Teach & Serve IV, No. 28 | Do Not Play Chess, or Checkers for that Matter

Teach & Serve IV, No. 28

Do Not Play Chess, or Checkers for that Matter

February 13, 2019

Looking back, very little … maneuvering ever worked.

In the past, I have spent many hours (too many hours, frankly) trying to plot out my professional destiny.  These designs have sometimes been small in scope – determining how to get noticed in a faculty meeting or how to be appointed to an after-school duty I found desirable or how to get to teach the classes I want to teach or the department chair role I wanted. I often angled for these sorts of things, hoping that, if I did the right things, said the right words, acted in the right ways with the right people, I could influence outcomes in subtle and, sometimes, not so subtle ways.

I often schemed in a more grandiose fashion.

All too frequently, I attempted to play the long game, to play chess (three-dimensional chess at that!) while I thought everyone around me was playing checkers. I tried to line up the pieces in positions that would lead to being recognized and promoted, to being asked to chair think tanks and processes and committees, to being singled out as a great leader.

Looking back, very little of that maneuvering ever worked.

The reality is, I spent more time trying to find the jobs that would get me to level up in my job than simply doing a good job at my job, which is what wins us recognition in the first place.

Here’s the thing: you can try to play chess with your co-workers and bosses and colleagues all you want and you can assume they are just playing checkers. You can convince yourself that you are putting yourself in the best positions possible and you are winning the game. You can tell yourself you are smarter than the room and you are the master manipulator. Hey, go ahead and tell yourself you are winning.

Most likely, however, those around you are not even playing the game and your only opponent is yourself.

On reflection, that seems to me I spent an awful lot of wasted time – time I could have used getting better, sooner learning more about myself and being more genuine in my work and my leadership.

Game over.

Let the real work begin.

 

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

Teach & Serve IV, No. 27 | Integration

Teach & Serve IV, No. 27

Integration

February 6, 2019

Great leaders are not one person in school and another at home. Great leaders can be counted on to be consistent, to be authentic and to be integrated.

How much of one’s personal life should an educational leader bring into the context of running a school? How much should a leader share and make known to the faculty and staff she serves? How much does that faculty and staff have to know to work well with a leader?

I have worked with many people and for many people who have an ability that I do not come by naturally, that is to say they readily separate their personal lives, their “baggage,” and their stories and experiences from their professional ones. There are people for whom I have worked of whom I have known very little outside of school. I have not known their families, their interests, their desires and their concerns. I have not known their hobbies and how they spend their time after 4:00pm and before 7:30am.

And perhaps I have not needed to.

Here’s the thing: we who work together do not need to know everything about each other. This is true.

But this is likewise true: the most effective authentic and genuine leaders do integrate their personal lives fully into their professional ones. They do allow themselves to be known by the people they serve. They do open up about the hours before 7:30 and after 4:00 (as if those are truly the hours any educational leader worth his salt actually works!). They do find ways to let people in.

No, not everyone is entitled to know everyone else’s business. Yes, there are some things even the best leaders keep to themselves. But good leaders understand that good leadership flows from their being the best and truest versions of themselves.

How can someone be the best version of herself if she is holding things back, if she is not integrating both her personal and professional lives? That impulse denies too much of oneself and makes leadership harder and less authentic than it need be.

Great leaders are not one person in school and another at home. Great leaders can be counted on to be consistent, to be authentic and to be integrated.

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.

A Journal of the First Year | Twelve

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

(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!

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.

EduQuote of the Week | 1.21.19

Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 24 | Hard to Recapture…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 24

Hard to Recapture…

January 16, 2019

I would like to suggest that arrogance and good leadership are… incompatible. They… don’t mix

When a leader stops doing the good and hard work, the respect of the community can (and usually does) drop precipitously. The respect of those being led, once lost, is very, very hard to get back. Once a leader has seceded leadership by ceasing to perform the functions of good leadership, effective leadership is almost impossible to recapture. Therefore, a leader must be very aware of and solicitous to the functions of the work of leadership.

The reasons a leader may stop fulfilling the responsibilities of her or his leadership are many. And the reasons do matter. For example, if a leader has issues in her or his personal life that are impacting performance and shares those, as appropriate, with the school community she or he serves, those communities are, typically, very forgiving and understanding. If the leader is confronted by professional circumstance that limits effectiveness and, likewise, can be honest and open about both the pressures and how they will be overcome, a community can understand that and determine its response.

If, however, and this is more common than we might want to acknowledge, a leader is simply tired or has lost interest or feels some functions of leadership simply are not as important to him or her, not as critical, then problems arise. Faculty and staff notice these shifts. They know when things are being done differently or not being done at all. They may confront the leader about them. They may not. Either way, the damage is done, and the damage can be very hard to come back from for the leader.

Effective leaders understand that, once their leadership starts to wane, it is quite difficult to recapture. The difficult (and, ultimately, highly rewarding) work of leadership is constant. Excellent leaders embrace the privilege it is to serve.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 24 | Hard to Recapture…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 24

Hard to Recapture…

January 16, 2019

Effective leaders understand that, once their leadership starts to wane, it is quite difficult to recapture.

When a leader, for whatever reason, stops doing the good and hard work, the respect of the community can (and usually does) drop precipitously. Once a leader has seceded leadership by ceasing to perform the functions of good leadership, effective leadership is almost impossible to recapture.  The respect of those being led, once lost, is very, very hard to get back. Therefore, a leader must be very aware of and solicitous to the functions of the work of leadership.

The reasons a leader may stop fulfilling the responsibilities of her or his leadership are many. And the reasons do matter. For example, if a leader has issues in her or his personal life that are impacting performance and shares those, as appropriate, with the school community she or he serves, those communities are, typically, very forgiving and understanding. If the leader is confronted by professional circumstance that limits effectiveness and, likewise, can be honest and open about both the pressures and how they will be overcome, a community can understand that and determine its response. But this is not always the case. Often leaders simply stop leading.

This is more common than we might want to acknowledge. Often, when a leader is simply tired or has lost interest or feels some functions of leadership simply are not as important to him or her, perhaps not as critical as they may once have been, she or he begins to cross things off the list of good leadership. He or she starts to let things go. Perhaps the thought is no one will notice. Perhaps the thought it the school can run itself. Perhaps the thought is all the good work done before this point will carry the institution forward on momentum alone.

Perhaps. But I doubt it.

In a school, faculty and staff notice these shifts. They know when things are being done differently or not being done at all. They may confront the leader about them. They may not. Either way, the damage is done, and the damage can be very hard to come back from for the leader.

Effective leaders understand that, once their leadership starts to wane, it is quite difficult to recapture. The difficult (and, ultimately, highly rewarding) work of leadership is constant. Excellent leaders embrace the privilege it is to serve.