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?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 18 | Intent vs. Impact, What Happens Next?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 18

Intent vs. Impact, What Happens Next?

December 5, 2018

When impacts do not match up to intent, good leaders act again. Good leaders are aware that what they say does not always “land” how they intend it to land.

If you are reading this blog you are likely an educational professional, a leader in a school. Every adult in a school is a leader one way or another. And, if you are in a school, you work in a complex system that is influenced by the desires, moods, emotions and wants of – literally – hundreds of people on any given day. Students influence the system as do parents and administrators and teachers. Likely, as an educational leader, you have been in the position of addressing a particular audience or you have had an interaction with a singular person. In that interaction you either had time to prepare your comments or you did not; you were either ready for the conversation or you were caught flatfooted by it. Whatever the particular case, you said something or did something and that action had results.

Let us bracket, for the purposes of this post, all of the situations that came out well – likely the majority of such situations. These are times when the impact of our words or actions matches our intent. Instead, let us consider the ones that did not go well. These are the times when our intents and impacts do not line up.

Whether we have had time to prepare or not, what we say has impact. How we act towards others has impact. How we conduct ourselves as leaders has impact.

When impacts do not match up to intent, good leaders act again. Good leaders are aware that what they say does not always “land” how they intend it to land. They reflect on contacts with others. They approach this reflection knowing that not everything goes the way they hope it does.

And they share those conclusions. Good leaders are able to analyze difficult situations – those created by their own impacts on others – and follow up on them with further information, with deeper clarification and with honest communication.

Good leaders recognize that the impacts they have in whatever they say and do (and Tweet and post) can be unintended and disconnected from their intent. And they recognize, if they wish to maintain rapport and trust and faith, that they must own these situations when they occur.

Good leaders realize when negative impacts are their fault. Then, knowing they created the situations in the first place, they work to fix them.

Readily.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 17 | Pride

Teach & Serve IV, No. 17

Pride

November 28, 2018

… leaders who wish to remain connected and close to their faculties, staffs and students should be careful.

We know pride goeth before the fall.

Pride.

In order to be effective, leaders must have a healthy amount of pride and they must have a relatively substantial amount of ego to go along with it. One does not become a leader without a fairly robust opinion of oneself. There are many slings and arrows with which one inevitably contends in leadership and possessing a well developed and centered view of self provides armor to deflect and shield oneself from them.

However, leaders who wish to remain connected and close to their faculties, staffs and students should be careful.

We know pride goeth before the fall.

There are many psychological challenges good leaders face. There are many ways the very act of leadership can play tricks on good leaders. Excellent leaders tend to produce excellent results. They often have their staffs and schools operating at high levels. They typically enjoy success in their work and initiatives. They are congratulated. They are praised.

Each of these things can lead to a burgeoning pride.

And that is fine. Pride, kept in appropriate context and measure, is necessary for good leadership.

An overabundance of pride is not.

Effective leaders who wish to remain so must strike a balance in terms of pride. Too little pride can lead to weak leadership. Too much pride can lead to overbearing leadership. 

Pride in ones leadership is good. It is important. It should also be monitored appropriately.

A Journal of the First Year | Eight

(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… 


22 | November | 2018 – THANKSGIVING

As today marks Thanksgiving, I wanted to set aside a moment’s reflection on the many things for which I am thankful and the many people to which I am grateful during these first months of my first year:

  • to the committee of almost 20 people interviewed me last winter and passed my name on with the president of the school …
  • to the president offered me the principalship …
  • to my former employer who enabled me to start working at Mullen High School in the spring as I simultaneously wrapped up my position …
  • to the members of the administrative team who offered their support right away, who helped me learn culture, who advised me …
  • to the faculty that was incredibly welcoming, that helped me adjust and adjusted to me, who pitched in where asked, who did more than was simply their job, who gave and continue to give their all to our students …
  • to people on the faculty and staff who have spent time in consultation and prayer with me …
  • to members of the student body who dropped by my office to say hello these last months …
  • to the parents who opened their hearts, shared their stories and their students, voiced their praise and concern …
  • to the people from whom I have asked advice, time-and-again …
  • to the interim president who mentors me to this day …
  • to the writers of the anonymous letters I have received (you know who you are) – this is not a sarcastic thank you, I am very grateful …
  • to the fact that my imagination is worse than any scenario I have encountered, but I am thankful to imagine the nth degree of things so that we can avoid it …
  • to the people who have openly disagreed with me or shared their concerns with me (and to those considering doing so, please, please, please do!) …
  • to my mother and sisters who listen to my stories (“only the names have been changed…”) …
  • to my children who offer their unique insights on this work …
  • to my wife – the smartest, bravest, best person I know whose tireless support, wise advice and abiding love I do not deserve.

I am so very grateful for all of the above that words hardly do my feelings justice. I am enjoying Thanksgiving Break. I will enjoy getting back to work!

Teach & Serve IV, No. 16 | Praise You Like I Should

Teach & Serve IV, No. 16

Praise You Like I Should

November 21, 2018

School leaders should be looking for people to praise, identifying opportunities to share their gratitude, searching out those who have done their schools, their staffs and their students service. School leaders should take time to say “thank you” and they should do so many, many times a day.

Tomorrow, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving which is one of my favorite days of the year. I love the food for sure. There is nothing like a mean double decker pumpkin pie. I love the fall leaves on the ground, the smells wafting from the kitchen, the gathering of family and friends around the table.

I love all the trappings of Thanksgiving.

But I most especially love the idea of it. I love the concept of setting a day aside each year to give thanks.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Meister Eckhart who is credited with saying: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

I believe this is true for anyone in any walk of life, but I believe it is especially true – and it should be – for school leaders.

School leaders should be looking for people to praise, identifying opportunities to share their gratitude, searching out those who have done their schools, their staffs and their students service. School leaders should take time to say “thank you” and they should do so many, many times a day.

A written note is a great gesture. A comment of thanks in public at a meeting is a good thing to offer. Pulling someone aside to praise their work can affect that person’s attitude. An email of thanks goes a long way to make someone know – not feel, know – she or he is appreciated.

In my experience, leaders who recognize the opportunities to thank those with whom and for whom they work are leaders who understand that to lead is to serve and these are the types of leaders for whom I wish to work.

This Thanksgiving, as we express our gratefulness for our blessings of family and food and friends, we should also express our gratefulness for our students, their families, our coworkers.

This is what excellent school leaders do as a matter of course.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 15 | First Responders

Teach & Serve IV, No. 15

First Responders

November 14, 2018

Good educators pay attention to the tenor of their classrooms or meetings, they perceive who is in crisis and try to assist them as they can, they react with kindness and compassion and love.

For all manner of good reason, people venerate first responders, those people who rush into action, into danger, into fire. Society rightly praises those who look after others first and consider themselves second. Society elevates first responders who place their needs behind those of others and are grateful for this work and sacrifice.

While people in these professions should absolutely be singled out for praise, we can look to our schools and see the same type of actions each-and-every-day. The military and police and firefighters are not the only people in whom we uncover examples of selflessness. 

Teachers and administrators are first responders too.

Good educators look to the needs of their students and staff first, they put themselves on the line for them, they protect them. Good educators pay attention to the tenor of their classrooms or or the temperature in meetings, they perceive who is in crisis and try to assist them as they can, they react with kindness and compassion and love.

So very much of the work we do calls us to recognize challenges before us. It calls us to analyze situations and to understand people. It calls us, sometimes in split seconds, to act for the good of the student, the teacher, the department, the class. Excellent educational professionals have the reflexes and insights to make spur-of-the-moment decisions that improve situations for individuals and for groups. They have the ability to diagnose and respond quickly for the good of others.

This is a critical part of our shared work.

Good educational professionals are absolutely first responders, making split-second decisions that affect, change and, yes, save lives, every moment of every day.

A Journal of the First Year | Seven

(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… 


08 | November | 2018

My latest learning as a new principal?

Be ready to be surprised. Be ready to check my assumptions. Be ready to leave expectation at the door. Be ready to admit my instincts, though often solid, are not always correct.

Be ready to be humbled.

One of these lessons came to me this week though it had been brewing for months. In the early weeks of this school year, I was ready to make a very significant decision. I was sure I had sized the situation which I was considering up very well and I was within moments of executing a course of action that would have major implications for myself and for others. I was convinced of my righteousness of purpose and of my own reasoning. I was primed.

And I was convinced not to make the move I was going to make.

Okay, I thought. Be collaborative. Be consultative. Allow others in and allow them to hear your process and allow them to stay your hand.

Then sit back and watch them be wrong.

Trouble is, they were not wrong. They were right. The action I was going to take turned out to be unnecessary. Watching the scenario unfold over these past months has validated the opinions of those who told me to reconsider.

I am grateful. And I hope I have told them that enough.

Another humbling happened this past week. It happened twice.

In two instances I was dreading parent meetings. In both cases I knew the topics and I assumed that the families would be unhappy with the school, with our direction as it pertained to their students and with me. These situations were challenging and serious and the school had taken clear and decisive action.

Had I had hatches prior to these parental contacts, I would have battened them down.

You know what is coming. In both meetings, rather than rail against the school or me, the parents thanked me and praised the school. They were grateful. They were pleased. They were gracious.

I had approached both meetings certain that I would have to hold a line, be firm, protect myself and the school.

In both cases, I was wrong.

Be ready to be humbled, man. That is my lesson these past two weeks. I sure hope I have learned it.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 14 | Echo Chambers of Our Own Design

Teach & Serve IV, No. 14

Echo Chambers of Our Own Design

November 7, 2018

Sometimes … when we build teams and, as those teams continue to function, we can begin to listen only to ourselves, to conclude that our team is the best team – the only team – to which we need to listen.

Leaders can live strange lives and much of that has to do with the types of people with which they surround themselves. Confident, strong leaders tend to seek out those who are, likewise, confident and strong. They tend to build teams of people who might and will challenge them, who think for themselves, who generate and create on their own without the leader pressing them to do so. Confident leaders want people around them who are confident, too.

Sometimes, however, when we build teams and, as those teams continue to function, we can begin to listen only to ourselves, to conclude that our team is the best team – the only team – to which we need to listen. For, if we have constructed good teams, should it not follow that those selfsame teams will remain good in perpetuity? Is it not logical that our teams, woven together with considered thought and careful foresight and appropriate intention, will work perfectly well for a very, very long time?

We should be careful.

All too often, the best of teams the longer they work together, especially those teams whose players like and respect each other, become echo chambers of our own design. Typically, high functioning teams come to expect high function of themselves. They have typically done good work. When teams do good work with one another over long periods of time and they are praised for such work, it becomes very challenging to believe that they will ever do anything but good work. It becomes almost impossible to believe that breaking up the band, that deviation from the norm is necessary.

But breaking up the band may well be critical. It is, at a minimum, necessary to open the doors on these teams, to bring in other voices, to challenge the echo chamber.

High functioning teams that wish to remain high functioning do not simply gaze around the table and say, every part we need is here, right? Everyone is in place. Right? Yes, sure. Right. Right back at you. You are here. I am here. What else do we need?

That kind of echo chamber does not grow leadership in a building and it does not grow to face new challenges. Rather, high functioning teams look around the table and say, we are good. How do we get better? What is missing? Who else should be at this table? How do we engage others?

High functioning teams break open the echo chamber. That is how they continue to grow.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 13 | You Know What’s Really Scary?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 13

You Know What’s Really Scary?

October 31, 2018

We make monsters out of the students who act out, the parents who call in, the teachers who challenge us. We create bogeywomen and men who haunt, if not our nights, our commutes home.

We have conversations with ghosts.

It is Halloween today and I want to write about what really scares me.

This is not a post about Stephen King books – though I have read many and they do scare me – or about the sometimes frightening state of our world today – though I can be intimidated by that, too. No, this is a post about what scares me in our schools.

I am frightened that we in education are all too often tied up in how difficult our work is, tied up by the hurdles we face and tied up by the challenges ahead. I am afraid we forget what we can do and what we can be.

It is too easy to be intimidated by the stacks of papers, by the phone calls to parents, by the impending department meeting or game or match. It is too easy to be scared of the next class, the next unit, the next technological innovation that will change how we do our work.

We can create our monsters. We do create monsters.

We make monsters out of the students who act out, the parents who call in, the teachers who challenge us. We create bogeywomen and men who haunt, if not our nights, our commutes home.

We have conversations with ghosts.

We jump at the shadows of perceived insults. We hear creaking floor boards outside our classrooms and sometimes fear the zombies within them.

In doing so, we only see the trees in a dark and sinister forest of our creation. We only see the bad. We only give energy to what scares us.

In doing so, we miss all that is good.

What scares me is how we too frequently find ourselves obsessed by what we perceive to be bad and we miss what is so very good. We miss the chances we have to affect change, to be inspired and to be inspirations. We miss the opportunities, those that are in front of us each-and-every-day, presented to us to do good in this work we have chosen.

Missing the potential of our work: that is what is really scary to me.

The days are too short. The months are too short. The terms are too short.

The time is too short. Let us not waste it.

That’s what’s really scary.  

 

EduQuote of the Week | 10.29.18

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

William Shakespeare