A Journal of the First Year | Sixteen


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21 | March | 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… 


Next week, Spring Break comes to Mullen High School. If I am honest with myself I have to admit that I am very ready. I admit this even in the context that the school, just last week, was closed twice for Snow Days. “Was closed twice” is an interesting turn of phrase. To be more accurate, I should have written “I closed school twice” last week.

Regardless, despite the fact that I had two work from home days last week, I am still looking forward to the break. My wife and I will travel, we will see one of the kids who lives out of state, we will be able to set our own schedules, something that rarely happens in the life of a teacher or administrator.

But I am aware, and I have read on twitter and discussed with my colleagues with increasingly regularity as breaks are approached, that not everyone is as excited as I am for a break and, in this, I mean students and staff and faculty alike. For some, being at school means safety and routine and calmness and predictability. Not every student will go away and travel. Not every staff member is looking forward to the interruption in school.

So, though I am, frankly, thrilled by the prospect of sleeping for a few days until after the sun rises, I know that not everyone feels this way and I will strive to keep them in mind next week. In my gratefulness for some down time, I want to be aware that this is not what everyone is going to experience.

A Journal of the First Year | Fifteen


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7 | March | 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 found myself in a hospital bed last week.

That is surprisingly hard to write.

I found myself laid up for a night in a hospital, dehydrated, heaving and incredibly uncomfortable suffering from side effects brought on by a bout with shingles.

First truth: shingles are FOR REAL. They are just as much fun as you might have heard. They are painful and debilitating and they are not messing around.

Second truth: I need to practice what I preach.

I have tried to tell the staff and faculty and Mullen High School that they should take time when they need time, that they should not come to school when they are feeling unwell, that they should take care of themselves.

I have now become a poster child for the phrase “physician, heal thyself” because just what the heck have I been doing these weeks and months? Have I been ignoring the warning signs that could have kept me well? Have I been a “do as I say not as I do” kind of leader? That’s a kind of leader I really don’t respect very much.

I don’t know. I truly do not.

What I do know or, at least, what I have realized again and a new is that I need to take care of myself so I can take care of others. There’s a reason we are told to put the oxygen mask over our own nose and mouth before assisting those nears us and, in order to serve this faculty and staff better, I must pay more attention to that.

I am not sure why it is so easy (some might argue too easy) for me to be gracious to people when they need time off, to allow them to take a day or two for themselves but, when it comes to myself, I feel a foolish sense of pride being the first in the parking lot before dawn on any given morning or that same feeling when I look back and think “I didn’t miss a day of work this trimester.”

If it means I miss three days to a week with a trip to the emergency room thrown in for good measure, who cares?

I need to care about that kind of thing less. Much less.

This has been a hard and most unpleasant lesson.

But it is one for which I am grateful.




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 | 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.

 

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.

Whew.

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!

A Journal of the First Year | Eleven

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(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…  


10 | January | 2019


This past Sunday evening marked the last day of Christmas Break.

I had plans – significant plans – going into the Break. Beyond all that is associated with Christmas, the rituals of shopping and church and family and friends that I love, I had a few other goals. With the downtime from the day-to-day activities, I was going to work ahead on a few projects. I was going to finish editing the draft of a novel I completed earlier this year. I was going to do some around the house stuff.

Good plans.

I didn’t get to all of them. In fact, I didn’t get to many of them.

And so I found myself, on Sunday night a few hours after the “bedtime” I had set as a goal organizing my t-shirt drawer.

True story.

As I turned off the light Sunday night, I tossed and turned as the dawn of the first day of school 2019 approached. I couldn’t sleep. As I lay there in the dark, I wondered worried that I wasn’t more excited and energized about going back to school. Haven’t I loved the job? (I have) Didn’t I love the place? (I love it) Didn’t I enjoy my co-workers (I enjoy them immensely)

As I returned to school Monday and the faculty and staff filtered in for a day of professional development and meetings, the energy came rushing back like cool, clear water. The enthusiasm returned. The excitement for the work.

My feelings Sunday night were not about not loving Mullen High School and the students and faculty and staff there; they were about me loving home and time I got to spend with my wife and my children. And my feelings of excitement and feeling, in just over six months, at home, at school are not about me not loving being at home home.

One of the things I’ve tried to keep in the forefront of my mind in this first year as principal is wellness and the blending of my personal and professional lives. I’ve tried to enable the staff and faculty here to consider what is a healthy approach to wellness in their lives.

I think that is what I was feeling Sunday night and what I felt Monday morning. I was going to be missing the downtime and embrace of home, sure, but that loss was mitigated by the enjoyment of the work I am lucky enough to do.

It’s a blend and it’s a blessing.

And I am so happy to be back!

A Journal of the First Year | Ten

(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… 


20 | December | 2018

There is very little that resembles a school as it approaches Christmas Break. The sense of anticipation of weeks away from classes infects and excites both the students and the staff and faculty alike days before the actual last day before vacation hits. The halls buzz. The energy changes.

It’s a fun time of year.

There is no better way to go into this Christmas Break than that.

As I approach this break in my first year as principal, I am filled with deep gratitude to the faculty and staff with whom I journey at Mullen High School for so many reasons. I am so thankful for the work they do with our amazing student body, for the care they give to them, for the love they show. I am humbled by them.

Truly.

Breaks give us opportunities to reflect and to assess. In this first year, I have been asked many times how I am doing and how I think the year is going.

I can say with sincere and deep honesty that this year has not proceeded in a predictable manner. I am doing different work in different ways than I possibly could have anticipated as are many of our staff and faculty. The group of professionals which began the year here is not the same group that embarks on Christmas Break. People have gone and people have arrived. Some of us are in different positions. Some of us are doing unanticipated work. Some of us are thrilled. Some of us are wondering about next steps. Some of us are fatigued. Some excited for the days immediately following break.

In all of that, in the unpredictability of the days and weeks and months that make up the trimesters here, in all that we have done, I can say that I am so happy with these first months. I am so proud to serve this faculty and staff and student body.

I am so blessed.

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.

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.