Teach & Serve IV, No. 24 | Hard to Recapture…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 24

Hard to Recapture…

January 16, 2019

I would like to suggest that arrogance and good leadership are… incompatible. They… don’t mix

When a leader stops doing the good and hard work, the respect of the community can (and usually does) drop precipitously. The respect of those being led, once lost, is very, very hard to get back. Once a leader has seceded leadership by ceasing to perform the functions of good leadership, effective leadership is almost impossible to recapture. Therefore, a leader must be very aware of and solicitous to the functions of the work of leadership.

The reasons a leader may stop fulfilling the responsibilities of her or his leadership are many. And the reasons do matter. For example, if a leader has issues in her or his personal life that are impacting performance and shares those, as appropriate, with the school community she or he serves, those communities are, typically, very forgiving and understanding. If the leader is confronted by professional circumstance that limits effectiveness and, likewise, can be honest and open about both the pressures and how they will be overcome, a community can understand that and determine its response.

If, however, and this is more common than we might want to acknowledge, a leader is simply tired or has lost interest or feels some functions of leadership simply are not as important to him or her, not as critical, then problems arise. Faculty and staff notice these shifts. They know when things are being done differently or not being done at all. They may confront the leader about them. They may not. Either way, the damage is done, and the damage can be very hard to come back from for the leader.

Effective leaders understand that, once their leadership starts to wane, it is quite difficult to recapture. The difficult (and, ultimately, highly rewarding) work of leadership is constant. Excellent leaders embrace the privilege it is to serve.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 24 | Hard to Recapture…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 24

Hard to Recapture…

January 16, 2019

Effective leaders understand that, once their leadership starts to wane, it is quite difficult to recapture.

When a leader, for whatever reason, stops doing the good and hard work, the respect of the community can (and usually does) drop precipitously. Once a leader has seceded leadership by ceasing to perform the functions of good leadership, effective leadership is almost impossible to recapture.  The respect of those being led, once lost, is very, very hard to get back. Therefore, a leader must be very aware of and solicitous to the functions of the work of leadership.

The reasons a leader may stop fulfilling the responsibilities of her or his leadership are many. And the reasons do matter. For example, if a leader has issues in her or his personal life that are impacting performance and shares those, as appropriate, with the school community she or he serves, those communities are, typically, very forgiving and understanding. If the leader is confronted by professional circumstance that limits effectiveness and, likewise, can be honest and open about both the pressures and how they will be overcome, a community can understand that and determine its response. But this is not always the case. Often leaders simply stop leading.

This is more common than we might want to acknowledge. Often, when a leader is simply tired or has lost interest or feels some functions of leadership simply are not as important to him or her, perhaps not as critical as they may once have been, she or he begins to cross things off the list of good leadership. He or she starts to let things go. Perhaps the thought is no one will notice. Perhaps the thought it the school can run itself. Perhaps the thought is all the good work done before this point will carry the institution forward on momentum alone.

Perhaps. But I doubt it.

In a school, faculty and staff notice these shifts. They know when things are being done differently or not being done at all. They may confront the leader about them. They may not. Either way, the damage is done, and the damage can be very hard to come back from for the leader.

Effective leaders understand that, once their leadership starts to wane, it is quite difficult to recapture. The difficult (and, ultimately, highly rewarding) work of leadership is constant. Excellent leaders embrace the privilege it is to serve.

 

A Journal of the First Year | Eleven

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(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…  


10 | January | 2019


This past Sunday evening marked the last day of Christmas Break.

I had plans – significant plans – going into the Break. Beyond all that is associated with Christmas, the rituals of shopping and church and family and friends that I love, I had a few other goals. With the downtime from the day-to-day activities, I was going to work ahead on a few projects. I was going to finish editing the draft of a novel I completed earlier this year. I was going to do some around the house stuff.

Good plans.

I didn’t get to all of them. In fact, I didn’t get to many of them.

And so I found myself, on Sunday night a few hours after the “bedtime” I had set as a goal organizing my t-shirt drawer.

True story.

As I turned off the light Sunday night, I tossed and turned as the dawn of the first day of school 2019 approached. I couldn’t sleep. As I lay there in the dark, I wondered worried that I wasn’t more excited and energized about going back to school. Haven’t I loved the job? (I have) Didn’t I love the place? (I love it) Didn’t I enjoy my co-workers (I enjoy them immensely)

As I returned to school Monday and the faculty and staff filtered in for a day of professional development and meetings, the energy came rushing back like cool, clear water. The enthusiasm returned. The excitement for the work.

My feelings Sunday night were not about not loving Mullen High School and the students and faculty and staff there; they were about me loving home and time I got to spend with my wife and my children. And my feelings of excitement and feeling, in just over six months, at home, at school are not about me not loving being at home home.

One of the things I’ve tried to keep in the forefront of my mind in this first year as principal is wellness and the blending of my personal and professional lives. I’ve tried to enable the staff and faculty here to consider what is a healthy approach to wellness in their lives.

I think that is what I was feeling Sunday night and what I felt Monday morning. I was going to be missing the downtime and embrace of home, sure, but that loss was mitigated by the enjoyment of the work I am lucky enough to do.

It’s a blend and it’s a blessing.

And I am so happy to be back!

Teach & Serve IV, No. 22 | Got to Begin Again – The Fresh Start Effect

Teach & Serve IV, No. 22

Got to Begin Again – The Fresh Start Effect

January 2, 2019

We have this opportunity – this fresh start. We can be mindful of it and all it suggests and all it could mean. We can embrace it with positivity and make it the beginning of something powerful and new.

In the approach to this school year, I wrote about Temporal Landmarks, a concept I first discovered upon reading Daniel H. Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing which I highly recommend. As we in the academic game see the end of Christmas Break coming and the resumption of the school year on the horizon, it is a very good time to analyze another point from Pink’s book: the Fresh Start Effect.

In his analysis of when people do things and when they have the most success doing them, Pink discovered that when we do things matters just as much as what we do. As we in education know, there are many, many whens. Pink recommends being conscious of the phenomenon of fresh starts. “Some days stand out,” he writes “when we want to open up a new ledger on ourselves and use them to construct better beginnings.”

Could there be a better lens through which to view the end of our holidays and the start of the next months of companionship with our colleagues and students?

I do not think so.

Let us begin this next part of our year opening the pages of a new ledger. We can do this. We can begin again and not just because the calendar forces us.

But because we want to.

We have this opportunity – this fresh start. We can be mindful of it and all it suggests and all it could mean. We can embrace it with positivity and make it the beginning of something powerful and new. What happened before break, happened. We cannot change it. We cannot go back and re-write it. Most of it was good and life affirming for us and our students. Those parts that were not are in the past. Let us move on from them and let them go.

Let us make a fresh start.

Let us begin again.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 21 | In Review…

For this last edition of 2019, here is the school year rundown of blogs, the Year in Review as it were… perhaps you missed something you may wish to review.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 20 | The Gift of Our Work

Teach & Serve IV, No. 20

The Gift of Our Work

December 19, 2018

The work we do influences the world to come. It shapes society. It changes the world.

Changes. The. World.

That’s a gift worth receiving. It’s a gift worth sharing.

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We do not get tired of good Christmas songs. Well, I do not, anyway. I look forward to their repetition each year. When beginning to compose a post for the week before Christmas this year, I realized I had covered the themes I wanted to in last year’s Christmas post, so I will present it again here and plan to do so annually. I hope you enjoy it.

On many desks and in many inboxes this time of year, teachers and administrators find all manner of remembrances – cards and notes and gifts, tokens of affection and appreciation. Typically, these trinkets and notes do not fully express the gratitude of the students and staff we serve. They are lovely to receive. They are not always reflective of the appreciation our communities feel for us. Our communities typically love us and are grateful for our service.

And, while It is an appropriate time of year for students and staff to thank us, it is an equally appropriate time of year for us to be thankful.

As many of us finish our last-minute tasks, our baking and decorating and preparing, this is a great time of year to think about another great gift we in education are given: the gift of doing work that influences days to come.

Our work reaches beyond us. It reaches through time. It reaches into the future.

We most often do not see ready results. While some of us have been in this work for an extended period of time and we have been able to watch some of the seeds we have planted grow in the lives our students lead after they have left us, we are typically immersed in the day-to-day, the checklist of the moment, the class to come, the next paper to grade.

It is challenging, then, to remember that our reach exceeds our grasp, ever and always. The work we do influences the world to come. It shapes society. It changes the world.

Changes. The. World.

That’s a gift worth receiving. It’s a gift worth sharing.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 19 | Land the Plane

Teach & Serve IV, No. 19

Land the Plane

December 12, 2018

There are times we are so in the middle of things, in the moment and in the midst, that we forget that we have to wrap things up, we forget to find a stopping point, we forget to land the plane.

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We are coming in for a landing. It is just about time to put the tray tables in their upright and locked positions and to settle in for the remainder of the flight. It’s mid-December and our Christmas Breaks approach. For some of us, that means semester exams are in the offing. For some, it means we will not see our colleagues or students for a few weeks. For some it means a break in the midst of a trimester.

For all of us, it means we ought to consider how to mark the moment.

A friend of mine with whom I participated in a program of leadership training introduced me to the concept of “landing the plane.” I am not sure she originated it, but it is a compelling concept. There are times we are so in the middle of things, in moment and in the midst, that we forget that we have to wrap things up, we forget to find a stopping point, we forget to land the plane.

Surely, at this time of year, landing the plane – giving our staffs and students a definite line of demarcation between what we are doing and what we will do – is important. It is not particularly healthy to expect people to dangle in a state of pending-ness over the course of the next few weeks in some kind of suspended animation waiting for the other shoe to drop. In order to reduce stress and to provide a real break for our colleagues and kids, we ought to provide a clear stopping point so that, when we return, we can provide an obvious starting point.

My friend, however, also used this term to encourage me (or others around her) to get to the point, to find the end, to be succinct. She shared this phrase with appropriate razor-sharp intonation and intention. Get to it, she might say. Tie it off. Wrap it up.

Land the plane.

I like it.

As a person with a preference for extraversion, I often find myself talking to think. I typically start vocalizing before I know my conclusion and I have been known to keep chattering for quite a while. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it is a trait that can be trying for others, especially those who just want the conclusion, not everything leading up to it.

Landing the plane is an important concept for where we find ourselves in the calendar right now, yes, but also for us to be effective communicators.

Land the plane.

Good advice.

 

A Journal of the First Year | Nine

(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… 


06 | December | 2018

“We should write a book…”

Over the course of the last six months (and it has been just over six months since I began my tenure as principal of Mullen High School), I have said the above words to colleagues or have had them said to me by colleagues on multiple occasions. We share this sentiment when something has happened that was unpredictable, unexpected or simply bizarre.

You might be surprised at the frequency with which this phrase is repeated. It seems that once a week – if not once a day – something strange or out of the ordinary happens, something goes down that is so far out of left field it beggars description.

While I cannot say I look forward to their occurrence, I have embraced these phenomena. Why? I have embraced them because they are symbolic of something I have found true about this half year behind the principal’s desk: one cannot be fully prepared for everything with which one will deal.

There is simply no way.

On any given day, I may (and do!) have a plan for what I would like to accomplish, for what I want to get done, for what I would like to accomplish. And, obviously given the needs and demands of the work, on any given day, that plan is defeated by what comes up and what must be address.

There is a predictability in how predictable this cycle is.

Therefore, when something that cannot be anticipated (or, in some cases, readily explained) happens, there is a break in the routine, in the predictable, in the structure.

And that, I have found, has been very refreshing. Often, it has even been fun.

I am grateful that no two days have been alike in this first half year at Mullen. I am grateful that truth can be stranger than fiction. I am grateful that I cannot see everything coming.

Where would the job be in that?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 18 | Intent vs. Impact, What Happens Next?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 18

Intent vs. Impact, What Happens Next?

December 5, 2018

When impacts do not match up to intent, good leaders act again. Good leaders are aware that what they say does not always “land” how they intend it to land.

If you are reading this blog you are likely an educational professional, a leader in a school. Every adult in a school is a leader one way or another. And, if you are in a school, you work in a complex system that is influenced by the desires, moods, emotions and wants of – literally – hundreds of people on any given day. Students influence the system as do parents and administrators and teachers. Likely, as an educational leader, you have been in the position of addressing a particular audience or you have had an interaction with a singular person. In that interaction you either had time to prepare your comments or you did not; you were either ready for the conversation or you were caught flatfooted by it. Whatever the particular case, you said something or did something and that action had results.

Let us bracket, for the purposes of this post, all of the situations that came out well – likely the majority of such situations. These are times when the impact of our words or actions matches our intent. Instead, let us consider the ones that did not go well. These are the times when our intents and impacts do not line up.

Whether we have had time to prepare or not, what we say has impact. How we act towards others has impact. How we conduct ourselves as leaders has impact.

When impacts do not match up to intent, good leaders act again. Good leaders are aware that what they say does not always “land” how they intend it to land. They reflect on contacts with others. They approach this reflection knowing that not everything goes the way they hope it does.

And they share those conclusions. Good leaders are able to analyze difficult situations – those created by their own impacts on others – and follow up on them with further information, with deeper clarification and with honest communication.

Good leaders recognize that the impacts they have in whatever they say and do (and Tweet and post) can be unintended and disconnected from their intent. And they recognize, if they wish to maintain rapport and trust and faith, that they must own these situations when they occur.

Good leaders realize when negative impacts are their fault. Then, knowing they created the situations in the first place, they work to fix them.

Readily.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 17 | Pride

Teach & Serve IV, No. 17

Pride

November 28, 2018

… leaders who wish to remain connected and close to their faculties, staffs and students should be careful.

We know pride goeth before the fall.

Pride.

In order to be effective, leaders must have a healthy amount of pride and they must have a relatively substantial amount of ego to go along with it. One does not become a leader without a fairly robust opinion of oneself. There are many slings and arrows with which one inevitably contends in leadership and possessing a well developed and centered view of self provides armor to deflect and shield oneself from them.

However, leaders who wish to remain connected and close to their faculties, staffs and students should be careful.

We know pride goeth before the fall.

There are many psychological challenges good leaders face. There are many ways the very act of leadership can play tricks on good leaders. Excellent leaders tend to produce excellent results. They often have their staffs and schools operating at high levels. They typically enjoy success in their work and initiatives. They are congratulated. They are praised.

Each of these things can lead to a burgeoning pride.

And that is fine. Pride, kept in appropriate context and measure, is necessary for good leadership.

An overabundance of pride is not.

Effective leaders who wish to remain so must strike a balance in terms of pride. Too little pride can lead to weak leadership. Too much pride can lead to overbearing leadership. 

Pride in ones leadership is good. It is important. It should also be monitored appropriately.