wanted. Some of it will not agree with me. Some of it will be critical. I know this.

But, as I have told teachers many, many times in the past when they are going through student evaluations, feedback must be evaluated. Just because someone does not agree with you does not make them wrong. That is obvious.

I am more than ready to correct, concede, console. I am more than ready to resource and to find solutions. I am more than ready to change course.

Perhaps I am, sometimes, too ready.

When dealing with feedback, less obvious for me and who I am and want to be as a leader is just because someone disagrees with me does not make them right, either.

Too often – and more than a few times in the past week – I leap to correct whatever I have been critiqued about. Sometimes that is the right course. Often it is.

Sometimes, it is not.

Sometimes I know more. Sometimes I am right.

Admitting this is not always easy.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 8 | When to Care, When Not to

Teach & Serve IV, No. 8

When to Care, When Not to 

September 26, 2018

Separating the essential from the trivial and being able to place the other stuff on a continuum in between is crucial. Acknowledging and responding to what is real and acknowledging and moving on from what is not is a skill that good leaders have.

The work we do can be difficult. The spotlight we are under can be bright. The frying pans we dance in can be hotter than the fire.

But the fire can be pretty damned hot, too.

As educational professionals, an analogy that comes to mind and is most accurate is that we are on stage. Being on stage implies being watched.

By an audience.

Often that audience is highly critical of our performance and members of it can be quite clear about their feelings concerning our work. They can be vocal. They can be challenging. They can be curt. The mechanisms by which they make their feelings known are, perhaps, too readily at hand: texting and email. These are immediate and they hit in real time.

Educational professionals live our lives publicly. Our words are scrutinized. If we have a social media footprint, our Snaps and Tweets and Instas are reviewed. If we do not desire this kind of attention, we may wish to consider other work.

Bad reviews are going to come to us. That is part of the game. So, what do we do when we are nailed by a negative critic or receive a comment that is hurtful? How do we react to these kinds of feedback?

We are best advised to hold on and take a beat, draw a breath and compose ourselves.

There is a first step to the process is to calmly (as calmly as possible) analyze feedback from our critics. We have to determine what is significant and what is not – what is real and what is false. We have to examine what we hear and weigh it. Measure it. Reflect on it.

Because, and here is the magic – get out your pens – we do not need to care about everything. We do not need to react with the same energy to everything. Not every comment is equally important nor is every critique equally valid.

Knowing the difference is key. Separating the essential from the trivial and being able to place the other stuff on a continuum in between is crucial. Acknowledging and responding to what is real and acknowledging and moving on from what is not is a skill that good leaders have. It is paramount that leaders have this ability.

If not, every critical comment sounds the red alert klaxon. Every brusque remark keeps one awake at night. Every negative review generates consternation.

They are not all the same thing. They are not all on the same level. Knowing the difference makes the difference.

Not for nothing, we should apply the exact same steps when we are praised… perhaps with a higher degree of scrutiny.