God’s compassion for you is greater than the troubles you have.
Teach & Serve IV, No. 8
When to Care, When Not to
September 26, 2018
Separating the essential from the trivial and being able to place the other stuff on a continuum in between is crucial. Acknowledging and responding to what is real and acknowledging and moving on from what is not is a skill that good leaders have.
The work we do can be difficult. The spotlight we are under can be bright. The frying pans we dance in can be hotter than the fire.
But the fire can be pretty damned hot, too.
As educational professionals, an analogy that comes to mind and is most accurate is that we are on stage. Being on stage implies being watched.
By an audience.
Often that audience is highly critical of our performance and members of it can be quite clear about their feelings concerning our work. They can be vocal. They can be challenging. They can be curt. The mechanisms by which they make their feelings known are, perhaps, too readily at hand: texting and email. These are immediate and they hit in real time.
Educational professionals live our lives publicly. Our words are scrutinized. If we have a social media footprint, our Snaps and Tweets and Instas are reviewed. If we do not desire this kind of attention, we may wish to consider other work.
Bad reviews are going to come to us. That is part of the game. So, what do we do when we are nailed by a negative critic or receive a comment that is hurtful? How do we react to these kinds of feedback?
We are best advised to hold on and take a beat, draw a breath and compose ourselves.
There is a first step to the process is to calmly (as calmly as possible) analyze feedback from our critics. We have to determine what is significant and what is not – what is real and what is false. We have to examine what we hear and weigh it. Measure it. Reflect on it.
Because, and here is the magic – get out your pens – we do not need to care about everything. We do not need to react with the same energy to everything. Not every comment is equally important nor is every critique equally valid.
Knowing the difference is key. Separating the essential from the trivial and being able to place the other stuff on a continuum in between is crucial. Acknowledging and responding to what is real and acknowledging and moving on from what is not is a skill that good leaders have. It is paramount that leaders have this ability.
If not, every critical comment sounds the red alert klaxon. Every brusque remark keeps one awake at night. Every negative review generates consternation.
They are not all the same thing. They are not all on the same level. Knowing the difference makes the difference.
Not for nothing, we should apply the exact same steps when we are praised… perhaps with a higher degree of scrutiny.
Teach & Serve IV, No. 6
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.
So often you find that the students you are trying to inspire are the ones that end up inspiring you.
The expert in anything was once a beginner.
Teach & Serve IV, No. 4
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.
(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.
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
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
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!
Teach & Serve IV
Coming Next Week
August 8, 2018
Next Wednesday, Teach & Serve returns for another year. To get warmed up, presented again are my fifteen favorite teachers from fiction!
No. 15: Mr. Miyagi
Mr. Miyagi comes in at 15 for his dedication, his care of his students, his ability to push his them beyond limits both physical and mental, his understanding that good education requires balance, his desire to only want the best for his students and his most obvious bad-assery!
No. 14: Batman
Bracketing the fact that a Robin (Jason Todd) died on his watch (does Batman get points because Jason came back to life?), one has to admit that training teenage boys to become world class crime fighters is quite an accomplishment. Batman has taken at least seven young people under his wing and taught them almost everything he knows. At the end of the day, he even loves these students as all good teachers should.
No. 13: John Wheelwright
The narrator of John Irving’s classic A Prayer for Owen Meany (this bloggers favorite book), John Wheelwright learns that what he loves best in life, after his friend Owen, is to read. Wanting to share the gift with others, Wheelwright becomes a teacher and a good one at that. Irving himself was a teacher and the classroom scenes he writes ring very true.
No. 12: Sarah Simms
In the New Teen Titans comic book and later on the television show Teen Titans Go!, fans are introduced to Sarah Simms, a young woman who dedicates her life to working with students who have suffered some kind of amputation. Written with deep compassion and care by Marv Wolfman in the comic book, Sarah comes across as dedicated, concerned and real-world. She’s a great model for teachers everywhere.
No. 11: Lydia Davis
On Fame, the incredibly dedicated and talented Ms. Davis (played brilliantly by the brilliant Debbie Allen) told her students (every week on the opening credits voice-over) “You’ve got big dreams. You want fame. Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying.” Her students paid. And they loved her for making them work.
No. 10: Ralph Hanley
Mr. Hanley managed to keep his students out of trouble while saving the world as the Greatest American Hero (how has this property gone without a reboot?). Mr. Hanley balanced the life of a superhero, boyfriend and teacher, seemingly like he was walking on air. His most important lesson was that his understanding that one person can make a difference … believe it or not, it’s just him.
You know you want to hear it… click HERE for the Mike Post theme song!
Oh, and a quick bit of trivia… Ralph Hanley’s name was originally Ralph Hinkley, but that surname was changed after the attempt on President Reagan’s life by John Hinkley, jr.
No. 9: Ben Kenobi
Speaking to his students Anakin and Luke Skywalker with nuggets of wisdom so compelling and thought provoking, we can ignore the fact (can’t we?) that his first student went on to almost destroy hope and freedom in the galaxy. Connected to an inspirational greater power, he inspired his students to discover truth, and also had the ability to do and not just teach – take that, haters!
No. 8: Gabe Kotter
Thomas Wolfe said “you can’t go home again, but former Sweathog, Gabriel Kotter broke the rules when he returned to his alma mater to teach. As someone whose career followed a similar path, I find in Mr. Kott-air’s dedication to his work fruit for the journey of being an educator. Never one to back down from a challenging situation (such as 1970s television would allow to be broadcast), Mr. Kotter endeared himself to his students and to American TV viewers.
No. 7: Ms. Norbury
is there another teacher in fiction who can match Ms. Norbury’s sweet sarcasm? The best of a crop of questionable educators, Ms.Norbury spins her love of a well-turned phrase into timely advice for her most troubled students. She has self identified “pusher-ness” – she pushes people – and she knows (at least she thinks she knows) when to use it. She also has an incredible likeness to Liz Lemon. Anyone else notice that?
No. 6: Professor Ross Gellher
Ross Gellher has undying commitment to his subject matter and while his desire to educate all around him, no matter how much they don’t want to learn, can annoy his… er… friends, his enthusiasm in all circumstances, never-say-die attitude (he gets fired from positions and keeps coming back), thumbing his nose at rules by dating his students all mean we should never forget that… he’ll be there for you.
No. 5: Professor Charles Xavier
“Professor X” as his students call him became a teacher out of a sense of duty: he wanted to help others like him. He wanted to teach others to live full and happy lives despite whatever personal limitations they might feel they have. He wanted to teach that all people are beautiful and worthy of respect. He wanted to spread love. Crazy stuff from a comic book character but it makes sense when one considers that the character has been said to be modeled on Martin Luther King, jr.
No. 4: Professor Robert Langdon
Professor Langdon challenges norms and the status quo as good teachers should. Engaging and a lecturer and brilliant as a writer, Langdon travels the world to research his subjects and is willing to put himself at the center of controversy to make his points. Dedicated to uncovering the truth at all costs, Langdon is an example of dogged pursuit in academia.
No. 3: Doctor Henry Jones, jr
Does anyone on this list make education more exciting than Doctor Jones? Armed with vast experience, his practical, real world application of his subject matter, his dislike of reptiles, his ability to survive every calamity (including nuclear explosions and Shia LaBeouf), and his ability to use knowledge to battle evil makes him a lock for the top five on this list.
No. 2: Jane Eyre
Passionate, committed and caring, Jane Eyre is a wonderful teacher. She believes in the power of education, knows that being disciplined and expecting discipline from her students is critical and embraces the idea that love conquers all. She teaches by example, has a stalwart moral compass and educates all around her – adults as well as children.
No. 1: Mr. Glenn Holland
Glenn Holland surprised even himself when he discovered his calling was a life in education and discovered, as many of the best teachers do, that no matter the subject – in his case music – teaching is about challenging students to learn so they can live better and fuller lives. Mr. Holland consistently makes good choices even in the face of temptation, reaches out to those in need, inspiring his students and, eventually, finds his compass doing so. He is certainly one of mine.