A Journal of the First Year | Twenty-One


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23| May | 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…


It is with a measure of surprise that I write this, the final installment of A Journal of the First Year. It is cliche to suggest that I don’t quite know where the year has gone and how the days, weeks and months disappeared so quickly but I suggest it nonetheless. As I told our seniors yesterday at their graduation rehearsal, not every minute or every hour of every day sped by, but, taken in their totality, they absolutely flew.

I am so very grateful to my colleagues for this year. I am grateful for a community that, on the whole, understands a shared mission and pulls in the same direction. I am grateful for a community that cares about our students and, as a rule, tries to put their needs first. I am grateful for a community that reached out and, almost without exception, welcomed the new guy this year.

I am grateful.

I have spent much of my time this year trying to learn about this school – about its history and its people – and, after 12 months, I feel that I have discovered much. I am also aware that I have much more to learn.

I am more prepared, because of this year, to be a better principal next year. I am ready to spend much time this summer, when there is more of it that is unstructured on my calendar, to reflect upon what I have learned and to consider ways to better serve this community. I am excited for Year Two.

I know that I will be a different leader because none of us should be stagnant in our approaches to our work. I will push to be different. I know that I will be more vocal (though that may come as a shock to some of my colleagues who might be thinking “how can this guy be more vocal?!?) and more involved. I know that I will share my opinions more readily. And I know the school better.

I am hopeful and I pray that I have been a good servant leader this year. I am hopeful and I pray that I will be a better servant leader next year.

And I end this post and this year as I began: grateful to have been blessed with this ongoing opportunity. I promise I do not take it for granted.

A Journal of the First Year | Twenty


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16| May | 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…


As I sit to write this post early on the second to last Thursday of this, the first year I am principal of Mullen High School, I am aware of many things. First, my bandwidth is getting more narrow with each passing day. Second, I want to remain as positive as I possibly can during these last hours of the school year. Third, this year has positively rocketed past me.

My bandwidth has narrowed to the point that I am going from moment-to-moment through my calendar and through my days. This is not a bad thing. I am attending to all (I hope!) that needs to be completed – though not is as timely a fashion as I might like. But the pace is leaving little time for anything generative and protecting time for generation even in May is something I’d like to change for next year. I will have to protect some time but, more than that, going through our end of year rituals for a second time and living through our particular end of the year flavor will, I hope, help!

I am trying my very hardest to be as positive as I possibly can as the end of the year approaches. Students are fatigued and worried about projects and finals. Faculty and staff are, likewise, engaged in wrapping things up for themselves and in their own rights. I believe – strongly – it is incumbent upon me, in the role I am lucky enough to hold, to be the most positive person in the school. I am doing my level best to be that person.

And it is amazing to me as I look forward two weeks in the calendar to note that I will have been here for a year and that I will have started my second. It’s amazing and it’s wonderful and I am so glad my feet are here.

A Journal of the First Year | Nineteen


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02| May | 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 am addicted (a carefully and correctly chosen word) to my email and my calendar. I am not sure, frankly, if this is a good or bad thing. I lean towards it being a good thing because this particular addiction makes me more productive and responsive. Looking at my calendar lets me know what’s coming and for what I need to be prepared. Looking at my email allows me to reply to people frequently and readily.

These seem important things and my first year at Mullen High School has reinforced this perception.

However, I am well aware of the gratification I receive from feeling like I am doing a great job at balancing many, many things. I am aware that I pat myself on the back, repeatedly, when I believe I am doing a good job keeping many plates spinning.

I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong with this feeling.

What I try to guard against, however, is the idea that I have more going on than anyone else, that what I do is more complex than what others do, that my days are more… wait for it… busy than other people’s days.

I don’t always do a good job of guarding against these feelings. I’d like to do better.

Because, here’s the thing and it’s a thing I knew before I came to Mullen but it’s a thing that is being reinforced each-and-every day, especially in the spring: we are all busy, busy, busy, so busy. We all have so much going on that the term “busy” itself loses any sense of reality.

Who’s to judge who has more going on than anyone else and, at the end of the day, why is this competition important?

It’s not. The magic of this time of year – of pushing through until summer comes – is found not in our busyness, but in enjoyment and celebration of our students, our colleagues and our accomplishments.

As principal, I have to be the ring leader for these celebrations, not the guy saying how busy I am. I want to be the easy like Sunday morning principal, the calm in the storm, the least stressed guy around.

It’s the least I can do for the people with whom I journey.

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 | 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!