Teach & Serve IV, No. 7 | Share Thanks, Liberally

Teach & Serve IV, No. 7

Share Thanks, Liberally 

September 19, 2018

Thanking those around us should be a far higher priority than most of us make it. Let us change that.

I am often amazed at the amount of effort it takes to keep a school up-and-running – and I am not talking about effort from the Principal’s Office. When I consider it, I am in awe of the people power necessary to get the lights on, keep them on, unlock the doors, fire up the technology, learn the students’ names, observe the faculty, teach the classes, coach the kids and on and on and on.

It is a wonder it happens as consistently and as well as it does.

It might be worth our time, as educational leaders, to remember that and to set aside part of our calendar in our week to do something very, very important.

Share thanks, liberally.

Likely, we could schedule a full day a week for this activity and it would not be enough time.

Think about it. Think about all the people who make the work of your school possible.

Then thank some of them. It would be ideal to thank all of them, to be sure, but start small. Select some around you who deserve thanks. Single them out for your praise in a meeting. Send them an email. Write them a note. Give them a token.

Thank them.

The reality is none of us can run our schools alone. It takes more than a village. It takes a community.

I trust that you have been thanked, at one time or another, out of the blue, when you least expected it. I trust it made you feel good to receive that gratitude.

Share the love.

Imagine the feeling a custodian or a volunteer parent or a brand-new teacher or a long-term substitute might get from reading a card from you. You can change someone’s outlook with that kind of gratitude. You can surely change someone’s day.

Thanking those around us should be a far higher priority than most of us make it. Let us change that.

A Journal of the First Year | Three

(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… 


13 | September | 2018

I think my biggest insight of the last two weeks is about something I am not particularly good at yet: I have to continue to learn when something is on fire and when it is not.

Here is what I mean. Considering the confluence of people in schools, the students, their families, teachers and staff, there are many, many things going on all at once. Some of them are clockwork predictable. Others are totally unpredictable. Many of them feel like crises.

But which are? Which of the events of the last few weeks would I really, with some time to breathe and some space gained, call “crises”?

Not too many of them but, when they were happening, they sure felt like they were.

In the last few weeks, my school has dealt with sudden staff changes, conversations about outside speakers, questions about student placements and other topics that, in the moment, felt critical, immediate and impending. They felt like crises.

Upon reflection, nothing was burning. Nothing was about to explode. Nothing was bearing down on the school.

And, while I think I did I fairly good job addressing each (you would have to ask the people I work with if that particular assessment is accurate), I know now that I could have taken a breath or two or twenty before jumping in. Sometimes, when I jump in, I take people with me. That can lead to feelings of chaos which are perceptions of reality, not reality.

I have to be most careful with these types of situations in the future.

And this: I remain amazed at all the people working so hard for our students. There is no way to thank them adequately for all the work they do, for the servants they are, but I sure as heck am going to try.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 6 | Belonging

Teach & Serve IV, No. 6

Belonging

September 12, 2018

As leaders in our institutions, we bear responsibility for ensuring that our schools place a premium on our constituents feeling they belong. Very little good happens when people are on the outside looking in.

It is not new anymore, is it?

We can deny it if we wish, but the school year is not just upon most of us, it is rocketing forward. In the midst of all we must do as educational leaders – designing curriculum, going to meetings, greeting new staff members and students, getting our LMS up and running, figuring out where our new parking spot is – there is something else to which we ought to pay definite attention to: belonging.

As we begin a new year, we begin to discover where we belong in it. No year is just like the one that came before nor is it like the one that will come after. Each is distinct and different and the role we play and the space we occupy within it is different, too. Spending time considering where we belong and where we want to in the hustle of all that happens in the early weeks of the year is going to mean much for how our year proceeds. Establishing our beachhead, our belonging in the context of the school is most important. It creates safety and comfort and it is somewhere from which we can build a successful year.

Even more important than considering our belonging is nurturing the belonging of those around us. Our students, our staffs, our teachers, our parents, all of them must feel they belong, too. Part of the responsibility we have to the overall community is to help them feel they are important, that they are parts of this great whole.

That they belong.

As leaders in our institutions, we bear responsibility for ensuring that our schools place a premium on our constituents feeling they belong. Very little good happens when people are on the outside looking in. People cannot pull in the same direction if they do not have a hand on the rudder or a place in the boat. People will not buy into any mission or message if they do not feel it applies to them.

People will not love the school if they first do not feel as though they belong.

Prioritize belonging and all that is good will follow.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 5 | Balance & Reflection

Teach & Serve IV, No. 5

Balance & Reflection

September 5, 2018

It is through reflection that leaders assess what has worked and what has not. It is through reflection that leaders can approach objectivity about themselves and their role. It is through reflection that leaders understand the impacts they have, good and bad.

Great educational leadership requires much. I am in my fourth year blogging on the topic and I am so very aware of how much more there is to write and how much more I have to learn. Excellent educational leaders handle the demands of the position with grace. They share themselves as servants to their schools and communities. They seem to me never to be too high or too low. They find balance.

I believe that leaders find balance in reviewing their decisions, their institutions, their work. They find the balance by leading reflective lives.

Most literature one can find on good leadership practices includes a heading or section on reflection for good reason. It is through reflection that leaders assess what has worked and what has not. It is through reflection that leaders can approach objectivity about themselves and their role. It is through reflection that leaders understand the impacts they have, good and bad.

Reflection is a key component in good leadership. Leaders who do not ground themselves in reflective practice have very little way to gauge progress personally or professionally. It is difficult, as well, for leaders who do not habitually reflect to understand how they might be perceived by those whom they serve. And it is all but impossible for leaders who resist reflection to strike any kind of balance in their lives.

As part of their difficult and rewarding work, leaders should make time for reflection. It is as important as any meeting, any email, any contact they have in any given day. Practicing deep reflection is an element of practicing good leadership.

A Journal of the First Year | Two

(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… 


30 | August | 2018

Most people who work in education and who have been in school for the past few weeks may resonate with the question I am about to pose: just where did the last 14 days go?

Life moves pretty fast, a famous philosopher once said (side note: I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at a multiplex in Arvada, Colorado when I was a kid because I wanted Ferris to GET CAUGHT – no kidding, I was rooting against the hero) and that sentiment seems so true to me as I reflect on the last few weeks.

What has gone on here at Mullen High School? So very much: student schedules have been solidified, teachers have settled in to their classes after days of “special schedules” for pictures and class meetings and advisements and… you get the picture. The Back-to-School Dance has come and gone and fall sports are in full swing. The fall play has been cast. Back-to-School Night was this past Tuesday.

Two themes strike me as we wrap up our first two weeks of the 2018-2019 school year.

The first is this: patience is critically important to this work. Not every challenge that arises or every issue that crosses a principal’s desk has to be addressed immediately. Sure, some do (let us not leave fires – metaphorical or otherwise – burning in the parking lot) but many if not most do not require immediate action. Take a breath, I have heard myself and those around me. Reflect a little. Give yourself some space. This is a significant learning of the week.

The second is this: try to never miss an opportunity for positive interaction. The president of our school said this to me early in our working together and she is so very right. Back-to-School Night was a chance for positive interactions with our parent community, a chance for teachers and parents to get to know one another and to begin to collaborate on the fine work we will do together. Observing faculty and giving them some props on the magic they work in their classrooms is another such opportunity. As is sitting with and eating with students at lunch. Not all interactions during a school year will be positive. We should seek out and make the most of them.

Bonus learning: I love this work. Love it.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 4 | Contentional Leadership

Teach & Serve IV, No. 4

Contential Leadership

August 29, 2018

When one is only concerned with her or his ideas being better than someone else’s ideas, teamwork cannot flourish. It cannot even begin.

Though it might be hard to believe, there are some leaders who believe that the best way to motivate, inspire and stimulate the people with whom they work is by intentionally putting them in opposition to one another. Leaders such as this thrive on a feeling of discomfort or contention among their staff member and believe that the energy created from being perpetually in conflict is a fertile ground from which good ideas arise. These are the leaders who think the best people, the best policies and the best plans arise from skirmishes both large and small.

I know that people lead this way because I once worked for a principal who exercised this exact philosophy of leadership.

What did I learn from him?

Frankly, I learned many things, both good and bad, but, in this case, I learned, the hard way, that this kind of leadership is worse than ineffective; it is destructive.

It may seem that contentional leadership (as I will call it) leads to a dynamic where people are inspired through the energy created to do their best work. it may seem that, when our professional reputations depend on being as good or better than those around us that we will give more and do more. No. This approach to teamwork leads to no teamwork at all.

When one is only concerned with her or his ideas being better than someone else’s ideas, teamwork cannot flourish. It cannot even begin.  When one is pleased that another’s seat at the table is shifted away from center in deference to her own place, community cannot thrive. When one operates to curry favor with leadership whether or not the leader deserves that favor, the system is broken.

For about three years running, I worked in an institution where contentional leadership was the operative system, where it  ruled the day. I am no longer at that school.

To be clear, the principal who lead, primarily, in that fashion left that school over a decade ago. That school has not fully recovered.

I do not know when it will.

Contentional leadership demeans, divides and destroys. There is no place for it schools.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 3 | Journey

Teach & Serve IV, No. 3

Journey

August 22, 2018

Our work in education ought to include work upon ourselves. How do we improve? How do we better serve? How do we ensure that our journeys match our goals? How do we grow as leaders and as people?

In some parts of the United States, school has been in session for a few weeks. In others, classes are a few days away from beginning. In still more, teacher meetings and orientations are on the cusp of getting rolling. No matter the state of starting in which you find your institution, there is no denying it: the journey is upon us.

And I wish you good luck on the journey.

Each academic session, trimester, semester and year is a journey. We find ourselves at the on ramp with, I trust, energy and enthusiasm.

Not to strain the metaphor too much, but it would benefit each of us greatly if we begin with a plan for sustaining ourselves on this journey.

That plan will have many elements to it: checklists and standards and benchmarks. We might wish to leave room for detours and challenges. They will come. Our plans should be clear and direct while leaving space for the unexpected and flexibility. They will help us along the way.

An essential element to a successful journey is craving out time for evaluation and reflection. If our plans do not give us space to review our path, check in on our progress, assess our feelings and emotions along the way, we might get where we are going (spoiler alert: the calendar pages always flip – we will get to the end of our journey) but we will not reach all the potential of the way in which we might have arrived.

Our walk through our school years is a walk of getting things done, of encountering people and places and things and serving them, responding to them, helping them. Our paths through these months is sometimes meandering, sometimes punishing, always propulsive.

What our journey can be is inward too.

It should be.

Our work in education ought to include work upon ourselves. How do we improve? How do we better serve? How do we ensure that our journeys match our goals? How do we grow as leaders and as people? Our journeys should include reflection which helps us work upon ourselves – upon our souls.

Our journeys can be more than checking things off the list, no matter how brilliantly and effectively we do that. Our journeys should be more.

Our journeys should be about getting better about learning more.

Our journeys should be about development.

Let us make them count.

A Journal of the First Year | One

(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… 


16 | August | 2018

Today is the first day that students are in classes at Mullen High School in Denver, Colorado and, in the lead up to this morning, I have had trouble containing myself. For the past 10 days, I have engaged in an Instagram countdown to today, sharing my excitement and feeling good about doing so.

As it turned out, some of our students who happened to see the posts referred to the enterprise as the “Saddest Countdown Ever.”

Perspective is so important, is it not?

Here is one thing I have quickly learned as a principal: you are only as good as the person who really runs the office and, in my case, I am blessed to work with someone who is compassionate, confident and beyond competent. She knows more about this place and how it functions than I and she is more than willing to share. She also anticipates needs I have never considered and she does everything she is asked. And more. I told her last week that she is some kind of Main Office Magician.

So lucky…

As we begin these first days of class, beyond being excited, I find myself most grateful. I am grateful to our faculty and staff, especially our new educators. I am grateful to those who work at Mullen who are not in classrooms. What they do to get the school ready for students is amazing. I am grateful to the parents who send their treasured children to us. They trust us to help their kids on their journeys and that is a tremendous responsibility and one that I want to keep in the forefront of my mind daily.

And I am grateful to the students of Mullen High School. Hey, it is all about you. YOU are why we do what we do here. We serve you to help you learn, to help you grow in your relationship with God and with others, to help along the road of becoming.

It is an awesome (carefully chosen and right word here) task.

There are so many people at Mullen High School who know more than I do, and not just about this place. They know more about teaching, counseling, administrating. I have been the beneficiary of their knowledge and I am humbled by it. I want and need to continue learning, listening and leaning in. I must commit to these actions as a first year principal. There is, perhaps, nothing more important…

I have had conversation-after-conversation that shared the same heart: a focus on what is best for our students. I am so hopeful that I can continue to have those kinds of conversations. I am so hopeful that the results of those conversations serve our kids.

I am so impressed by the people with whom I work. So very impressed.

Oh, and did I mention I am excited for the first day of class?

These last weeks have taught me a few things and they have reinforced others.

  • We can never thank people enough for their amazing work.
  • We are better when we work together than apart.
  • I will make (have made) many mistakes.
  • I have to own them and learn from them.
  • Professional development meetings (the dreaded Back-to-School Meetings) can be (must be?) improved – changed to reflect the very 21st century learning standards we are teaching our students.
  • I am LOVING this work…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 2 | Playlist 2018-2019

Teach & Serve IV, No. 2

Playlist 2018-2019

August 15, 2018

These songs send me into a new year on the most positive of notes… pun intended.

At this point, putting together a mixtape to celebrate the start of a new academic year is tradition. Four years ago, my good friend and educational leader Sean Gaillard (author of the recently published The Pepper Effect – great reading for any and all Beatles fans and educators!) introduced me to the idea of #OneSong which developed into the idea of a mixtape which morphed into the concept of a playlist. For the last few years, I have put together a playlist to lead me with energy, optimism and enthusiasm into the upcoming school year.

This year, the tradition continues. A reminder of the criterion: songs make the playlist give me all the feels and/or the lyrics of the song resonate with me. Overall, the selections move me, inspire me and send me. They send me into a new year on the most positive of notes… pun intended.

I return to the playlist all year long, adding, deleting, updating. If you were to review last year’s list, you would see some of the songs remain from the ‘17-’18 edition. Most have changed. All motivate.

Here is this year’s playlist (and HERE IS THE SPOTIFY LINK if you wish to jam to it!):

This is a holdover from last year and more appropriate to me this year than last as I am in a new job at all new school trying to learn hundreds of new names. I do not know how well anything in this song fits the school year except the idea of being faced with classroom after classroom of students with names I have to learn – and they all seem to have the same one! And this song rocks!

As I begin a new job, I am energized by changes in attitudes and latitudes!

Very few things make me as happy as the beginning, the start of something new. And, when the newness wears into the familiar, it is good to remember that, every day, we can say “good day, sunshine!”

It is not just students who, ideally, come to school with heads full of dreams. It is the adults with whom they work. I know that, as I approach this year in particular, my head is full of dreams – dreams for the next few months, dreams for our students, for our faculty and for our families. And every dream – ever one of them – is GOOD.

I want my love to open the door all year long… and for the entirety of my life.

Seeing Hamilton last spring was not life changing – but it was close. This powerful anthem speaks powerfully to the idea that we must seize the moments that can change our lives. This is a good mantra for us and for our students. Rise up, indeed.

Another Hamilton song that features the important message that each moment, each step, each time could be our last. Sometimes we have to let go, say goodbye and know that we are doing things one last time. Such a critical message. None of us is bigger than the work. None.

This song has made the list for 2 out of the last 3 years for a reason: I think our students do not even know they want us to help them find that for which they are looking…

Is there a more rousing movie theme – ever – than the theme from Superman: The Movie? I don’t believe so. This anthem never fails to inspire me. It is a holdover from ‘17-’18.

What are you listening to this fall?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1 | Temporal Landmarks

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1

Temporal Landmarks

August 8, 2018

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

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

You cannot hold back the sea and you cannot hold back the beginning 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 opening rituals of the 2018-2019 school year: meetings and planning, cleaning and decorating, organizing and implementing. While we may now be stealing the last few moments of summer vacation or time in our buildings without students, we know that those moments are, at this point, fleeting and running out on us.

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start 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 start this new school year.

Last year, and the years prior to it, are in the past. We can, as appropriate, disconnect from them. It is not that we forget them, we simply leave them behind in favor of this new year. We use the temporal landmark of the beginning of the school year to set 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 starting a new. Better still is envisioning ourselves as we start this new year as superior to who we were last year.

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 start this new year, let us reflect on who we were last year and learn from those reflections. Let us take into this year all that was good in us last year. Let us be confident as we stride into 2018-2019. Let us know that we are better – we are superior – to who we were last year and let us start this year compassionately and confidently.

The temporal landmark of these last summer days leads us to wonderful possibilities of a bright, new year. Blessings as we begin!