Teach & Serve No. 24 – Sliding Not Deciding

Teach & Serve 

No. 24 * January 27, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


Sliding Not Deciding

Decisions and the processes we go through to make them define who we are as teachers and administrators.

Educational professionals make decisions.

Wait, let me state that another way: educational professionals are often called upon to make decisions. Important ones. No, that’s too strong. One more try here: educational professionals can be called into many situations and scenarios in which decisions must be made. Not quite right. One more attempt: educational professionals are frequently faced with having to make decisions.

Terrible… it seems hard (at least for the purposes of trying to illustrate my point in this post day) to simply and clearly state that teachers and administrators make decisions. I think there are many reasons why this is true, but let’s clear one thing up for purposes of this discussion. Making decisions is different than making choices. Teachers and administrators are asked to make choices constantly. Which book will we read? What unit comes first? Which teacher will have what “other duty as assigned”? And so on and so on. These are choices, not decisions. Choices are important, no question about that, and choices fill our days as teachers and administrators. But decisions are bigger deals. Decisions and the processes we go through to make them define who we are as teachers and administrators.

DecisionsThe longer one spends in education, the more time an individual puts into the job, the more likely she or he is to be asked to make decisions or to take part in some decision making process that will be important to the school. As opposed to choices, the types of decisions to which I am referring here have high stakes, impact and gravitas. These decisions affect our future as educators and the future of our schools. Decisions are about who we are and what we want to be. Decisions can change the course of our professional lives and alter the direction of our institutions.

Decisions are big deals.

So, how to we arrive at them? What process do we employ? What do we do – as individuals and as schools – to make decisions?

My fear is that, often, we don’t. We don’t actually make decisions. Sure, we embark on a process. We have conversations. We weigh the pros and cons. We engage. We talk. Through this, clarity about the direction we might want to go sometimes emerges. Sometimes it does not.

The trouble with decisions is that they are, in fact, big deals and they do, in fact, have a lot at stake in their making. As such, they can cause tension and disagreement. They can foster unrest. They can make us uncomfortable because they are not choices, they are decisions and the ones we make – and how we make them – says something about who we are and charts the course of where we are going.

As administrators and teachers, we are well served to have practiced our decision making process before we actually have to make any decisions. We better know how we make decisions and the manner in which we do so prior to actually making some. At the end of the day, our decisions are just things. They are results. Decisions are made and we and our colleagues agree with them, disagree with them, celebrate them, revile them. Decisions are things. And, frankly, they are less important, sometimes, than the process with how we made them.

As we engage in making decisions, it can be easier to settle. It can be less challenging to ourselves and our communities to ease into decisions, to slide into them. When we know we’re staking a claim for our future, it’s natural to approach with trepidation and caution. With second guessing. Without confidence.

It’s easy to slide into new positions. It’s harder to reach out and take them.

Let us be confident in how we do so, confident in the process we employ and confident in our decisions. Let us practice and make perfect. We will be stronger teachers and administrators when we develop facility making decisions. We will be stronger leaders when we stop sliding into our positions and start deciding them.

Our students and our staffs should know us as decision makers.

Educational professionals make decisions.

EduQuote of the Week: January 25 – January 31, 2016

door quotes

If nothing else in life, I want to be true to the things I believe in and, quite simply, to what I am about. I now I’d better because it seems, whenever I take a false step or two, I feel the consequences. 

– Peyton Manning

Teach & Serve No. 23 – Advice to Teach by – and My Father Said He Didn’t Like School

Teach & Serve 

No. 23 * January 20, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


Advice to Teach by – and My Father Said He Didn’t Like School

My father, who professed a dislike of school and who I never heard anyone call “teacher” was one of the greatest teachers I ever had.

At this point in my life, I have come to understand that we tend to idealize those people who have come and gone in our lives. By this I mean those we’ve lost to death or to movements and flows of life or to other circumstances both within and beyond our control. When those we love move out of our lives, we have a tendency to idealize them – who they were, what they stood for and what they said.

I guard against this temptation when I think of my father, though I am sure that a bit of idealization sneaks in. How could it not? I loved him.

Dad, if you asked, would have said terrible things about school. He may have even said terrible things about teachers. No, strike “may have.” Dad did say terrible things about some teachers and those things may even have been true.

DSC00630
Dad’s High School Graduation Photo

Dad attended the same Jesuit high school I did and he told great stories about it, including the undated, signed notes my grandmother would give him of the “Please excuse Mickey from class…” variety and the tale of a teacher picking up a talkative student’s desk and throwing him, desk and all, through the door of the classroom without skipping a beat of his lesson.

Dad could tell stories.

Dad could also give advice, when asked, so, like a good son I never really asked him his advice about teaching. Terrible, isn’t it? Dad wasn’t a teacher, didn’t seem to have adored his educational life and I didn’t turn to him for advice when I entered the profession.

Looking back on who he was and how he lived and, perhaps, idealizing him a bit, I think I can discern what he may have told me had I asked him.

Dad never took himself too seriously. Seriously. Though he was involved in a serious profession and found himself, in his work as a deacon, dealing with people in challenging times of life, he never let the moments get the best of him. He also never let himself think he was any better than anyone else. I remember him telling the story of when, during a baptism he was performing, he continually referred to the child – let’s call the baby “Chris” – as a boy when, in fact, she was a girl. “It’s a girl, dummy!” the baby’s grandmother finally corrected him during the ceremony. Dad loved to tell that story.

Teachers and administrators need a healthy dose of self-deprecation. If they take themselves too seriously, the work can become burdensome. They are public figures whose mistakes are going to be critiqued and scrutinized. If educators live and die with every challenging moment, the work can take a deeper emotional toll. Educators are well served by stepping back and smiling at themselves. Often.

Dad was very decisive. There may have been a lot of internal debate going on with my father and, surely, he and my mom talked about big decisions in their lives but, professionally and personally, Dad struck me as very decisive and, once he had made a decision, he didn’t spend too much time looking back.

Educators are called upon to make decisions minute-by-minute. While not all of these decisions are filled with import, many need to be made with confidence. This doesn’t necessarily imply that decisions must all be made quickly, but, once decisions are made, dwelling on and second guessing them as a matter of course can be very draining.

Dad had a great sense of humor. He could make fun of almost anything and could be highly irreverent.

Teachers and administrators who cannot laugh and who do not have a sense of humor can certainly do the job. They can do it at a high level, even. But I have found that those who don’t have a sense of humor simply don’t enjoy the work as much as those who do. If you’re not going to enjoy being in a school, the other rewards of the vocation may not be enough for you.

Dad connected with people. When Dad died, I spoke in the eulogy about his “guys.” Dad had many, many “guys,” people whose lives and his had intertwined over the course of his work with the Church and simply because of the man he was. There was a great number of people who called Dad “friend” and a lot more whose lives had been touched by him and, surely, who had touched his life in turn.

Much like not having a well-developed sense of humor, it is possible for educators – teachers and administrators – to do the work without connecting with kids and with parents and with their colleagues. It is possible to do the work, certainly. I am just not sure how well the work is done by people who don’t enjoy connecting with others. Actually, I am pretty sure that those people don’t do the work nearly as well. Teachers and administrators must connect. It’s part of the job description.

Dad had a terrific sense of justice. I suppose having a strong sense of justice was part of Dad’s job description as a deacon. He was very in tune with this, could sense an imbalance of power or a bad situation readily and reacted strongly to them. He was motivated by those who had been abused by any system, inspired by David vs. Goliath stories, championed those who had less. The homeless came to Dad. He worked hard for those with less. He never stopped fighting in this area. He also, from the pulpit, didn’t shy away from talking about issues of justice, even when such homilies made people uncomfortable.

Educators are called to not only be fair and just, they are called to highlight injustice around them. They are called to act in a just manner and to point out to developing young minds the injustice that exists in the world. Further, they are compelled to help students understand that they can be part of changing unjust systems. If we’re not about this as we teach, we’re simply doing a disservice to students.

Dad was a great storyteller and loved to listen to others’ stories. I miss a lot about being able to talk with and listen to my Dad. I try to emulate much of what he was in my own life. Yes, as I have written above, I know that I idealize my father in many ways, but not in this one. Dad was a terrific storyteller and could command “the room” so to speak. He told wonderfully engaging and funny stories. He also loved to listen to others telling stories and would often ask for the same story to be told over-and-over again. He would want to hear about the same moment, the same incident, the same funny instance. And, when he listened, his reactions and smile and attention validated the storyteller and made that person feel very special.

Shouldn’t educators tell great stories? Beyond delivering content and inspiring skills in our students, shouldn’t we also be able to tell them great stories about our subject matter and convey or love of it? Shouldn’t we also listen to those around us at least as much as we speak to them?

My father, who professed a dislike of school and who I never heard anyone call “teacher” was one of the greatest teachers I ever had. He should have written a book about education. If he had, it would been titled Lessons about Teaching from a Guy Who Didn’t Like School.

I would have bought that book.

EduQuote of the Week: January 18 – January 24, 2016

door quotes

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education

– Dr. Martin Luther King, jr

Teach & Serve No. 22 – Is What I am about to Do Helpful?

Teach & Serve 

No. 22 * January 13, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


Is What I am about to Do Helpful?

We are leaders. We are public figures. And, no matter whether we believe it’s fair or not, we are held to a higher standard.

When I think back to the twenty-three years I spent in high school as a teacher and administrator, I remember many an afternoon drive home (and, at various times in my history in a school, I lived well over half an hour away from work) during which I had LONG conversations with people who were not in my car. I would talk to the principals who may have upset me by making a decision with which I did not agree. I would chat with the department chairs whose policies made it impossible for me to do my job well and to be the best teacher I could be. I would talk to the students who pushed every and all of my buttons during the day. I would have conversation after conversation, often thinking “I wish I’d said that” and sometimes, in the case of conversations I repeated ad infinitum in my head, I would convince myself I had, in fact, come up with the perfect rejoinder in the moment.

But only one person I can think of has ever been able to recreate the circumstances surrounding a conversation to get to actually use such a rejoinder, and it didn’t go so well for him:

The bottom line on these kinds of conversations is that, most likely, what I thought I wanted to say was, in the end, better left unsaid.

As teachers, educators and administrators, we are called upon to make decisions – all kinds of decisions – sometimes with time to ponder and consider, sometimes in a split second. As educators, we encounter people all day long. Some of them come to us at their best and some at their worst. Most come to us somewhere in between. They come to us with questions, with concerns, with often with emotion. They come to us with challenges that, perhaps, they want us to solve or challenges that they are putting to us.

And they find us, because we are human, in whatever state we happen to be in at the time. We might be up or down, happy or sad, relaxed or keyed up. What I discovered in my years in schools is that it rarely mattered (or, rather, it only mattered to an empathetic person) what my condition was in being approached or how I felt. No, when someone wanted something, wanted to talk, wanted to confront, their moment was now no matter how I felt about it.

Okay, that’s fine – especially for administrators – because what am I doing in school leadership if I am not as available, physically and emotionally as I can be, to help, to aid, to assist? I would argue that, if being available to those around you isn’t in your top 3 goals as a teacher or administrator, you should consider another line of work.

In some instances, those contacts are terrific. I am not writing about those here. I am writing about the ones that are not terrific, the ones that get under our skin, the ones that truly bother us and leave us having phantom conversations in the car on the way home.

We get upset. We’re human. We get overwhelmed. We entitled. We get frustrated. Okay, wait… here’s where we need to be careful.

Because we can get so into our history of “I should have said this” that, in a trying moment, we might actually say it or something like it. We can get so upset that we feel justified. We can get so overwhelmed we give ourselves a pass. We can get so frustrated that we might cross a line that cannot be uncrossed or burn a bridge that cannot be rebuilt.

And we are confronted by such perils dozens of times a day.

We must be careful. We are leaders. We are public figures. And, no matter whether we believe it’s fair or not, we are held to a higher standard.

In the heat of the moment or an hour later or in our car on the way home or as we’re about to press “send” on that email, there is a simple question to ask: is what I am about to do helpful?

Is what I am about to do helpful?

If not, I would argue it shouldn’t be done. If what I am about to do is not constructive, I need to discard the thought. If what I am about to say only tears down with no possibility of building up, it’s the wrong way to go. If how I am about to act destroys, I must take pause. I am an educator. I build. I don’t destroy.

Is what I am about to do helpful?

Good question to ask.

Repeatedly.

EduQuote of the Week: January 11 – January 17, 2016

door quotes

Come on up for the rising. Come on up lay your hand in mine. Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight. 

– Bruce Springsteen

Teach & Serve No. 21 – #OneSong

Teach & Serve 

No. 21 * January 6, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


#OneSong

May their precious blood bind me
Lord, as I stand before your fiery light

If you’re not reading my good friend Sean Gaillard’s terrific blog Principal Liner Notes: Education Reflections, you are missing out. Do yourself a favor. Add it to your reading list. Today

In his New Year’s offering, Sean adapted the “one word for a new year” philosophy to something new and different. Sean writes

In the last couple of years, many have adopted the One Word approach to greeting the New Year. This is based upon One Word by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page. (Mr. Page is not to be confused with the Led Zeppelin guitarist.). The premise is to choose a word that will sustain and inspire you throughout the year. I learned about it last year. My hope was to reach a moment of clarity on a cosmic word for 2015.

Now, I am not sure if he adhered to cosmic word or not last year – he says he did not – but this year he decided to settle on a cosmic song to help define his 2016. What a terrific idea! I figured I would steal from this best for this first Teach & Serve of 2016.

I love music. I’ve been in garage bands, cover bands, liturgical music groups and played solo at coffee house gathers on and off (mainly off of late) for the past 30 years. I am not a terrific guitar player but (and there is a future blog post in this thought somewhere) I know that I am good enough to be the number 2 or number 3 player in a group. Strictly rhythm and strictly out of the spotlight, my playing gives me great joy when the band is in a groove, making good music and having fun.

As I discussed 2016 with my wife and children and we talked about what we want for the new year as professionals (my wife is a highly accomplished teacher) and as students (all three kids have high academic goals) I considered what I wanted for this year. I considered where I am, where I want to be and how I can get there and a word hit me: passion. The concept of passion is going to be central to me this year – passion for my wife and kids, passion for my work, passion in my life.

In thinking about #onesong for the year, specifically in my life as an educational professional, that idea of passion resonated and I began to think about the artists I love who seem driven and passionate themselves. I am the first to admit that me musical tastes are not vast but what I miss in diversity, I make up for in loyalty. Looking through my playlists and my iTunes library, the singer I think is the most passionate kept coming to mind: Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen

I knew my #onesong was going to be one of his and began to consider which tune it would be.

It didn’t take me long.

Come on up for the rising

Come on up, lay your hands in mine

Come on up for the rising

Come on up for the rising tonight  

Yeah. That’s the spirit. That’s what I need and want my 2016 to exemplify. An upwards trajectory. A positive outlook. A community. A shared goal.

Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising is from his album of the same name and we most associate with 9/11 as it was released soon after the tragedy and as many songs were anthems for a country in sadness and fear.

I’ve never read about this song (and, in another blog post to write at some point I’ll comment on why I think reading about what an artist wants her or his reader/viewer or listener to feel and understand just limits art) but I think it might be about a firefighter. Ok. Good stuff.

But I hear in it a passion that I want to grasp. Come on up! That’s as good an invocation as a year could have. Come on up for the rising. We’re headed somewhere – somewhere good – together.

And we’ll head there through whatever challenges we have to meet. We’ll meet them together, and we’ll rise above them.

Nothing we do in education is easy. There are too many factors involved for it to be so. We are challenged. We are thwarted. We are often forlorn. But we are never alone. We do this with our colleagues, with our students, with their parents, with a greater power.

When it’s dark, we know that light will come. When we’re down, we trust that we can get back up. When our energy has left us, we know we will be filled.

We know we will rise.

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)

Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)

Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)

Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)

Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)

Your burnin’ wind fills my arms tonight

Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)

Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

It’s a “dream of life” I am looking for, a “sky of blessed life.”

It’s the beginning of a new year. More germane to us in the education game, it’s the beginning of a new semester. We’ve had time away from the grind. We’ve had time to recharge. We’ve been able (I hope) to take some reflection time. To assess what we did last semester. To emphasize and repeat the good things and to deemphasize and adjust those that things that were not so good.

We have a chance to start a new. To refocus our energy. To

We have a chance to “come on up.”

Let’s do it.

Here’s Bruce (pretty low res, my apologies):

And, as a bonus, here’s Sting’s take on this incredible anthem: