A Journal of the First Year | Two

(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… 


30 | August | 2018

Most people who work in education and who have been in school for the past few weeks may resonate with the question I am about to pose: just where did the last 14 days go?

Life moves pretty fast, a famous philosopher once said (side note: I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at a multiplex in Arvada, Colorado when I was a kid because I wanted Ferris to GET CAUGHT – no kidding, I was rooting against the hero) and that sentiment seems so true to me as I reflect on the last few weeks.

What has gone on here at Mullen High School? So very much: student schedules have been solidified, teachers have settled in to their classes after days of “special schedules” for pictures and class meetings and advisements and… you get the picture. The Back-to-School Dance has come and gone and fall sports are in full swing. The fall play has been cast. Back-to-School Night was this past Tuesday.

Two themes strike me as we wrap up our first two weeks of the 2018-2019 school year.

The first is this: patience is critically important to this work. Not every challenge that arises or every issue that crosses a principal’s desk has to be addressed immediately. Sure, some do (let us not leave fires – metaphorical or otherwise – burning in the parking lot) but many if not most do not require immediate action. Take a breath, I have heard myself and those around me. Reflect a little. Give yourself some space. This is a significant learning of the week.

The second is this: try to never miss an opportunity for positive interaction. The president of our school said this to me early in our working together and she is so very right. Back-to-School Night was a chance for positive interactions with our parent community, a chance for teachers and parents to get to know one another and to begin to collaborate on the fine work we will do together. Observing faculty and giving them some props on the magic they work in their classrooms is another such opportunity. As is sitting with and eating with students at lunch. Not all interactions during a school year will be positive. We should seek out and make the most of them.

Bonus learning: I love this work. Love it.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 4 | Contentional Leadership

Teach & Serve IV, No. 4

Contential Leadership

August 29, 2018

When one is only concerned with her or his ideas being better than someone else’s ideas, teamwork cannot flourish. It cannot even begin.

Though it might be hard to believe, there are some leaders who believe that the best way to motivate, inspire and stimulate the people with whom they work is by intentionally putting them in opposition to one another. Leaders such as this thrive on a feeling of discomfort or contention among their staff member and believe that the energy created from being perpetually in conflict is a fertile ground from which good ideas arise. These are the leaders who think the best people, the best policies and the best plans arise from skirmishes both large and small.

I know that people lead this way because I once worked for a principal who exercised this exact philosophy of leadership.

What did I learn from him?

Frankly, I learned many things, both good and bad, but, in this case, I learned, the hard way, that this kind of leadership is worse than ineffective; it is destructive.

It may seem that contentional leadership (as I will call it) leads to a dynamic where people are inspired through the energy created to do their best work. it may seem that, when our professional reputations depend on being as good or better than those around us that we will give more and do more. No. This approach to teamwork leads to no teamwork at all.

When one is only concerned with her or his ideas being better than someone else’s ideas, teamwork cannot flourish. It cannot even begin.  When one is pleased that another’s seat at the table is shifted away from center in deference to her own place, community cannot thrive. When one operates to curry favor with leadership whether or not the leader deserves that favor, the system is broken.

For about three years running, I worked in an institution where contentional leadership was the operative system, where it  ruled the day. I am no longer at that school.

To be clear, the principal who lead, primarily, in that fashion left that school over a decade ago. That school has not fully recovered.

I do not know when it will.

Contentional leadership demeans, divides and destroys. There is no place for it schools.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 3 | Journey

Teach & Serve IV, No. 3

Journey

August 22, 2018

Our work in education ought to include work upon ourselves. How do we improve? How do we better serve? How do we ensure that our journeys match our goals? How do we grow as leaders and as people?

In some parts of the United States, school has been in session for a few weeks. In others, classes are a few days away from beginning. In still more, teacher meetings and orientations are on the cusp of getting rolling. No matter the state of starting in which you find your institution, there is no denying it: the journey is upon us.

And I wish you good luck on the journey.

Each academic session, trimester, semester and year is a journey. We find ourselves at the on ramp with, I trust, energy and enthusiasm.

Not to strain the metaphor too much, but it would benefit each of us greatly if we begin with a plan for sustaining ourselves on this journey.

That plan will have many elements to it: checklists and standards and benchmarks. We might wish to leave room for detours and challenges. They will come. Our plans should be clear and direct while leaving space for the unexpected and flexibility. They will help us along the way.

An essential element to a successful journey is craving out time for evaluation and reflection. If our plans do not give us space to review our path, check in on our progress, assess our feelings and emotions along the way, we might get where we are going (spoiler alert: the calendar pages always flip – we will get to the end of our journey) but we will not reach all the potential of the way in which we might have arrived.

Our walk through our school years is a walk of getting things done, of encountering people and places and things and serving them, responding to them, helping them. Our paths through these months is sometimes meandering, sometimes punishing, always propulsive.

What our journey can be is inward too.

It should be.

Our work in education ought to include work upon ourselves. How do we improve? How do we better serve? How do we ensure that our journeys match our goals? How do we grow as leaders and as people? Our journeys should include reflection which helps us work upon ourselves – upon our souls.

Our journeys can be more than checking things off the list, no matter how brilliantly and effectively we do that. Our journeys should be more.

Our journeys should be about getting better about learning more.

Our journeys should be about development.

Let us make them count.

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…

Teach & Serve IV, No. 2 | Playlist 2018-2019

Teach & Serve IV, No. 2

Playlist 2018-2019

August 15, 2018

These songs send me into a new year on the most positive of notes… pun intended.

At this point, putting together a mixtape to celebrate the start of a new academic year is tradition. Four years ago, my good friend and educational leader Sean Gaillard (author of the recently published The Pepper Effect – great reading for any and all Beatles fans and educators!) introduced me to the idea of #OneSong which developed into the idea of a mixtape which morphed into the concept of a playlist. For the last few years, I have put together a playlist to lead me with energy, optimism and enthusiasm into the upcoming school year.

This year, the tradition continues. A reminder of the criterion: songs make the playlist give me all the feels and/or the lyrics of the song resonate with me. Overall, the selections move me, inspire me and send me. They send me into a new year on the most positive of notes… pun intended.

I return to the playlist all year long, adding, deleting, updating. If you were to review last year’s list, you would see some of the songs remain from the ‘17-’18 edition. Most have changed. All motivate.

Here is this year’s playlist (and HERE IS THE SPOTIFY LINK if you wish to jam to it!):

This is a holdover from last year and more appropriate to me this year than last as I am in a new job at all new school trying to learn hundreds of new names. I do not know how well anything in this song fits the school year except the idea of being faced with classroom after classroom of students with names I have to learn – and they all seem to have the same one! And this song rocks!

As I begin a new job, I am energized by changes in attitudes and latitudes!

Very few things make me as happy as the beginning, the start of something new. And, when the newness wears into the familiar, it is good to remember that, every day, we can say “good day, sunshine!”

It is not just students who, ideally, come to school with heads full of dreams. It is the adults with whom they work. I know that, as I approach this year in particular, my head is full of dreams – dreams for the next few months, dreams for our students, for our faculty and for our families. And every dream – ever one of them – is GOOD.

I want my love to open the door all year long… and for the entirety of my life.

Seeing Hamilton last spring was not life changing – but it was close. This powerful anthem speaks powerfully to the idea that we must seize the moments that can change our lives. This is a good mantra for us and for our students. Rise up, indeed.

Another Hamilton song that features the important message that each moment, each step, each time could be our last. Sometimes we have to let go, say goodbye and know that we are doing things one last time. Such a critical message. None of us is bigger than the work. None.

This song has made the list for 2 out of the last 3 years for a reason: I think our students do not even know they want us to help them find that for which they are looking…

Is there a more rousing movie theme – ever – than the theme from Superman: The Movie? I don’t believe so. This anthem never fails to inspire me. It is a holdover from ‘17-’18.

What are you listening to this fall?

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1 | Temporal Landmarks

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1

Temporal Landmarks

August 8, 2018

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start of the school year – has power.

You cannot hold back the sea and you cannot hold back the beginning of the school year.

Those of us involved in education are ramping up, feeling the itch, sensing the inevitable. In the coming days or weeks, we will embark on the opening rituals of the 2018-2019 school year: meetings and planning, cleaning and decorating, organizing and implementing. While we may now be stealing the last few moments of summer vacation or time in our buildings without students, we know that those moments are, at this point, fleeting and running out on us.

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start of the school year – has power.

In his work When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (which was suggested to me by a wonderful friend and colleague and which  I highly recommend) sociologist and scientist Daniel H. Pink writes about when people do things, when they are most successful at doing things and when they should do things.

Particularly salient to those of us in education at this time of year are his thoughts on temporal landmarks defined as dates that have significance and that draw a line between what is past and what is to come. Building on the work of researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis, Pink says of a temporal landmark: “This new period offers a chance to start again by relegating our old selves to the past. It disconnects us from the past self’s mistakes and imperfections, and leaves us confident about our new, superior selves.”

Wow. That is a very interesting way for us to consider ourselves as we start this new school year.

Last year, and the years prior to it, are in the past. We can, as appropriate, disconnect from them. It is not that we forget them, we simply leave them behind in favor of this new year. We use the temporal landmark of the beginning of the school year to set goals, to dream, to let go of our past “mistakes and imperfections” – which we all have.

This is a good thing.

Even better is embracing the confidence that comes with starting a new. Better still is envisioning ourselves as we start this new year as superior to who we were last year.

One of my favorite things about being in education is that our time is broken up into manageable segments. I have not, until this year, however, thought about these segments as temporal landmarks. It is such a powerful way to reflect and to project.

As we start this new year, let us reflect on who we were last year and learn from those reflections. Let us take into this year all that was good in us last year. Let us be confident as we stride into 2018-2019. Let us know that we are better – we are superior – to who we were last year and let us start this year compassionately and confidently.

The temporal landmark of these last summer days leads us to wonderful possibilities of a bright, new year. Blessings as we begin!

Teach & Serve IV | COMING NEXT WEEK!

Teach & Serve IV

Coming Next Week

August 8, 2018

Next Wednesday, Teach & Serve returns for another year. To get warmed up, presented again are my fifteen favorite teachers from fiction!

 

No. 15: Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi comes in at 15 for his dedication, his care of his students, his ability to push his them beyond limits both physical and mental, his understanding that good education requires balance, his desire to only want the best for his students and his most obvious bad-assery!

miyagi

No. 14: Batman

Bracketing the fact that a Robin (Jason Todd) died on his watch (does Batman get points because Jason came back to life?), one has to admit that training teenage boys to become world class crime fighters is quite an accomplishment. Batman has taken at least seven young people under his wing and taught them almost everything he knows. At the end of the day, he even loves these students as all good teachers should.

batman and robin

No. 13: John Wheelwright

The narrator of John Irving’s classic A Prayer for Owen Meany (this bloggers favorite book), John Wheelwright learns that what he loves best in life, after his friend Owen, is to read. Wanting to share the gift with others, Wheelwright becomes a teacher and a good one at that. Irving himself was a teacher and the classroom scenes he writes ring very true.

Owen Meany Cover

No. 12: Sarah Simms

In the New Teen Titans comic book and later on the television show Teen Titans Go!, fans are introduced to Sarah Simms, a young woman who dedicates her life to working with students who have suffered some kind of amputation. Written with deep compassion and care by Marv Wolfman in the comic book, Sarah comes across as dedicated, concerned and real-world. She’s a great model for teachers everywhere.

Sarah Simms

No. 11: Lydia Davis

On Fame, the incredibly dedicated and talented Ms. Davis (played brilliantly by the brilliant Debbie Allen) told her students (every week on the opening credits voice-over) “You’ve got big dreams. You want fame. Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying.” Her students paid. And they loved her for making them work.

Lydia Davis

No. 10: Ralph Hanley

Mr. Hanley managed to keep his students out of trouble while saving the world as the Greatest American Hero (how has this property gone without a reboot?). Mr. Hanley balanced the life of a superhero, boyfriend and teacher, seemingly like he was walking on air. His most important lesson was that his understanding that one person can make a difference … believe it or not, it’s just him.

You know you want to hear it… click HERE for the Mike Post theme song!

Oh, and a quick bit of trivia… Ralph Hanley’s name was originally Ralph Hinkley, but that surname was changed after the attempt on President Reagan’s life by John Hinkley, jr.

Ralph Hanley

No. 9: Ben Kenobi

Speaking to his students Anakin and Luke Skywalker with nuggets of wisdom so compelling and thought provoking, we can ignore the fact (can’t we?) that his first student went on to almost destroy hope and freedom in the galaxy.  Connected to an inspirational greater power, he inspired his students to discover truth, and also had the ability to do and not just teach – take that, haters!

Ben and Luke

No. 8: Gabe Kotter

Thomas Wolfe said “you can’t go home again, but former Sweathog, Gabriel Kotter broke the rules when he returned to his alma mater to teach. As someone whose career followed a similar path, I find in Mr. Kott-air’s dedication to his work fruit for the journey of being an educator. Never one to back down from a challenging situation (such as 1970s television would allow to be broadcast), Mr. Kotter endeared himself to his students and to American TV viewers.

Mr. Kotter

No. 7: Ms. Norbury

is there another teacher in fiction who can match Ms. Norbury’s sweet sarcasm? The best of a crop of questionable educators, Ms.Norbury spins her love of a well-turned phrase into timely advice for her most troubled students. She has self identified “pusher-ness” – she pushes people – and she knows (at least she thinks she knows) when to use it. She also has an incredible likeness to Liz Lemon. Anyone else notice that?

Ms. Norbury

No. 6: Professor Ross Gellher

Ross Gellher has undying commitment to his subject matter and while his desire to educate all around him, no matter how much they don’t want to learn, can annoy his… er… friends, his enthusiasm in all circumstances, never-say-die attitude (he gets fired from positions and keeps coming back), thumbing his nose at rules by dating his students all mean we should never forget that… he’ll be there for you.

Ross Gellher

No. 5: Professor Charles Xavier

“Professor X” as his students call him became a teacher out of a sense of duty: he wanted to help others like him. He wanted to teach others to live full and happy lives despite whatever personal limitations they might feel they have. He wanted to teach that all people are beautiful and worthy of respect. He wanted to spread love. Crazy stuff from a comic book character but it makes sense when one considers that the character has been said to be modeled on Martin Luther King, jr.

Professor X

No. 4: Professor Robert Langdon

Professor Langdon challenges norms and the status quo as good teachers should. Engaging and a lecturer and brilliant as a writer, Langdon travels the world to research his subjects and is willing to put himself at the center of controversy to make his points. Dedicated to uncovering the truth at all costs, Langdon is an example of dogged pursuit in academia.

Langdon

No. 3: Doctor Henry Jones, jr

Does anyone on this list make education more exciting than Doctor Jones? Armed with vast experience, his practical, real world application of his subject matter, his dislike of reptiles, his ability to survive every calamity (including nuclear explosions and Shia LaBeouf), and his ability to use knowledge to battle evil makes him a lock for the top five on this list.

Indiana Jones Teaching

 

No. 2: Jane Eyre

Passionate, committed and caring, Jane Eyre is a wonderful teacher. She believes in the power of education, knows that being disciplined and expecting discipline from her students is critical and embraces the idea that love conquers all. She teaches by example, has a stalwart moral compass and educates all around her – adults as well as children.

jane-eyre

No. 1: Mr. Glenn Holland

Glenn Holland surprised even himself when he discovered his calling was a life in education and discovered, as many of the best teachers do, that no matter the subject – in his case music – teaching is about challenging students to learn so they can live better and fuller lives. Mr. Holland consistently makes good choices even in the face of temptation, reaches out to those in need, inspiring his students and, eventually, finds his compass doing so. He is certainly one of mine.

Mr. Holland

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 20 – Wrap Up

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 20

Wrap Up

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


Today marks the final edition of Superheroic Leadership. Hopefully,  you have enjoyed some of the reflections here…  and please revisit any you wish below!

in the fall of 2018, Superheroic Leadership gives way to A Journal of the First Year which will contain stories from my first year as a principal of a high school. 

Teach & Serve III, No. 41 – You Changed My Life

Teach & Serve III, No. 41 – You Changed My Life

May 23, 2018

This is the final edition of Teach & Serve for the 2017-2018 school year.  Teach & Serve IV will begin next fall on 8.8.18

At some point in the journey of their lives your former students recognize what happened and many seek out past instructors to tell them something profound: “you changed my life.”

Late May in schools is rife with many emotions. Teachers and administrators are ready to bid the year farewell and to get to summer vacation. Late May brings with it the promise that an opportunity for rest and recharging is not far away. Certainly there are some obstacles yet to clear what with exams or grading final projects, cleaning out of classrooms and turning in of reports, packing up materials and checking out of buildings.

Though the end is nigh, there are still things to do.

Our students have things to do, too and they normally do not accomplish one of the most critical tasks of the end of the school year. With varying degrees of seriousness and success, they approach their final projects and tests. They clean out their lockers. They sign their yearbooks and they say their goodbyes. But they typically leave out something very important.

Multiple summers down the road, when water has passed under bridges and calendar pages have turned, many former students realize they forgot something back in the spring months of their school days. At some point in the journey of their lives your former students recognize what happened and many seek out past instructors to tell them something profound: “you changed my life.”

It is not entirely fair to expect students living in these late May moments to understand what has occurred in their lives. Some do. Some know the debts of gratitude they owe. Some are able to articulate this to their teachers. But the vast majority have not the breadth of knowledge, the introspection or the reflective capacity to get it.

Not yet.

They have not lived enough life and that is okay. As educators, we know that our students are not finished products. They have more to learn.

And so do we because, in the late May morass, we are just as likely to forget to acknowledge to ourselves that we have, in fact, changed lives.

paintingWorking in schools is not like painting a wall. Teachers do not get to blue tape the edges of their students and fill in the gaps until they are fully colored and vibrant. Teachers do not get to see the results of the hours of preparation and the early mornings and the late nights. Teachers do not know the seeds they are planting as they are dropping them in fertile ground. Teachers do not always know the affect they have until long after they have had it.

At this moment, I know full well that many of your students are not paying attention to you in class, are pushing every button you have, are just as ready to be away from you as you are from them. I know that many of us are just as ready for summer as our charges are. I know that there is much to accomplish and much to do. I know this. But I know something else, too. In late May teachers need this critical perspective and I would like to provide it.

Please allow me to remind all the teachers and coaches and administrators and educational professionals: you have changed lives these last nine months. Please allow me to remind you about something that is profound in our work:

You have changed lives.

Treasure giving that gift, even if those who receive it are not always able to acknowledge that they have.

Teach & Serve III, No. 40 – The Final Thank You of the Year

Teach & Serve III, No. 40 – The Final Thank You of the Year

May 16, 2018

Bottom line at this busy time of year: if you can only steal a moment to thank someone, to show your appreciation for one person on this list, make it yourself.

You deserve it. Know that in your heart. Feel it in your soul. Repeat it in your head.

Any way you look at the present situation, this much is true: there is very little time left in this academic year.

Please allow me to encourage one last practice: say “thank you.”

Find 10 minutes, just 10 for appreciation and gratitude. Go somewhere quiet. Put on your earphones or put in your earbuds. Sit alone. Reflect. Take out a piece of paper or use you iPad or phone and make a list of those to whom you might say, “thank you.”

  • Thank your family and friends, you boyfriends and girlfriends and significant others who support you in this work.
  • Thank those who put you in this school, the administrator or H.R. personnel who hired you.
  • Thank the parents who entrusted their children to you.
  • Thank the students who sat in your classrooms, who played on your fields, acted on your stages, made music in your rehearsal spaces, deliberated in your student councils and mock trials and model UNs.
  • Thank your colleagues, those with whom you’ve journeyed this year, for their guidance, support and love.
  • Finally, and critically, thank yourself.

Give yourself credit for all you have done, for the long work you have begun, for the way you have influenced your students, for the gift you have been to them. Thank yourself for getting near the finish line, for perseverance, for faith. Thank yourself for each time you went on when you thought you could not, for each step you took when you were exhausted, for each time you went the extra mile or five or ten. Thank yourself for being part of this vocation, this incredibly important work.

Bottom line at this busy time of year: if you can only steal a moment to thank someone, to show your appreciation for one person on this list, make it yourself.

You deserve it. Know that in your heart. Feel it in your soul. Repeat it in your head.

You.

Deserve.

Thanks.

Give it to yourself, please.