Teach & Serve IV, No. 30 | I Know Two Things…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 30

I Know Two Things…

February 27, 2019

I know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.

In the Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog, the wonderful William H. Macy has a number of bon mots which he delivers perfectly. Perhaps the best of these is this:  “I know two things: There is no difference between good flan and bad flan and there is no war.”

For the context of the comment, do watch the movie. It is a very good satire of media and politics and features a great cast.

I mention this quote because it reminds me I also know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.

I have written previously about meetings and their importance and I am very much in support of holding any and every meeting that needs to happen. However, the success or failure of a meeting rests, largely, upon the manner in which it is executed.

Good meetings do not just happen. They have to be planned for and they need to be run. Therefore, good meetings have chairs (not always the formal leader of the school or the department, etc.) who prepare in advance and pull the meeting together. They run the process during the meeting. They ensure all things that must happen after the meeting are handled.

In my experience, meetings go far better when participants are supplied agenda for the meeting which they must attend. It actually shocks me when I am asked to go to meeting with no agenda. In fact, I have said to those with whom I work that, except in some case of standing meetings, if I invite them to a meeting without an agenda, they should refuse to come. I am not kidding about this. Effective meetings have agenda, and those agenda are published and distributed to participants well in advance of said meeting.

The agenda lists the topics to be addressed, for sure, and also lists the people who will be engaged in each topic. Further, the agenda indicates what action will be taken in the meeting concerning each topic. Is this a topic for discussion? For decision? For brainstorming? Why is it on the agenda in the first place? Also, solid agenda list what outcome is anticipated for each issue and the amount of time allotted to them.

Finally, the meeting has published start and end times. The end time is the most critical. Good meetings end when they are scheduled to end. If items must be pushed to the next meeting, so be it. People have schedules to which they need to attend. Meetings that do not end when they are supposed to infringe on schedules and force difficult choices on participants: are they to be late to their next port-of-call or will they lose out on what happens in the portion of the meeting they miss? Putting people in position to make that kind of choice is avoided by a well-run meeting.

Once the meeting has concluded, minutes of the proceedings should be distributed as widely as possible. Everyone in the meeting should receive them and it may well be appropriate to share them with the broader community. Minutes should accurately reflect what has been said in the meeting and, likely, cannot be compiled in real time by the chair of the meeting but by a recorder. Memorializing what has been taken up in a meeting is an important part of the total process of running a good one.

Certainly, one must be flexible when creating agenda and when running a meeting. There will be exceptions to each-and-every item listed above. But, when people know in advance what they are doing in a meeting, what will be discussed, what role they play and when the meeting will wrap up and these things are adhered to more often than not, they are far more likely to come to meetings in a positive frame of mind.

I know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 2.25.19

Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.

Mae Jamison

A Journal of the First Year | Fourteen


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21 | February | 2019


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… 


I have spent the last few days thinking about mentors. I have had a great many in my life – mentors who I trust and attempt to emulate and mentors who I pay attention to because they do things so differently than I that I rarely seek to accord myself as they do. This is a kind of mentorship, too.

And, as I have settled into my role as principal of Mullen High School,  I have to admit that I am a mentor for others, that some look to me in that role. This is an interesting realization and one that I actually grapple with quite a bit.

Frankly, I have been thinking about one mentor specifically, one who changed my life in ways incalculable. One I have known for over 30 years. One of the kindest, most gentle, most affirming people I’ll ever encounter. One who shared with me his love of education in the best way imaginable: he simply lived it honestly and authentically. I have had cause to think about the impact he has made in my life in sharp relief this week because he shared with me and with my best friend (another mentor of the kind we rarely consider – the peer mentor who challenges, cajoles and loves) that he – our mentor – does not have much time life on this earth.

To say that the news shocks and wounds is an understatement and I am still processing it, still considering a world without him. I am not ready yet to acknowledge and absorb this.

But what I have been able to do this week is to consider all that he has represented in my life. All that he has done. All that he continues to do. 

In ways big and small, I can point to how he changed me, changed my path, changed my existence. This is not hyperbole. This is fact. He encouraged an early interest in writing when I was a high school student. He shared with me his love of education. His dry wit has become a part of me. His compassion a standard to attempt to reach. His peacefulness and unflappability a seemingly unattainable height. His love of others a beacon.

In football, pundits talk about coaching trees, those coaches who were influenced by other, mentor coaches and who have gone on to lead teams of their own. It would take more than two hands to count the teachers and administrators that my mentor has launched. And, by extension, it would take a supercomputer to number all the students and staff and teachers those people have touched through the years.

What a gift.

That he has made me who I am is without question. And any good I do serving the faculty and staff with whom I walk is a testament to him. Utterly.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 29 | If You Don’t Want to Know, Don’t (But You Should Want to Know)

Teach & Serve IV, No. 29

If You Don’t Want to Know, Don’t Ask (But You Should Want to Know)

February 20, 2019

When we solicit feedback and our staff knows we will receive it openly, we have created rapport and trust.

A few years back, I was at the end of a program that I believed had come off very successfully. The participants in the professional development I had been a part of planning and offering and teaching seemed pleased and happy and I was feeling most gratified. In a capping conversation with the group, I proceeded to ask them what had worked, what they had liked and what they would take away.

Wow. They loved it. They had great things to say about the time we had spent together and the content of the program. They enjoyed the teaching and the pacing.

Feeling confident, I asked what they did not like about what we had done, assuming they would, given their positive feedback to this point, have a very difficult time thinking of anything that was not pitch perfect.

I am guessing you know where this is going.

Not only could they generate a few items (and there truly were only a few) that did not work for them, they noted one of my most favorite parts of the program and one of the pieces to which I was the most committed as one that was the least effective.

Though I attempted to hide my surprise at this element being called out as poorly pitched and poorly received, I am certain they noted my reaction because they rapidly ameliorated their complaints and the conversation ended.

This was a good lesson for me.

If you are going to ask a question, be ready to hear the answers.

I believe it is so very important to ask for feedback, both positive and negative (or constructive if that seems a more neutral term), on all aspects of our leadership and of the programs and professional development we put in front of our staffs. Without it, how do we grow?

Though the feedback for the program I have mentioned was not what I expected, I know that considering all aspects of what we were doing – all the  intended impacts and resulting impacts we could note (even as they related to my favorite part of the professional development) – made the overall program better.

And I learned something else: these teachers felt comfortable giving me this feedback. They felt they could share something with me that might be hard for me to hear. This, too, was an important take away. When we solicit feedback and our staff knows we will receive it openly, we have created rapport and trust.

If you don’t want to know, you shouldn’t ask. But if you don’t ask, you will never know.

Excellent leaders want to know. This is why they ask.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 2.18.19

We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.

Jesse Owens

Teach & Serve IV, No. 28 | Do Not Play Chess, or Checkers for that Matter

Teach & Serve IV, No. 28

Do Not Play Chess, or Checkers for that Matter

February 13, 2019

Looking back, very little … maneuvering ever worked.

In the past, I have spent many hours (too many hours, frankly) trying to plot out my professional destiny.  These designs have sometimes been small in scope – determining how to get noticed in a faculty meeting or how to be appointed to an after-school duty I found desirable or how to get to teach the classes I want to teach or the department chair role I wanted. I often angled for these sorts of things, hoping that, if I did the right things, said the right words, acted in the right ways with the right people, I could influence outcomes in subtle and, sometimes, not so subtle ways.

I often schemed in a more grandiose fashion.

All too frequently, I attempted to play the long game, to play chess (three-dimensional chess at that!) while I thought everyone around me was playing checkers. I tried to line up the pieces in positions that would lead to being recognized and promoted, to being asked to chair think tanks and processes and committees, to being singled out as a great leader.

Looking back, very little of that maneuvering ever worked.

The reality is, I spent more time trying to find the jobs that would get me to level up in my job than simply doing a good job at my job, which is what wins us recognition in the first place.

Here’s the thing: you can try to play chess with your co-workers and bosses and colleagues all you want and you can assume they are just playing checkers. You can convince yourself that you are putting yourself in the best positions possible and you are winning the game. You can tell yourself you are smarter than the room and you are the master manipulator. Hey, go ahead and tell yourself you are winning.

Most likely, however, those around you are not even playing the game and your only opponent is yourself.

On reflection, that seems to me I spent an awful lot of wasted time – time I could have used getting better, sooner learning more about myself and being more genuine in my work and my leadership.

Game over.

Let the real work begin.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 2.11.19

Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.

Coretta Scott King

A Journal of the First Year | Thirteen

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7 | February | 2019


It had to happen. Perhaps I ought to be surprised that it did not happen until this past week.

At some point, and I knew this intellectually beginning the role as principal, I was going to make a decision that made sense, that was necessary that I was wholly committed to and that made me question whether or not I was fully supporting the faculty I serve – fully supporting them both individually and collectively. 

I had that moment this week. 

It was the first time.

I did what I could do to explain my reasoning to all involved.  I spent time with individuals, with department chair and teacher, and time with the department overall. I tried to be transparent. Authentic. Honest.  I don’t believe (but who can really judge their own intentions with absolute clarity?) that I was not trying to justify or defend, only to explain.

It didn’t feel great and this is through no fault of the people with whom I was speaking or did speak over the course of the situation. They were terrific.

But, a week later I am still wondering if what and did and the manner in which I did it served the faculty well. I do not doubt my decision. I believe it was the correct one. 

I just wonder if I did right by the people involved.

I tried. I tried very hard. Perhaps that’s enough.

It’s been a week of lessons… perhaps next time we’ll talk about Colorado snow.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 27 | Integration

Teach & Serve IV, No. 27

Integration

February 6, 2019

Great leaders are not one person in school and another at home. Great leaders can be counted on to be consistent, to be authentic and to be integrated.

How much of one’s personal life should an educational leader bring into the context of running a school? How much should a leader share and make known to the faculty and staff she serves? How much does that faculty and staff have to know to work well with a leader?

I have worked with many people and for many people who have an ability that I do not come by naturally, that is to say they readily separate their personal lives, their “baggage,” and their stories and experiences from their professional ones. There are people for whom I have worked of whom I have known very little outside of school. I have not known their families, their interests, their desires and their concerns. I have not known their hobbies and how they spend their time after 4:00pm and before 7:30am.

And perhaps I have not needed to.

Here’s the thing: we who work together do not need to know everything about each other. This is true.

But this is likewise true: the most effective authentic and genuine leaders do integrate their personal lives fully into their professional ones. They do allow themselves to be known by the people they serve. They do open up about the hours before 7:30 and after 4:00 (as if those are truly the hours any educational leader worth his salt actually works!). They do find ways to let people in.

No, not everyone is entitled to know everyone else’s business. Yes, there are some things even the best leaders keep to themselves. But good leaders understand that good leadership flows from their being the best and truest versions of themselves.

How can someone be the best version of herself if she is holding things back, if she is not integrating both her personal and professional lives? That impulse denies too much of oneself and makes leadership harder and less authentic than it need be.

Great leaders are not one person in school and another at home. Great leaders can be counted on to be consistent, to be authentic and to be integrated.

EduQuote of the Week | 2.4.19

I would teach how science works as much as I would teach what science knows. I would assert (given that essentially, everyone will learn to read) that science literacy is the most important kind of literacy they can take into the 21st century. I would undervalue grades based on knowing things and find ways to reward curiosity. In the end, it’s the people who are curious who change the world.

Neil deGrasse Tyson