A Journal of the First Year | Twenty-One


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23| May | 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…


It is with a measure of surprise that I write this, the final installment of A Journal of the First Year. It is cliche to suggest that I don’t quite know where the year has gone and how the days, weeks and months disappeared so quickly but I suggest it nonetheless. As I told our seniors yesterday at their graduation rehearsal, not every minute or every hour of every day sped by, but, taken in their totality, they absolutely flew.

I am so very grateful to my colleagues for this year. I am grateful for a community that, on the whole, understands a shared mission and pulls in the same direction. I am grateful for a community that cares about our students and, as a rule, tries to put their needs first. I am grateful for a community that reached out and, almost without exception, welcomed the new guy this year.

I am grateful.

I have spent much of my time this year trying to learn about this school – about its history and its people – and, after 12 months, I feel that I have discovered much. I am also aware that I have much more to learn.

I am more prepared, because of this year, to be a better principal next year. I am ready to spend much time this summer, when there is more of it that is unstructured on my calendar, to reflect upon what I have learned and to consider ways to better serve this community. I am excited for Year Two.

I know that I will be a different leader because none of us should be stagnant in our approaches to our work. I will push to be different. I know that I will be more vocal (though that may come as a shock to some of my colleagues who might be thinking “how can this guy be more vocal?!?) and more involved. I know that I will share my opinions more readily. And I know the school better.

I am hopeful and I pray that I have been a good servant leader this year. I am hopeful and I pray that I will be a better servant leader next year.

And I end this post and this year as I began: grateful to have been blessed with this ongoing opportunity. I promise I do not take it for granted.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 42 | Temporal Landmarks Bookended

Teach & Serve IV, No. 42

Temporal Landmarks Bookended

May 22, 2019

Even better is embracing the confidence that comes with reflection on wrapping up. Better still is envisioning ourselves as we end this year as having accomplished something (somethings!) great.

If you have been a reader of this blog all year, the following may look a little familiar…

You cannot hold back the sea and you cannot hold back the end of the school year.

Those of us involved in education are ramping up, feeling the itch, sensing the inevitable. In the coming days or weeks, we will embark on the closing rituals of the 2018-2019 school year: finals and shutting down and ceremonies and farewells. While we may now be stealing the last few moments of time with our students and our colleagues, we know that those moments are, at this point, fleeting and running out on us.

Hopefully, we are excited for the end to come and for the promise of time off.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the end of the school year, has power.

In his work When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (which was suggested to me by a wonderful friend and colleague and which  I highly recommend) sociologist and scientist Daniel H. Pink writes about when people do things, when they are most successful at doing things and when they should do things.

Particularly salient to those of us in education at this time of year are his thoughts on temporal landmarks defined as dates that have significance and that draw a line between what is past and what is to come. Building on the work of researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis, Pink says of a temporal landmark: “This new period offers a chance to start again by relegating our old selves to the past. It disconnects us from the past self’s mistakes and imperfections, and leaves us confident about our new, superior selves.”

Wow. That is a very interesting way for us to consider ourselves as we end this school year.

This year is about to be in the past. We can, as appropriate, disconnect from it. It is not that we forget it, we simply leave it behind in favor of this break we are about to have, of this summer spread before us. We use the temporal landmark of the end of the school year to review goals, to dream, to let go of our past “mistakes and imperfections” – which we all have.

This is a good thing.

Even better is embracing the confidence that comes with reflection on wrapping up. Better still is envisioning ourselves as we end this year as having accomplished something (somethings!) great.

One of my favorite things about being in education is that our time is broken up into manageable segments. I have not, until this year, however, thought about these segments as temporal landmarks. It is such a powerful way to reflect and to project.

As we end this year, let us reflect on how it went and learn from those reflections. Let us be confident as we stride into the summer. Let us congratulate ourselves on a race well run, a circle well drawn. The end is nigh…

Teach & Serve Vol. 5 | Coming August 2019

 

A Journal of the First Year | Twenty


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16| May | 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…


As I sit to write this post early on the second to last Thursday of this, the first year I am principal of Mullen High School, I am aware of many things. First, my bandwidth is getting more narrow with each passing day. Second, I want to remain as positive as I possibly can during these last hours of the school year. Third, this year has positively rocketed past me.

My bandwidth has narrowed to the point that I am going from moment-to-moment through my calendar and through my days. This is not a bad thing. I am attending to all (I hope!) that needs to be completed – though not is as timely a fashion as I might like. But the pace is leaving little time for anything generative and protecting time for generation even in May is something I’d like to change for next year. I will have to protect some time but, more than that, going through our end of year rituals for a second time and living through our particular end of the year flavor will, I hope, help!

I am trying my very hardest to be as positive as I possibly can as the end of the year approaches. Students are fatigued and worried about projects and finals. Faculty and staff are, likewise, engaged in wrapping things up for themselves and in their own rights. I believe – strongly – it is incumbent upon me, in the role I am lucky enough to hold, to be the most positive person in the school. I am doing my level best to be that person.

And it is amazing to me as I look forward two weeks in the calendar to note that I will have been here for a year and that I will have started my second. It’s amazing and it’s wonderful and I am so glad my feet are here.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 41 | You Can Succeed

Teach & Serve IV, No. 41

You Can Succeed

May 15, 2019

… please, for the love of our students, remind them of this, repeat this, tell them this: “You can succeed.”

Any way we look at the calendar, we must inevitably reach one conclusion: things are winding down on the 2018-2019 school year.

It is a time of anticipation. A break is coming. We can almost taste it.

But it can be a time of intense stress for our students. They have much to do and, though their perceptions may not always be accurate, our students can feel that the whole year comes down to the next few weeks, that all they have done all year will not amount to a thing if they do not nail it now. They may feel that the next few weeks are the most critical ones.

While I would be very skeptical of a system or a teacher or a class that backloads everything for students who are not in college to the last few minutes of the year, I know it happens. I know students feel this way.

I know it. You do, too.

Heck, you may agree they should feel this way, that they should be pounding right until the end and that these days should be circled in red.

Fine. Any and all of the above is fine.

But, please, for the love of our students, remind them of this, repeat this, tell them this: “You can succeed.”

It is my hope they have heard this from you in overt and covert ways all year.

They should have.

But now, more than ever, remind them: “You can succeed.”

Your words have power. Your words have meaning.

Your words can change your students’ lives still, even in these last days.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 40 | Walk the Track

Teach & Serve IV, No. 40

Walk the Track

May 8, 2019

“I promise, if you need to, if you want to, I’ll walk the track with you,” he said.

This is important.

Especially this time of year, this is very important.

We have much to do, much we are asked to do and much that we take upon ourselves. We have full calendars, overflowing plates and deadlines – many of which we truly cannot miss. We work with students and adults who have challenges for us, who make demands on our time and who, on occasion, may cause us a bit of stress.

Stress happens.

At this time of year in particular, we sometimes feel stress, sometimes feel strung out and sometimes feel we are not at our best.

So, please, when that feeling comes upon you, walk the track.

Somewhere in your building or on your grounds, I trust there is a space you can walk, an open, extended space where you can get out of your typical environs, get moving, get a pace on. Hopefully there is someplace you can go when you need to stretch your legs.

Perhaps there is a track.

Getting up and walking it is more than a chance to change your venue and your vantage point, this is a chance to get up and get out, to exercise whatever feelings have built up in you by exercising yourself. This is a chance to shake off ennui and frustration and to do something proactive to assist in your own renewal.

A person with whom I work and whom I respect very much made a pledge to our entire leadership team this past summer and I have not forgotten it. “I promise, if you need to, if you want to, I’ll walk the track with you,” he said.

I think I should take him up on that request more often and I should do so immediately.

It is important.

A Journal of the First Year | Nineteen


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02| May | 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 am addicted (a carefully and correctly chosen word) to my email and my calendar. I am not sure, frankly, if this is a good or bad thing. I lean towards it being a good thing because this particular addiction makes me more productive and responsive. Looking at my calendar lets me know what’s coming and for what I need to be prepared. Looking at my email allows me to reply to people frequently and readily.

These seem important things and my first year at Mullen High School has reinforced this perception.

However, I am well aware of the gratification I receive from feeling like I am doing a great job at balancing many, many things. I am aware that I pat myself on the back, repeatedly, when I believe I am doing a good job keeping many plates spinning.

I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong with this feeling.

What I try to guard against, however, is the idea that I have more going on than anyone else, that what I do is more complex than what others do, that my days are more… wait for it… busy than other people’s days.

I don’t always do a good job of guarding against these feelings. I’d like to do better.

Because, here’s the thing and it’s a thing I knew before I came to Mullen but it’s a thing that is being reinforced each-and-every day, especially in the spring: we are all busy, busy, busy, so busy. We all have so much going on that the term “busy” itself loses any sense of reality.

Who’s to judge who has more going on than anyone else and, at the end of the day, why is this competition important?

It’s not. The magic of this time of year – of pushing through until summer comes – is found not in our busyness, but in enjoyment and celebration of our students, our colleagues and our accomplishments.

As principal, I have to be the ring leader for these celebrations, not the guy saying how busy I am. I want to be the easy like Sunday morning principal, the calm in the storm, the least stressed guy around.

It’s the least I can do for the people with whom I journey.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 39 | That’s Not Our Standard

Teach & Serve IV, No. 39

That’s Not Our Standard

May 1, 2019

Time has passed. Things have happened. The calendar has changed. But our standards are still are standards.

The calendar has turned to May and, even for the most disciplined among us, it is difficult to keep from looking at the end of this month or towards early next without a certain sense of longing. Can we get there? When will we get there? Let us get there very, very soon.

This is a natural phenomenon and a typical one as the end of the school year approaches. It also has a challenging effect. Many of us inevitably suffer a certain breakdown in our work, a kind of let down in our mechanics. We let things past us, let things slip, let things slide.

It is at this time of year when we might, if we put our ear to the ground and listen carefully, hear things like “that didn’t go every well, but it was all right” or “you know, I never would have let the kids get away with that in October,” or “well, that wasn’t the best class I ever taught, but it wasn’t my worst class, either.”

Not my best, not my worst.

That is not our standard.

Remember fall? Remember when we started and we looked into the bright and shiny faces in front of us and thought:  this is going to be a great year? Remember we when were ready for all that these nine months would show us, ready to confront all comers? Remember when we had all the energy in the world?

Time has passed. Things have happened. The calendar has changed. But our standards are still are standards. It may be that we have to be more intentional about them, pay more attention to them, put more energy into them.

But they are still our standards.

Sometimes, especially at low energy times, we must reach back and connect. Or we must look forward for energy. Hey, we even sometimes have to fake it until we make it.

And we will make it. The end of the year is coming.

Let us just be sure we arrive at it with our standards as intact as possible.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 37 | Secrets, Secrets

Teach & Serve IV, No. 37

Secrets, Secrets

April 17, 2019

If you say or write the word “confidential” without asking, each-and-every-time, “whose interest am I protecting by walling off this knowledge?” you are doing it wrong.

There is power in knowing something other people do not know. There is magic in holding onto a secret, in deciding when to tell, and who to tell. There is a draw to being in the know, in the loop, in the inner circle.

We have all felt it, right? At one point or another, we have had those moments when we found something out before most others did or when we heard the story prior to it getting out.

What is it about being in on the secret that is so enticing?

In school settings, there are hundreds of examples – daily – of things that not everyone needs to know. There are situations with students that should not be revealed. There are personnel issues that should not be broadly discussed. There are decisions that should not be shared too soon. In school settings, there are good reasons to maintain confidentiality – some of them legal, some of them moral and some of them valid.

But not all.

Beware of the word “confidential.” Use it sparingly. Use it wisely. Use it only when you must use it.  If you say or write the word “confidential” without asking, each-and-every-time, “whose interest am I protecting by walling off this knowledge?” you are doing it wrong.

Schools work best when knowledge is shared. That is kind of what they are there for, right? Schools work best when everyone knows as much as they possibly can know. How many times are we going to have to be confronted by stories of school personnel that had knowledge of warning signs about students that they did not share until tragedy struck? How many times are we going to see reports of colleagues suspecting something was not quite right with a co-worker and they did not tell anyway until it was too late? How many times before we get it?

When I was a dean of students and, later, an assistant principal and a now a principal, there were and are many things I did not and do not broadly share. Further, there were and are things that I was and am constrained to not share at all, by law and by valid concerns about confidentiality. There were and are things I did not and do not share because of potential damage of all kinds.

Yes, there are things that should not and cannot be shared.

But these things are few. And these things are far between.

When the default position of a teacher or administrator when confronted by sensitive information is to hold all those cards as closely to the vest as possible, to prize secrets and horde them, to equate knowledge of what is going on in people’s lives with power, something is very, very wrong.

The work of an educational professional is not to work to keep things secret, the work is to bring things to light and understanding.

Those teachers and administrators that get a charge from knowing more than everyone else have forgotten that and they are doing something foolish and potentially dangerous – foolish because, at some point, keeping secrets for no reason undercuts rather than strengthens moral authority and dangerous because, inevitably, things go wrong, and things get out. Those teachers and administrators that repeat – as a mantra – “I can’t tell you that. It’s confidential.” are not doing themselves or anyone else any favors.

Teachers and administrators, here is the thing: what must be, by law, confidential, must be confidential. Period. If it is illegal to share, do not share. If you do not know the law, learn it.

When you know what actually must be kept confidential, file it and share everything else.

Liberally.

Share as much knowledge about students as possible. Share as much about staff as appropriate. Share as much about the state of the school as you can. Create an environment where sharing is the default position.

Beware the word “confidential” and only use it when you must.

A Journal of the First Year | Eighteen


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11 | April | 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 learned a great number of things over the course of this first year at Mullen High School. As we are – amazingly – at mid April on the calendar and the end of the school year is somehow in sight, I decided to detail a few of the kernels of knowledge that are foremost on my mind going in to the home stretch:

  • When a school gets to spring, two things are happening simultaneously: the balance between wrapping up the current year and planning for the next. For everyone but especially, I think, for those in leadership, this is a significant tightrope to walk. It’s a challenging being present to this year while planning for the next.
  • No matter how many times I have told myself that I am aware some of the decisions I make are not going to please everyone I am still disappointed in myself that I actually cannot please everyone.
  • Being in the classroom as a teacher is – in my opinion – very important for my personal growth as an administrator. The two roles – for me – go hand-in-hand.
  • I am liking snow and the havoc it causes less and less.
  • I must be more careful with how I communicate my plans and my ideas for the school. I have had occasion this week to question whether what I am saying to the staff and faculty here is conveying what I mean completely.

And have I mentioned lately that this is HARD work? 

It is. It is hard work.

And great work.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 36 | Good Schools | Great Schools

Teach & Serve IV, No. 36

Good Schools | Great Schools

April 10, 2019

I imagine Great Schools that passionately posit hard questions. I imagine Great Schools that redefine themselves as a matter of course. I imagine Great Schools that encourage creative dissent.

It has been a few years since I first wrote on this topic. It seems a good one to revisit periodically.

Since the first day a grizzled, experienced and very, very veteran high school administrator shared with me his Good School/Great School Paradigm I have been fascinated by it, taken with it and convinced of its pure truth. Pulling me aside during an accreditation visit on which we were both visiting team members, this wise administrator for whom I did not work told me he believed that Good Schools are destined to remain Good Schools because they think they are great. He said that Great Schools are great because they ask themselves: “what can we do to be better?”

I am in love with this conclusion and I think it is absolutely spot on. The idea that Great Schools are consistently, constantly and consciously about improvement, about getting better, about changing is such a challenging, life renewing and exciting concept.

I imagine Great Schools that passionately posit hard questions. I imagine Great Schools that redefine themselves as a matter of course. I imagine Great Schools that encourage creative dissent.

But, here is the rub. Here is the problem with being great. It takes work. It takes bravery. It takes consistent drive from leadership that is not afraid to have questions asked – and answered – about the health and life of the school.

Great requires energy and dynamism.

No educational leader sets out to have a good school. Likewise, no leader decides it is acceptable for her school to be lifeless. Rather, leadership builds staffs primarily upon very good hires. Leadership institutes solid programs fostering good curriculum, good teaching and good discipline. Markers of success (enrollment, retention, standardized test scores, etc.) are met. The conclusion, then, is this all works. We know what we are doing. Why change? And then ways of doing things become locked in because we have  had success doing things this way and, really, is not this the way we have always done things? Should we not keep doing them this way? Why mess with success?

Why?

Because good hires become tenured. Good hires become tired. Good hires become mediocre when they are not challenged. Leadership becomes insular when it is not pressed. Energy wanes.

Good Schools are like the teacher you had when you were in high school: he was engaging and energetic when you were in his classroom 15 or 20 years ago; he is still doing the exact same things and still being praised for doing so. “Everyone loves his class!” People say. “He really knows his stuff!” People rave.

But is anyone asking why he is still using the overheads he made during his first year of teaching instead of his digital projector, instead of connecting students to materials on their devices, instead of anything new? Is anyone asking why he has not gone to any significant professional development in years? Is anyone asking why he insists on keeping the traditional text he has always used instead of moving to an electronic one?

No. He’s good so he is all good.

Good Schools are just like this and, unless they start missing those markers of success, what is the motivation to change?

Good Schools often have good facilities, good teachers, good kids, good grades, good enrollment, good, good, good… what they do not have is life. Good Schools do not change. They do not want to. Because they do not change, they are locked into what they are, locked into what they do.

Locked in.

They are stuck in a place and a time and cannot even see the rest of the world passing them by because, of course, they are good. How do they know? They have told themselves they are. They have convinced themselves (because they have the high numbers and the nice facilities and the good kids and the credentialed teachers) that they are great.

But they are not great. They are dead, and they do not look to come back to life.

And they can stay dead and stagnant for a very, very long time. They can – and will – stay dead and stagnant until they are forced to change. They will actively protect their stagnation because their leadership has let them down. Their leadership has discouraged hard questions, resisted redefinition, and shut out creative dissent.

They are Good. And they are dead. Until there is a sea change, they will never, ever be Great.

“Good Schools think they’re great. Great Schools ask: ‘what can we do to be better?’”

What can we do, indeed?