Teach & Serve IV, No. 34 | Our Burgeoning Toolbox

Teach & Serve IV, No. 34

Our Burgeoning Toolbox

March 27, 2019

Educators are many, many things but (and after over a quarter century in the field, I know this for certain) the good ones are builders.

Toolbox with tools. Skrewdriver, hammer, handsaw and wrench. 3d

Fair warning: I am an English teacher. I embrace metaphor.

For four years, I had the immense honor of working in a “district-level” position serving a network of Catholic schools. I worked from home and had an office in Washington, DC right near the White House. I got to travel the country (and out of it on one occasion) in association with this work and I was most privileged to be in the job. It was a terrific four years.

Part of my responsibilities was instructing in and, later, coordination of seminars, the curriculum of which was designed to assist educational professionals in recognizing and realizing their leadership in their schools. It was the intention of the program to provide people with a balance of the theoretical and the practical over the course of their time with us. The theoretical ranged from best leadership practice to self-reflection to deep dives in current research about topics such as gender in schools and the dynamics of change. The practical portions of the program, the faculty of these seminars summed up in one phrase:

We want you to build your toolbox.

Educators are many, many things but (and after over a quarter century in the field, I know this for certain) the good ones are builders. In order to build – to build our curriculum, to build our programs, to build up our students – we must have the right tools. We must have a toolbox and we should be putting new tools into it each-and-every year we remain in the profession.

Over the course of my instruction in these seminars, we would tell the participants to put the tools – the practical ways of proceeding to which we were introducing them – into their tool box. We would note that we wanted to accumulate more tools each session of the seminar. At some point I said “here’s another tool for your burgeoning toolbox.”

The participants in that session never let me live the term “burgeoning toolbox” down.

Thinking back, I believe “burgeoning toolbox” is an exact right metaphor for what we were doing (it must be, because I said it!) because it implies something very important about educational professionals: we should always be learning. We should always be growing. We should always be on the look out for the next tool which can make them a more effective educator and a better professional.

And, yes, our toolboxes should ever be burgeoning.

Be aware of the next tool you can use, the next tool that works in your context. Listen for it. Learn it. Grab it. Put it in your toolbox.

You can never have too many good tools to use.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 3.25.19

Teach people to fish, but first teach people to be fair. Take less, give more. Give more of yourself, take less from the world. Nobody owes you anything, you owe the world everything.

Suzy Kassem 

A Journal of the First Year | Sixteen


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21 | March | 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… 


Next week, Spring Break comes to Mullen High School. If I am honest with myself I have to admit that I am very ready. I admit this even in the context that the school, just last week, was closed twice for Snow Days. “Was closed twice” is an interesting turn of phrase. To be more accurate, I should have written “I closed school twice” last week.

Regardless, despite the fact that I had two work from home days last week, I am still looking forward to the break. My wife and I will travel, we will see one of the kids who lives out of state, we will be able to set our own schedules, something that rarely happens in the life of a teacher or administrator.

But I am aware, and I have read on twitter and discussed with my colleagues with increasingly regularity as breaks are approached, that not everyone is as excited as I am for a break and, in this, I mean students and staff and faculty alike. For some, being at school means safety and routine and calmness and predictability. Not every student will go away and travel. Not every staff member is looking forward to the interruption in school.

So, though I am, frankly, thrilled by the prospect of sleeping for a few days until after the sun rises, I know that not everyone feels this way and I will strive to keep them in mind next week. In my gratefulness for some down time, I want to be aware that this is not what everyone is going to experience.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 33 | Where Are Your Feet?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 33

Where Are Your Feet?

March 20, 2019

Where do we center ourselves in our work? From where do we draw balance and power? From where do we operate? Where do we walk and with whom?

Awhile back, I heard a leader I respect very much speaking about being present to the educational communities we serve. He posed a question that was brilliant in its simplicity:

“Where are your feet?”

What an excellent metaphor for us.

Where do we center ourselves in our work? From where do we draw balance and power? From where do we operate? Where do we walk and with whom?

I suggest that if are feet are out the door at the earliest opportunity each day, if they are planted firmly in faculty rooms and main offices, if they are in places that keep us away from the groups we should be serving and with whom we should be walking, we ought to re-assess our path.

Where are your feet?

Consider that. It is a simple and great question.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 3.18.19

When we did art with the kids, the demons would lie down.

Anne Lamott

Teach & Serve IV, No. 32 | The Learning Portion of High School

Teach & Serve IV, No. 32

The Learning Portion of High School

March 13, 2019

The time to work with our students, to learn with them, to help them become critical thinkers, to set them up for the next year, the next school, the next steps in their lives is too critical to give up.

Last year, the movie Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, was nominated for multiple Academy Awards and was touted as one of the best films of the year. A loving look at the life of one high schooler growing up in Sacramento, California, the movie played out as a very realistic take on the adolescent life and included many, many quotable lines.

One of my favorites was spoken by Lady Bird, the title character. As she is speaking with one of her teachers, she delivers this bon mot: “I think we’re done with the learning portion of high school.”

Lady Bird is in the last months of her senior year and her quote epitomizes that all-too common malady: the senior slide. It is a great line but here is the problem: too many of us believe it.

Too many of us give into the notion that the learning portion of high school wraps up before the seniors actually walk across whatever stage they will stroll in their caps and gowns. Further, many of us believe that the learning portion of any given year winds down sometime in the spring, weeks before the end of the school year, and we give ourselves and our students latitude to down shift, to stop working hard, to slip into vacation.

I get it.

We are tired at the end of the year. So are the students. We are ready for break and we can see it coming. We need the down time.

I get it.

But the days and hours are so precious. The time to work with our students, to learn with them, to help them become critical thinkers, to set them up for the next year, the next school, the next steps in their lives is too critical to give up.

Should we adjust our strategies as the end of the term approaches? Absolutely. Should we abandon the work of education in the final weeks of the term and give in to our lesser natures? Absolutely not.

While “we’re done with the learning portion of high school” is a great line, it is just that: a great line. As educational professionals, hopefully we hold ourselves and our students and staffs to a bit higher standard.

We should.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 3.11.19

… be radical about grace and relentless about truth and resolute about holiness…

Ann Voskamp

A Journal of the First Year | Fifteen


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7 | March | 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 found myself in a hospital bed last week.

That is surprisingly hard to write.

I found myself laid up for a night in a hospital, dehydrated, heaving and incredibly uncomfortable suffering from side effects brought on by a bout with shingles.

First truth: shingles are FOR REAL. They are just as much fun as you might have heard. They are painful and debilitating and they are not messing around.

Second truth: I need to practice what I preach.

I have tried to tell the staff and faculty and Mullen High School that they should take time when they need time, that they should not come to school when they are feeling unwell, that they should take care of themselves.

I have now become a poster child for the phrase “physician, heal thyself” because just what the heck have I been doing these weeks and months? Have I been ignoring the warning signs that could have kept me well? Have I been a “do as I say not as I do” kind of leader? That’s a kind of leader I really don’t respect very much.

I don’t know. I truly do not.

What I do know or, at least, what I have realized again and a new is that I need to take care of myself so I can take care of others. There’s a reason we are told to put the oxygen mask over our own nose and mouth before assisting those nears us and, in order to serve this faculty and staff better, I must pay more attention to that.

I am not sure why it is so easy (some might argue too easy) for me to be gracious to people when they need time off, to allow them to take a day or two for themselves but, when it comes to myself, I feel a foolish sense of pride being the first in the parking lot before dawn on any given morning or that same feeling when I look back and think “I didn’t miss a day of work this trimester.”

If it means I miss three days to a week with a trip to the emergency room thrown in for good measure, who cares?

I need to care about that kind of thing less. Much less.

This has been a hard and most unpleasant lesson.

But it is one for which I am grateful.




Teach & Serve IV, No. 31 | The Power of “I Don’t Know”

Teach & Serve IV, No. 31

The Power of “I Don’t Know”

March 6, 2019

Excellent leaders know much.

But they do not have to know everything.

I am unsure when it was decided that a leader had to be the smartest person in any room, had to have each-and-every fact at her command, had to know more than everyone else. I do not know when that became “a thing.”

In less accomplished leaders with whom I have worked, I have observed that there is an inverse proportion of expressed knowledge and actual skill . Those leaders I considered not terrific were often the ones who had to be the keepers of all knowledge. They were the ones who purported to be the authorities on every subject.

In my opinion, that is not a good look for a leader.

Leaders who acknowledge when they do not know something and who ask for help are doing more than acting from a place of humility, they are empowering others who know more than they do. They are opening dialogue. They are leaving space for creativity. They are, in their admission of needing assistance, illustrating that everyone need not be perfect and that a they are part of a team wherein each person’s knowledge and opinion is valued.

There is a lot of power in admitting “I don’t know.”

Do not misunderstand: educational leaders should be lifelong learners and should strive to continue amassing knowledge of how their school functions, of the latest educational trends, of the people with whom they work. Excellent leaders know much.

But they do not have to know everything.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 3.4.19

Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in and that is herself.

Virginia Woolf