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.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 11.5.18

You can perform miracles by touching the hearts of those entrusted to your care.

Jean-Baptiste de La Salle

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.  

 

EduQuote of the Week | 10.29.18

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

William Shakespeare

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

EduQuote of the Week | 10.8.18

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

Teach & Serve IV, No. 9 | Take the Time

Teach & Serve IV, No. 9

Take the Time

October 3, 2018

Why is she so successful in getting students to care about her and the subjects she teaches?

Because she cares about them. Deeply. And she is not afraid to let them know it

My wife is a high school teacher. A veteran. She has been doing the work for years and she simply knows her stuff. I admire her so much and respect what she does and how she does it. I want to be more like her in so many ways, including the manner in which I work with students. I have been able to watch her in the classroom – we used to team teach – and I have had hundreds of hours of conversation with her about teaching and about students.

I have learned her secret.

Why is she so successful in getting students to care about her and the subjects she teaches?

Because she cares about them. Deeply. And she is not afraid to let them know it.

A case in point: last year, as she was moderating an after-school club, there was an issue with a student. Unbeknownst to my wife, this student was being removed by a coach from a role on a team, a role for which the student had worked very hard and a role he very clearly wanted. The young man was stressed out, maybe by the club, maybe by the coach, maybe by his school work, maybe by other forces. He was at his wits end. And he lost it.

He fled the room screaming and ran from the building – and this was after hours.

My wife, who had been working in another classroom heard the commotion (perhaps it is appropriate to note that the coach who triggered the event did not call for my wife). She went out after him and got him to stop running, quit yelling and calm down. She brought him back in the building, asked him his concerns, engaged him and told him that, given his state of upset, he would need to call a parent to pick him up from practice. She listened in as he made the call.

Perhaps any competent and caring educator would take these steps. While I would argue that experience has suggested to me that may not be the case, let us accept that most would do so.

It is the next steps that distinguish my wife.

She spoke that night with the student when he returned home. She spoke with his mother that night as well. She spoke to them for hours. She made a plan for the student to come to the next practice and meet with the coach – a meeting my wife moderated. Following that meeting, she spoke again on the phone with the student and the student’s mother. She offered to go out to coffee with them. When she realized that the dynamics at play for the kid and his family went beyond his role on the club, she brought in the appropriate resources.

She could have walked away or shied away or dealt with the scenario in any number of less responsible and less satisfying ways.

She did not and the kid’s life was better for it.

My wife took the time to engage the student. She took the time to listen. She took the time to care.

Our students and our children deserve more teachers like my wife in their lives.