Teach & Serve IV, No. 30 | I Know Two Things…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 30

I Know Two Things…

February 27, 2019

I know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.

In the Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog, the wonderful William H. Macy has a number of bon mots which he delivers perfectly. Perhaps the best of these is this:  “I know two things: There is no difference between good flan and bad flan and there is no war.”

For the context of the comment, do watch the movie. It is a very good satire of media and politics and features a great cast.

I mention this quote because it reminds me I also know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.

I have written previously about meetings and their importance and I am very much in support of holding any and every meeting that needs to happen. However, the success or failure of a meeting rests, largely, upon the manner in which it is executed.

Good meetings do not just happen. They have to be planned for and they need to be run. Therefore, good meetings have chairs (not always the formal leader of the school or the department, etc.) who prepare in advance and pull the meeting together. They run the process during the meeting. They ensure all things that must happen after the meeting are handled.

In my experience, meetings go far better when participants are supplied agenda for the meeting which they must attend. It actually shocks me when I am asked to go to meeting with no agenda. In fact, I have said to those with whom I work that, except in some case of standing meetings, if I invite them to a meeting without an agenda, they should refuse to come. I am not kidding about this. Effective meetings have agenda, and those agenda are published and distributed to participants well in advance of said meeting.

The agenda lists the topics to be addressed, for sure, and also lists the people who will be engaged in each topic. Further, the agenda indicates what action will be taken in the meeting concerning each topic. Is this a topic for discussion? For decision? For brainstorming? Why is it on the agenda in the first place? Also, solid agenda list what outcome is anticipated for each issue and the amount of time allotted to them.

Finally, the meeting has published start and end times. The end time is the most critical. Good meetings end when they are scheduled to end. If items must be pushed to the next meeting, so be it. People have schedules to which they need to attend. Meetings that do not end when they are supposed to infringe on schedules and force difficult choices on participants: are they to be late to their next port-of-call or will they lose out on what happens in the portion of the meeting they miss? Putting people in position to make that kind of choice is avoided by a well-run meeting.

Once the meeting has concluded, minutes of the proceedings should be distributed as widely as possible. Everyone in the meeting should receive them and it may well be appropriate to share them with the broader community. Minutes should accurately reflect what has been said in the meeting and, likely, cannot be compiled in real time by the chair of the meeting but by a recorder. Memorializing what has been taken up in a meeting is an important part of the total process of running a good one.

Certainly, one must be flexible when creating agenda and when running a meeting. There will be exceptions to each-and-every item listed above. But, when people know in advance what they are doing in a meeting, what will be discussed, what role they play and when the meeting will wrap up and these things are adhered to more often than not, they are far more likely to come to meetings in a positive frame of mind.

I know two things: Some meetings are good; some meetings are bad, and the responsibility falls on the organizer of the meeting.


EduQuote of the Week | 2.25.19

Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.

Mae Jamison

EduQuote of the Week | 2.18.19

We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.

Jesse Owens

EduQuote of the Week | 2.11.19

Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.

Coretta Scott King

A Journal of the First Year | Thirteen

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7 | February | 2019

It had to happen. Perhaps I ought to be surprised that it did not happen until this past week.

At some point, and I knew this intellectually beginning the role as principal, I was going to make a decision that made sense, that was necessary that I was wholly committed to and that made me question whether or not I was fully supporting the faculty I serve – fully supporting them both individually and collectively. 

I had that moment this week. 

It was the first time.

I did what I could do to explain my reasoning to all involved.  I spent time with individuals, with department chair and teacher, and time with the department overall. I tried to be transparent. Authentic. Honest.  I don’t believe (but who can really judge their own intentions with absolute clarity?) that I was not trying to justify or defend, only to explain.

It didn’t feel great and this is through no fault of the people with whom I was speaking or did speak over the course of the situation. They were terrific.

But, a week later I am still wondering if what and did and the manner in which I did it served the faculty well. I do not doubt my decision. I believe it was the correct one. 

I just wonder if I did right by the people involved.

I tried. I tried very hard. Perhaps that’s enough.

It’s been a week of lessons… perhaps next time we’ll talk about Colorado snow.


EduQuote of the Week | 2.4.19

I would teach how science works as much as I would teach what science knows. I would assert (given that essentially, everyone will learn to read) that science literacy is the most important kind of literacy they can take into the 21st century. I would undervalue grades based on knowing things and find ways to reward curiosity. In the end, it’s the people who are curious who change the world.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Teach & Serve IV, No. 26 | Creative Space/Creative Time

Teach & Serve IV, No. 26

Creative Space/Creative Time

January 30, 2019

I do another kind of dreaming, too. I dream about the professional life I want to lead. I dream about the leader I wish to be. I dream about what I might look like five, ten and fifteen years from now (God willing!).

Do you take time to dream?

I remember, not that long ago, that I had a pretty rich – if ultimately fleeting – fantasy life. When I was taking out the trash and something fell from the can, I would often pick it up and fire it in, pretending the clock was winding down and I was attempting the buzzer-beating, game-winning last shot of Game Seven of the NBA Finals. Every time I was at bat as a kid on the playground, it was a World Series moment. When I was playing my guitar at a coffee house or in front of any crowd, I was performing in Madison Square Garden.

Dreaming is kind of fun and, to be honest, I slip into these dreams still every now and again.

I do another kind of dreaming, too. I dream about the professional life I want to lead. I dream about the leader I wish to be. I dream about what I might look like five, ten and fifteen years from now (God willing!).

It seems to me a very important part of our work as educators, taking time to dream, to dream about ourselves and our institutions, to dream about who we can be, to dream about what we can do to get better and how we can improve.

Surely, we ask our students to dream about themselves. We want them to vision a potential future and what that future holds for them.

Should we not do the same thing ourselves?

Leaders who do no dream never conceive of or realize what they might become.

Schools that do not dream cannot ever reach heights previously unimagined because there is no one imagining them.

Give your schools and the people within them a chance to dream. Give them time and space to do it. Make dreaming part of the operating system of your institution.

You will be amazed by the results. The results will not be dreams. They will be new realities.

EduQuote of the Week | 1.28.19

We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.

Stephen King

A Journal of the First Year | Twelve

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(L) 1994      (R) 2018

24 | January | 2019

Intellectually, I have known that part of the work of being a principal is being very, very flexible. Typically I frame that concept as being ready to change my schedule or my plan as needs dictate but I often think about it in those parameters: “Hey, be ready to skip a meeting or to take one, you never know what’s going to happen” is how the self-talk has gone during my half year as principal of Mullen High School.

But we experienced a day a couple Fridays back and a morning just this week that expanded my idea of what flexibility really requires and just how important a concept for principals (at least this one) it is!

The day began with snow, and a fairly significant amount of it. The snow hit during the morning drive and, with consultation with and support from my administrative colleagues, it was determined that a late start schedule was required. That would be one of the easiest decisions of the day as things turned out! That afternoon, within the span of 90 minutes, three things happened: a major plumbing issue, a sparking fire in a breaker box and a significant roof issue that led to the partial flooding of an office.

The plumbing issue was first. A bathroom pipe had been broken by a student and water was, literally, shooting from floor to ceiling, arcing over one of the stalls and splashing against the opposite wall. How did I hear about this? I was called to the sodden restroom over my trusty walkie-talkie. I can honestly say I had never seen anything like this. It was pretty spectacular.

We settled this issue down fairly quickly. Our terrific maintenance staff got the water turned off, repairs underway and we informed people in about a third of the building that they would be without water for the rest of the day. 

I returned to my office.

Moments later, I heard my colleague and one of our assistant principals whose office is across the hall from mine exclaim. I went across the hall and saw water from snow melt pouring – that’s the right word – through his ceiling. Clearly the roof was compromised. We moved anything in the line of water, as it were, and brought trash cans in to collect the run off.

I returned to my office.

Within moments,  another call came over the walkie. This time I was asked to come to an office that housed a major breaker box. I arrived and was greeted by our Maintenance Director (who was, himself, still in the midst of dealing with the broken bathroom pipe) and someone I did not recognize. As it turned out, the person I didn’t recognize was an electrician who said “stand back and watch.” I did. Seconds later, a spark and small flame shown inside the breaker box. I immediately thought we would have to dismiss school but was assured the issue was under control but all power through out the same hallway affected by the water shut down would have to be turned off directly at the end of the school day. 

So… a group of us informed the exact same set of people who had no water that they would be losing their power.

I returned to my office.

And just this past Tuesday, another snow storm timed – thank you, weather gods, to coincide with the morning commute – hit. Early in the morning, a group of us collaborated on the decision to put the school on another late start. I began my drive and realized about halfway through it that we needed to close. I pulled off the side of the road into a shuttered Rite Aid and made the necessary updates and calls.


My takeaways from all this? First, I love, love, love this work. Love it.

Second? Flexibility is my friend and it does not always come easily to me. I do not know that I’ll have many more days like the Friday I recount here, but I know I’ll be faced with many, many more snow events. The through line in these: be flexible. Be nimble. Don’t get too locked in to any plan or any course. Be ready for the unexpected.

I love this work!

Teach & Serve IV, No. 25 | Climate Control

Teach & Serve IV, No. 25

Climate Control

January 23, 2019

Climate control in a school is just as important as it is in a home.

I will not buy another house that does not have air conditioning. This is a first world demand, to be sure, but it is a very real one for me. After living in homes with air conditioning and without, I have reached this conclusion: when the family next moves, we will have air conditioning as one of our primary requirements in a new home. We have grown used to it. We feel it necessary. We do not wish to do without it.

It seems to me that people are more comfortable being able to set out temperature where we want it and we are more productive when we feel comfortable. We want some control over temperature and the technology exists. We will continue to use it. 

Climate control in a school is just as important as it is in a home.

We do better work as a staff when the school climate is not too hot, not too cold. We do better work when climate is predictable, when it is managed, when it does not vary wildly. We do better work when we can count on our environment.

Clearly, I am not simply writing about the physical temperature of our buildings. I am writing about how we feel when we are there. Do we primarily feel comfortable? Do we primarily feel safe? Do we primarily feel things are in control?

Leaders who wish to help those they serve feel comfortable and safe must attend to climate control. It is very much the responsibility of the leader to ensure the climate is acceptable and right for the community.

Leaders who are successful create welcoming environments physically in terms of keeping their schools clean and painted and fresh. They also create welcoming environments by establishing what is acceptable in terms of conversation and behavior. They build their teams based upon respect and knowledge of the individual. They serve their staffs by valuing them.

They create healthy climates.

People do their best work in climates that are intentionally managed, that are not left to chance. Good leaders know that climate control is another part of the job and a very important one at that.