A Journal of the First Year | Eighteen


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11 | April | 2019

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… 


I have learned a great number of things over the course of this first year at Mullen High School. As we are – amazingly – at mid April on the calendar and the end of the school year is somehow in sight, I decided to detail a few of the kernels of knowledge that are foremost on my mind going in to the home stretch:

  • When a school gets to spring, two things are happening simultaneously: the balance between wrapping up the current year and planning for the next. For everyone but especially, I think, for those in leadership, this is a significant tightrope to walk. It’s a challenging being present to this year while planning for the next.
  • No matter how many times I have told myself that I am aware some of the decisions I make are not going to please everyone I am still disappointed in myself that I actually cannot please everyone.
  • Being in the classroom as a teacher is – in my opinion – very important for my personal growth as an administrator. The two roles – for me – go hand-in-hand.
  • I am liking snow and the havoc it causes less and less.
  • I must be more careful with how I communicate my plans and my ideas for the school. I have had occasion this week to question whether what I am saying to the staff and faculty here is conveying what I mean completely.

And have I mentioned lately that this is HARD work? 

It is. It is hard work.

And great work.

A Journal of the First Year | Seventeen


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04 | April | 2019

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… 


I was reminded this week by a person I have very much come to respect during my first year at Mullen High School and I person that I already consider a friend about what this job of being a principal really is. What I mean to suggest is that, if I was stuck in an elevator and I had to convey what the work entails, I am all but certain I could not come up with a better description than the one my friend offered.

I have come to understand and to live much of this work in a real way this year. I have been blessed to do the job I’ve dreamed of doing. I’ve had a terrific time. Terrific.

And I know that this work is about the kids. Our journey as educators is about students. there is no doubt at all about this.

But my work? My job, my primary job as principal? My friend nailed it.

Addressing a group of faculty and staff in general and me in particular during an professional development session earlier this week he said (and I paraphrase a bit here): “Jeff, WE are the job.”

The faculty and the staff are the job.

After months in this work and can conclude two things. The faculty and staff AREthe job. And this is a job I love.

A Journal of the First Year | Fourteen


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21 | February | 2019


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… 


I have spent the last few days thinking about mentors. I have had a great many in my life – mentors who I trust and attempt to emulate and mentors who I pay attention to because they do things so differently than I that I rarely seek to accord myself as they do. This is a kind of mentorship, too.

And, as I have settled into my role as principal of Mullen High School,  I have to admit that I am a mentor for others, that some look to me in that role. This is an interesting realization and one that I actually grapple with quite a bit.

Frankly, I have been thinking about one mentor specifically, one who changed my life in ways incalculable. One I have known for over 30 years. One of the kindest, most gentle, most affirming people I’ll ever encounter. One who shared with me his love of education in the best way imaginable: he simply lived it honestly and authentically. I have had cause to think about the impact he has made in my life in sharp relief this week because he shared with me and with my best friend (another mentor of the kind we rarely consider – the peer mentor who challenges, cajoles and loves) that he – our mentor – does not have much time life on this earth.

To say that the news shocks and wounds is an understatement and I am still processing it, still considering a world without him. I am not ready yet to acknowledge and absorb this.

But what I have been able to do this week is to consider all that he has represented in my life. All that he has done. All that he continues to do. 

In ways big and small, I can point to how he changed me, changed my path, changed my existence. This is not hyperbole. This is fact. He encouraged an early interest in writing when I was a high school student. He shared with me his love of education. His dry wit has become a part of me. His compassion a standard to attempt to reach. His peacefulness and unflappability a seemingly unattainable height. His love of others a beacon.

In football, pundits talk about coaching trees, those coaches who were influenced by other, mentor coaches and who have gone on to lead teams of their own. It would take more than two hands to count the teachers and administrators that my mentor has launched. And, by extension, it would take a supercomputer to number all the students and staff and teachers those people have touched through the years.

What a gift.

That he has made me who I am is without question. And any good I do serving the faculty and staff with whom I walk is a testament to him. Utterly.

 

A Journal of the First Year | Nine

(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… 


06 | December | 2018

“We should write a book…”

Over the course of the last six months (and it has been just over six months since I began my tenure as principal of Mullen High School), I have said the above words to colleagues or have had them said to me by colleagues on multiple occasions. We share this sentiment when something has happened that was unpredictable, unexpected or simply bizarre.

You might be surprised at the frequency with which this phrase is repeated. It seems that once a week – if not once a day – something strange or out of the ordinary happens, something goes down that is so far out of left field it beggars description.

While I cannot say I look forward to their occurrence, I have embraced these phenomena. Why? I have embraced them because they are symbolic of something I have found true about this half year behind the principal’s desk: one cannot be fully prepared for everything with which one will deal.

There is simply no way.

On any given day, I may (and do!) have a plan for what I would like to accomplish, for what I want to get done, for what I would like to accomplish. And, obviously given the needs and demands of the work, on any given day, that plan is defeated by what comes up and what must be address.

There is a predictability in how predictable this cycle is.

Therefore, when something that cannot be anticipated (or, in some cases, readily explained) happens, there is a break in the routine, in the predictable, in the structure.

And that, I have found, has been very refreshing. Often, it has even been fun.

I am grateful that no two days have been alike in this first half year at Mullen. I am grateful that truth can be stranger than fiction. I am grateful that I cannot see everything coming.

Where would the job be in that?

A Journal of the First Year | Four

(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… 


27 | September | 2018

Parent/Teacher Conferences at my school are happening today. Over the course of the last two weeks, I have been involved in many a conversation about them, about their efficacy and about how we such structure them to encourage people to attend them.

There has been no shortage of opinions on this as you might imagine.

Following conversation, deliberation and reflection, I settled on a format that I thought was good, a message to families I thought conveyed what we wanted to convey and put that out to our community. And I did not hear very much in response.

But I did receive a couple concerns from parents which is a very good thing. Right?

When emails and messages go out, they reach, literally, thousands of people. To assume that everyone who reads them (not sure what that number is actually) is going to complete their perusal and say “yes, that’s exactly right; I agree completely” is ludicrous.

But I so want that to be!

I have said to faculty and staff and parents and students that I want feedback on the manner in which I am serving the school. I have said that in public and I have said it in writing and I continue to seek it out.

What I need to remember is that feedback is not always going to be what I would hope or what I wanted. Some of it will not agree with me. Some of it will be critical. I know this.

But, as I have told teachers many, many times in the past when they are going through student evaluations, feedback must be evaluated. Just because someone does not agree with you does not make them wrong. That is obvious.

I am more than ready to correct, concede, console. I am more than ready to resource and to find solutions. I am more than ready to change course.

Perhaps I am, sometimes, too ready.

When dealing with feedback, less obvious for me and who I am and want to be as a leader is just because someone disagrees with me does not make them right, either.

Too often – and more than a few times in the past week – I leap to correct whatever I have been critiqued about. Sometimes that is the right course. Often it is.

Sometimes, it is not.

Sometimes I know more. Sometimes I am right.

Admitting this is not always easy.

A Journal of the First Year | Three

(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… 


13 | September | 2018

I think my biggest insight of the last two weeks is about something I am not particularly good at yet: I have to continue to learn when something is on fire and when it is not.

Here is what I mean. Considering the confluence of people in schools, the students, their families, teachers and staff, there are many, many things going on all at once. Some of them are clockwork predictable. Others are totally unpredictable. Many of them feel like crises.

But which are? Which of the events of the last few weeks would I really, with some time to breathe and some space gained, call “crises”?

Not too many of them but, when they were happening, they sure felt like they were.

In the last few weeks, my school has dealt with sudden staff changes, conversations about outside speakers, questions about student placements and other topics that, in the moment, felt critical, immediate and impending. They felt like crises.

Upon reflection, nothing was burning. Nothing was about to explode. Nothing was bearing down on the school.

And, while I think I did I fairly good job addressing each (you would have to ask the people I work with if that particular assessment is accurate), I know now that I could have taken a breath or two or twenty before jumping in. Sometimes, when I jump in, I take people with me. That can lead to feelings of chaos which are perceptions of reality, not reality.

I have to be most careful with these types of situations in the future.

And this: I remain amazed at all the people working so hard for our students. There is no way to thank them adequately for all the work they do, for the servants they are, but I sure as heck am going to try.

A Journal of the First Year | One

(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.

So lucky…

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…