Teach & Serve III, No. 34 – Just Because Something Works

Teach & Serve III, No. 34 – Just Because Something Works

April 4, 2018

Just because what we are doing in our classroom or with our team or on our administrative staffs is working does not mean we should not look to improve it. We should.

Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. – Shuri, Black Panther

If you have not had the time to see Black Panther, you may wish to drop everything, tell your supervisor you have to leave school, find the nearest theater, the closest showtime and remedy that situation.

I’ll wait.

Okay, with that out of the way…

In Black Panther, the title character’s sister Shuri, the Princess of Wakanda, has more than a few terrific moments and scene stealing lines. Upon my second viewing of the movie this past weekend I was struck by the truth of the quote that begins this blog and how important it is to our work in education, especially this time of year.

Just because what we are doing in our classroom or with our team or on our administrative staffs is working does not mean we should not look to improve it. We should. This time of year, as spring is upon us and we can see summer break not too, too far down the road is a perfect time to ask if what we are doing is the best we can be doing. This is a question we should ask, frequently.

We should ask it continually.

Our work in schools calls us to be ever tying to reach the horizon and pull it closer. We are called to be about continuous improvement in ourselves and of our systems so that we can support our students in improving continuously themselves.

Surely much if not most of what we do works. We would not be successful if it did not. It is a challenge to look at what is going well – what is highly functional – and say: “how can we do this better?”

We should. We should be agents of this kind of review. Hey, it is possible that there is no way to improve on what we are doing and that is fine.

How will we know if we do not ask the question?

Trust Shuri: just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

EduQuote of the Week: April 2 – 8, 2018

Golden Rule Week

In nearly every religion I am aware of, there is a variation of the golden rule. And even for the non-religious, it is a tenet of people who believe in humanistic principles.

– Hillary Clinton

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 16 – Who Has Everything

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 16

Who Has Everything

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


What do you give Superman for his birthday? Is he not the quintessential “man who has everything?”

This was the premise of the seminal Superman Annual #11 (“For the Man Who Has Everything”) written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons in the midst of their Watchmen fame. Batman and Wonder Woman (and Robin?) come to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to share with him the birthday gifts they have brought only to find that he is in the thrall of some kind of alien plant life that has rendered him comatose. In his mind, Superman is living a reality that places him on a not-destroyed Krypton with a wife and son and parents and a life very different from the one he is living on Earth. In order to come back to reality, Superman must give up this perfect and fulfilling fantasy and return to the real world.

The “gift,” as it turns out, was sent by an intergalactic villain named Mongul whose plan for conquering the Earth includes sidelining the Man of Steel with this hallucination.

Of course, the plan does not work. Superman gives up paradise to save the Earth, not unlike Captain Kirk saving the future by allowing Edith Keeler to die in the classic City on the Edge of Forever. It is a tragic story, but a heroic one.

What does it mean for us as leaders?

All too often we can find ourselves trapped in perfect worlds, in scenarios which are comfortable and do not challenge us, whether they are of our own making or not. We can find ourselves in echo chambers in which we only hear what we want to hear, only experience what we allow ourselves to experience, only risk what we want to risk.

This is no way to lead.

Excellent leaders, like Superman, break the bonds of contentment and complacency and sacrifice their comfort for the good of others. If we are not willing to do that, we ought not be leaders. If we are not willing to question our own comfortable lives, we cannot effectively lead.

Teach & Serve III, No. 33 – Move the Chairs

Teach & Serve III, No. 33 – Move the Chairs

March 28, 2018

I believe that if we, as leaders, are unwilling to move the chairs, if we somehow think the task beneath us or that we are more important than the work, then we are not effective leaders. I believe we are not even that good.

In a position I held a few years ago, I was walking outside across the quad of the school on my way from one building to another. On the grass, the maintenance staff was setting up for an all-school, outdoor event which was to occur within the next couple hours. The closer I got to the group setting up, the more I could sense something was wrong. The tension was noticeable.

I pulled aside the young man who was in charge of the set up just to see what was wrong.

“We set some of this up last night and it’s all wet.” He said.

He was forlorn.

I looked and, sure enough, the seats of the folding chairs had puddles of water on them and the grass below them was drenched.

Clearly, the staff had forgotten to shut off the sprinkler system.

“Okay,” I said, “what’s the plan?”

The staff had begun moving the chairs to a different part of the quad – a dry part – and had also started wiping the chairs down.

I pitched in.

They needed the help. The president of the school was very conscious of appearances. This event would have parents and board members at it and the maintenance staff – particularly the young man in charge – were more than a bit intimidated by him. I was only the principal. Not so intimidating.

We worked for about forty-five minutes and got the chairs re-arranged. I cannot guarantee that everyone had dry backsides when they sat in them, but they were out of the swamp of the wet grass and ready to go before the students, staff, parents and dignitaries hit the field.

All’s well that ends well.

“I can’t believe you did that,” the young man told me as the event started.

“It was no big deal,” I said. And it was not.

Growing up, I had watched my mother and father set up and take down many an event, those that they were speakers at or a part of and those that they were not. It was just what one did to help things come off correctly and well. That day in the wet grass, it never occurred to me to do anything but help.

I believe that if we, as leaders, are unwilling to move the chairs, if we somehow think the task beneath us or that we are more important than the work, then we are not effective leaders. I believe we are not even that good.

If you disagree, we have very different definitions of leadership.

Move the chairs, my friends.  Move the chairs.

EduQuote of the Week: March 26 – April 1, 2018

National Cleaning Week

Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.

– Phyllis Diller

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Teach & Serve III, No. 32 – Settle In; Don’t Settle For

Teach & Serve III, No. 32 – Settle In; Don’t Settle For

March 21, 2018

One of the best parts of this work is the cyclic nature of it. We simply must guard against giving in to the troughs in that cycle. We must remember the peaks are coming.

We must never settle for.

I have found it most difficult to explain to my friends and family who work in fields other than education what the months of February, March and April can feel like in the school setting. There is a certain malaise that I have found creeps in, a feeling wrought of early mornings in darkness followed by late evenings in darkness. A concern – unrealistic and unfounded – that the school year will never end, that we are locked in a Groundhog Day of educational proportions that will never let us go.

Rationally, we know this is untrue, but there is something about these late winter, early spring weeks that make us believe it might – just might – be.

The temptation in these months is to settle for. To settle for less than the best effort our students can give us. To settle for less than what we expect from our staffs and colleagues in terms professionalism and conduct. To settle for less than what we know we of ourselves to be capable.

We can make excuses. We can find reasons – often good and legitimate ones – for our failings and for failings of those around us. We can allow ourselves to settle for.

This is not the time to settle for but it may be the time to settle in.

Recognizing that there are segments of the year, pages on the calendar that are more promising or less promising for innovation and creativity, understanding that sometimes it is all right to look ahead and conclude that moving forward in the direction we are already heading without massive course correction is more than acceptable, settling in is an excellent decision.

The energy will return as the end of the year approaches. It ever does. The promise of summer and renewal and breaks will fire the spirit and rekindle the enthusiasm. Teachers will look ahead to the promise of what is to come and students to the next steps in their lives and everything that was old will seem new again.

The key is to never settle for, but to know when to settle in, to ride out the ebb in energy, to await the coming of renewal.

One of the best parts of this work is the cyclic nature of it. We simply must guard against giving in to the troughs in that cycle. We must remember the peaks are coming.

We must never settle for.

EduQuote of the Week: March 19 – 25, 2018

Shakespeare Week

He breathed upon dead bodies and brought them into life. Nor sequent centuries could hit Orbit and sum of Shakespeare’s wit.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 15 – You Will Return

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 15

You Will Return

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


Inevitably in our leadership journeys, we face setbacks. When we put our weight and our capital behind decisions or programs or choices and they – for whatever reason – do not pan out or proceed in the manner in which we expected, we can feel defeated and consider not returning to the particular field of battle in which we have just suffered defeat.

That is simply human nature.

In an arc of what is the most under-rated Star Trek incarnation of all Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the commander of the eponymous Deep Space Nine space station is forced to abandon the outpost, taking the Federation presence with him seemingly never to return. Defeated by the Cardassians, Captain Sisko leaves his office, his station and his post.

But he leaves his prize baseball behind for his successor to discover and to puzzle over.

The message is clear: I may be gone now, but I will be back.

This is a terrific message for leaders. We will fail. We will invest ourselves in situations that do not pan out. We will be defeated.

But we will be back.

If we will not, perhaps we were not great leaders in the first place

Teach & Serve III, No. 31 – Union. Now.

Teach & Serve III, No. 31 – Union. Now.

March 14, 2018

I welcome any chance to have dialogue among constituents at the school. I welcome every opportunity to discuss our shared work. I welcome all who wish to make the school a better place.

This is not a post suggesting that all faculties and staffs need to unionize, despite the title. However…

In my previous position as an administrator at a Catholic high school, periodically, talk of a faculty union would bubble up. The school I was at did not have a union, though many Catholic schools do, and discussion of it seemed to fall outside the norm of the typical way of proceeding. But, if one paid attention to when this talk surfaced, its genesis was most often tied to initiatives that were not well explained, decisions that felt capricious or moments following staff upheaval. That is to say, the talk of a union was usually motivated by some kind of challenging event in the life of the institution.

I will not suggest that I always greeted this talk with an open mind and heart, but I will not suggest that I did not. I do not actually recall, instance-by-instance, how I did respond when I was in formal leadership.

I can share how I would respond now (and I think this is how I responded back then as well).

I welcome any chance to have dialogue among constituents at the school. I welcome every opportunity to discuss our shared work. I welcome all who wish to make the school a better place.

Sometimes these conversations surface around challenging issues. So much the better. As educational leaders, we ought to seize on the moments in the lives of our schools that cause disruption. Further, if we are the cause or if something we have done ignites controversy, we should be able to discuss it, evaluate it, explain it (in as much as discretion and legitimate confidentiality allows).

When we, as educational leaders, hide from conversation about the difficult moments in the lives of our institutions, we are doing those institutions and the people who work in them a profound disservice. When we attempt to silence those who wish to engage us, we are on the way to destroying trust and rapport.

It is very hard to come back from those moments.

Do I believe all schools need some kind of faculty forum or faculty union? No, I do not. Do I fear them because of the very nature of their existence? No, I do not.

Organizations such as these can be very helpful in moving dialogue, in understanding institutional history, in providing avenues for more voices to be heard. Educational leaders who recognize and engage with organizations like this have a better chance to hear what they need to hear and lead how they need to lead. Educational leaders who fear and shut down these types of groups will, periodically, find themselves circling the wagons until the issue fades or the anger dies down or the confusion resolves.

Leaders only have so many times they can circle those wagons before they have outstayed their welcome.

EduQuote of the Week: March 12 – 18, 2018

Universal Women’s Week

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made… It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.

– Ruth Bader Ginsberg

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