A Journal of the First Year | Eight

(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… 


22 | November | 2018 – THANKSGIVING

As today marks Thanksgiving, I wanted to set aside a moment’s reflection on the many things for which I am thankful and the many people to which I am grateful during these first months of my first year:

  • to the committee of almost 20 people interviewed me last winter and passed my name on with the president of the school …
  • to the president offered me the principalship …
  • to my former employer who enabled me to start working at Mullen High School in the spring as I simultaneously wrapped up my position …
  • to the members of the administrative team who offered their support right away, who helped me learn culture, who advised me …
  • to the faculty that was incredibly welcoming, that helped me adjust and adjusted to me, who pitched in where asked, who did more than was simply their job, who gave and continue to give their all to our students …
  • to people on the faculty and staff who have spent time in consultation and prayer with me …
  • to members of the student body who dropped by my office to say hello these last months …
  • to the parents who opened their hearts, shared their stories and their students, voiced their praise and concern …
  • to the people from whom I have asked advice, time-and-again …
  • to the interim president who mentors me to this day …
  • to the writers of the anonymous letters I have received (you know who you are) – this is not a sarcastic thank you, I am very grateful …
  • to the fact that my imagination is worse than any scenario I have encountered, but I am thankful to imagine the nth degree of things so that we can avoid it …
  • to the people who have openly disagreed with me or shared their concerns with me (and to those considering doing so, please, please, please do!) …
  • to my mother and sisters who listen to my stories (“only the names have been changed…”) …
  • to my children who offer their unique insights on this work …
  • to my wife – the smartest, bravest, best person I know whose tireless support, wise advice and abiding love I do not deserve.

I am so very grateful for all of the above that words hardly do my feelings justice. I am enjoying Thanksgiving Break. I will enjoy getting back to work!

Teach & Serve IV, No. 16 | Praise You Like I Should

Teach & Serve IV, No. 16

Praise You Like I Should

November 21, 2018

School leaders should be looking for people to praise, identifying opportunities to share their gratitude, searching out those who have done their schools, their staffs and their students service. School leaders should take time to say “thank you” and they should do so many, many times a day.

Tomorrow, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving which is one of my favorite days of the year. I love the food for sure. There is nothing like a mean double decker pumpkin pie. I love the fall leaves on the ground, the smells wafting from the kitchen, the gathering of family and friends around the table.

I love all the trappings of Thanksgiving.

But I most especially love the idea of it. I love the concept of setting a day aside each year to give thanks.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Meister Eckhart who is credited with saying: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

I believe this is true for anyone in any walk of life, but I believe it is especially true – and it should be – for school leaders.

School leaders should be looking for people to praise, identifying opportunities to share their gratitude, searching out those who have done their schools, their staffs and their students service. School leaders should take time to say “thank you” and they should do so many, many times a day.

A written note is a great gesture. A comment of thanks in public at a meeting is a good thing to offer. Pulling someone aside to praise their work can affect that person’s attitude. An email of thanks goes a long way to make someone know – not feel, know – she or he is appreciated.

In my experience, leaders who recognize the opportunities to thank those with whom and for whom they work are leaders who understand that to lead is to serve and these are the types of leaders for whom I wish to work.

This Thanksgiving, as we express our gratefulness for our blessings of family and food and friends, we should also express our gratefulness for our students, their families, our coworkers.

This is what excellent school leaders do as a matter of course.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 15 | First Responders

Teach & Serve IV, No. 15

First Responders

November 14, 2018

Good educators pay attention to the tenor of their classrooms or meetings, they perceive who is in crisis and try to assist them as they can, they react with kindness and compassion and love.

For all manner of good reason, people venerate first responders, those people who rush into action, into danger, into fire. Society rightly praises those who look after others first and consider themselves second. Society elevates first responders who place their needs behind those of others and are grateful for this work and sacrifice.

While people in these professions should absolutely be singled out for praise, we can look to our schools and see the same type of actions each-and-every-day. The military and police and firefighters are not the only people in whom we uncover examples of selflessness. 

Teachers and administrators are first responders too.

Good educators look to the needs of their students and staff first, they put themselves on the line for them, they protect them. Good educators pay attention to the tenor of their classrooms or or the temperature in meetings, they perceive who is in crisis and try to assist them as they can, they react with kindness and compassion and love.

So very much of the work we do calls us to recognize challenges before us. It calls us to analyze situations and to understand people. It calls us, sometimes in split seconds, to act for the good of the student, the teacher, the department, the class. Excellent educational professionals have the reflexes and insights to make spur-of-the-moment decisions that improve situations for individuals and for groups. They have the ability to diagnose and respond quickly for the good of others.

This is a critical part of our shared work.

Good educational professionals are absolutely first responders, making split-second decisions that affect, change and, yes, save lives, every moment of every day.

A Journal of the First Year | Seven

(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… 


08 | November | 2018

My latest learning as a new principal?

Be ready to be surprised. Be ready to check my assumptions. Be ready to leave expectation at the door. Be ready to admit my instincts, though often solid, are not always correct.

Be ready to be humbled.

One of these lessons came to me this week though it had been brewing for months. In the early weeks of this school year, I was ready to make a very significant decision. I was sure I had sized the situation which I was considering up very well and I was within moments of executing a course of action that would have major implications for myself and for others. I was convinced of my righteousness of purpose and of my own reasoning. I was primed.

And I was convinced not to make the move I was going to make.

Okay, I thought. Be collaborative. Be consultative. Allow others in and allow them to hear your process and allow them to stay your hand.

Then sit back and watch them be wrong.

Trouble is, they were not wrong. They were right. The action I was going to take turned out to be unnecessary. Watching the scenario unfold over these past months has validated the opinions of those who told me to reconsider.

I am grateful. And I hope I have told them that enough.

Another humbling happened this past week. It happened twice.

In two instances I was dreading parent meetings. In both cases I knew the topics and I assumed that the families would be unhappy with the school, with our direction as it pertained to their students and with me. These situations were challenging and serious and the school had taken clear and decisive action.

Had I had hatches prior to these parental contacts, I would have battened them down.

You know what is coming. In both meetings, rather than rail against the school or me, the parents thanked me and praised the school. They were grateful. They were pleased. They were gracious.

I had approached both meetings certain that I would have to hold a line, be firm, protect myself and the school.

In both cases, I was wrong.

Be ready to be humbled, man. That is my lesson these past two weeks. I sure hope I have learned it.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 14 | Echo Chambers of Our Own Design

Teach & Serve IV, No. 14

Echo Chambers of Our Own Design

November 7, 2018

Sometimes … when we build teams and, as those teams continue to function, we can begin to listen only to ourselves, to conclude that our team is the best team – the only team – to which we need to listen.

Leaders can live strange lives and much of that has to do with the types of people with which they surround themselves. Confident, strong leaders tend to seek out those who are, likewise, confident and strong. They tend to build teams of people who might and will challenge them, who think for themselves, who generate and create on their own without the leader pressing them to do so. Confident leaders want people around them who are confident, too.

Sometimes, however, when we build teams and, as those teams continue to function, we can begin to listen only to ourselves, to conclude that our team is the best team – the only team – to which we need to listen. For, if we have constructed good teams, should it not follow that those selfsame teams will remain good in perpetuity? Is it not logical that our teams, woven together with considered thought and careful foresight and appropriate intention, will work perfectly well for a very, very long time?

We should be careful.

All too often, the best of teams the longer they work together, especially those teams whose players like and respect each other, become echo chambers of our own design. Typically, high functioning teams come to expect high function of themselves. They have typically done good work. When teams do good work with one another over long periods of time and they are praised for such work, it becomes very challenging to believe that they will ever do anything but good work. It becomes almost impossible to believe that breaking up the band, that deviation from the norm is necessary.

But breaking up the band may well be critical. It is, at a minimum, necessary to open the doors on these teams, to bring in other voices, to challenge the echo chamber.

High functioning teams that wish to remain high functioning do not simply gaze around the table and say, every part we need is here, right? Everyone is in place. Right? Yes, sure. Right. Right back at you. You are here. I am here. What else do we need?

That kind of echo chamber does not grow leadership in a building and it does not grow to face new challenges. Rather, high functioning teams look around the table and say, we are good. How do we get better? What is missing? Who else should be at this table? How do we engage others?

High functioning teams break open the echo chamber. That is how they continue to grow.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 13 | You Know What’s Really Scary?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 13

You Know What’s Really Scary?

October 31, 2018

We make monsters out of the students who act out, the parents who call in, the teachers who challenge us. We create bogeywomen and men who haunt, if not our nights, our commutes home.

We have conversations with ghosts.

It is Halloween today and I want to write about what really scares me.

This is not a post about Stephen King books – though I have read many and they do scare me – or about the sometimes frightening state of our world today – though I can be intimidated by that, too. No, this is a post about what scares me in our schools.

I am frightened that we in education are all too often tied up in how difficult our work is, tied up by the hurdles we face and tied up by the challenges ahead. I am afraid we forget what we can do and what we can be.

It is too easy to be intimidated by the stacks of papers, by the phone calls to parents, by the impending department meeting or game or match. It is too easy to be scared of the next class, the next unit, the next technological innovation that will change how we do our work.

We can create our monsters. We do create monsters.

We make monsters out of the students who act out, the parents who call in, the teachers who challenge us. We create bogeywomen and men who haunt, if not our nights, our commutes home.

We have conversations with ghosts.

We jump at the shadows of perceived insults. We hear creaking floor boards outside our classrooms and sometimes fear the zombies within them.

In doing so, we only see the trees in a dark and sinister forest of our creation. We only see the bad. We only give energy to what scares us.

In doing so, we miss all that is good.

What scares me is how we too frequently find ourselves obsessed by what we perceive to be bad and we miss what is so very good. We miss the chances we have to affect change, to be inspired and to be inspirations. We miss the opportunities, those that are in front of us each-and-every-day, presented to us to do good in this work we have chosen.

Missing the potential of our work: that is what is really scary to me.

The days are too short. The months are too short. The terms are too short.

The time is too short. Let us not waste it.

That’s what’s really scary.  

 

A Journal of the First Year | Six

(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… 


25 | October | 2018

When I was thinking about this work of being a principal and teaching about it and writing about it, I had a number of ideas of what I was going to be and what I was going to do and how I was going to serve. At my school, we are approaching the end of our first trimester (and my first trimester ever as I have never been in a school on trimesters before) and I can take a breath and catch a moment and note a few things:

How I handle meetings does matter. I thought about this for years and talked about it for years and said “this is what I will do when…” for years and, here’s the deal: it matters when I start meetings on time. And it matters when I end them on time. It matters.

If I say I’m going to do something, I have to DO IT. I’ve missed the window on this one more than once the last few months. I have said that I will take care of something or do something and I haven’t. This is a failure. For sure. Being in this role, I don’t have the flexibility to pick and choose. No. If I say I am going to do something, I have to do it. Period.

Don’t miss the moment. There are things in this work that have to be done immediately. The action or situation that needs addressing has to be addressed in the moment. I have realized (and I knew this going in) that when the moment is gone, there is not getting it back. Act in the moment, man. Stay on top of that.

I cannot close every loop (but I should try). Two things here: At this point, I have to allow myself space to miss a few things. I don’t want to miss things. I want to keep all the plates spinning, but there are going to be some that drop. Okay, good. I just need to try to be sure they do not break when they do. That’s the second point: I can drop a plate or two, yes, but the plates won’t break if I own up to that. I have to try to close every loop but, when I leave a loop open, I better be willing to admit it.

Temperature check? I have been doing this for a quarter of a year. My responsibilities have significantly changed. I have not been able to conduct myself the way I planned to, listen as much as I wanted to, lean into the work like I hoped to. AND I utterly love this work. 

Love it.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 12 | Icubators

Teach & Serve IV, No. 12

Incubators

October 24, 2018

If one looks at the calendars of school leadership, department chairs, teachers and staff, one would find a significant number of meetings there on.

Is this inherently a bad thing?

 

I am not sure if a study has been done of how many meetings it takes to effectively run a school. Anecdotally (and I understand that the plural of “anecdote” is not data), I gather from my experience working in and with schools that it, completely scientifically speaking, takes an awful lot. If one looks at the calendars of school leadership, department chairs, teachers and staff, one would find a significant number of meetings there on.

Is this inherently a bad thing?

No, it is not. Meetings – face-to-face gatherings of committees and teams – are important elements in the work of a school. I do not deny that. However, this supposition that a preponderance of meetings is not a bad thing presupposes that the meetings people attend are good meetings, meetings that have reason to occur and meetings that are well run.

If they are otherwise, honestly, let us stop wasting people’s time.

My wife speaks of a person she once knew of whose was engaged in placing baby incubators in third world settings. He was engaged in giving life-saving technology to those who need it.

That seems like important work to me.

Of meetings, he would say: “Any meeting I am in that doesn’t help get an incubator into a home is a meeting I don’t need to be in.”

That is an interesting and compelling perspective.

As educational leaders, we are not putting incubators in third world countries. I understand that. But we are doing important. We are doing critical work.

I love and embrace the sentiment that, when I am wasting people’s time with meetings they do not need to be in, I am taking them away from that critical work. When I am monopolizing their time needlessly, they are not getting the incubators where they should go.

That is on me.

As educational leaders, let us be careful when we require people to meet with us. Let us consider that our meetings, when we need to have them, ought to be well planned, well run, start and end on time and have a purpose. Let us remember that we do not want to waste one another’s time.

Let us consider incubators.

EduQuote of the Week | 10.15.18

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.

Saint Oscar Romero