Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
(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…
11 | October | 2018
It is one thing to know something is best practice or a good idea. Over the last few years, I have been thinking about leadership, writing about leadership and talking with others about leadership. I loved it. What I love even more is facing myself in the mirror (the metaphorical mirror) and asking if I am practicing what I preached, discussed, wrote.
On the whole, I would give myself a solid “B” here. I have done a good job, primarily, but there are areas I can improve, for sure. I am a work in progress and I know that I will, likely, never complete the work or reach the finish line and that is just fine with me. I want to live in a growth mindset.
However, one area that has surfaced these last two weeks that I knew was important in theory has borne itself out as even more important in practice and that is remaining calm.
There is much to be said for remaining calm.
I have lived – I do not write “found” because I knew this was true – that every day here is different from the last. There are few uninterrupted routines or thoughts or moments. And that is GREAT! I love that!
However, some of these interruptions, disruptions, changes in charted course are as unpredictable as they are charged with emotion. Some of them are shocking. Some are painful. Some are off-the-wall.
But, if there is a through-line among them it is this: calmly approaching them helps. Remaining calm is an asset. Remaining calm is an imperative. Remaining calm is a leadership function at which I want to get better.
I do think that is a gift I can try to give to the faculty whom I serve. Their lives are just as unpredictable mine. More so. If I project calm (even when I do not necessarily feel it), adopt calm, remain calm, that is a very good thing.
I have seen this play out time-and-again these last two weeks.
Teach & Serve IV, No. 10
Supporting the Cast
October 10, 2018
The cast of characters with whom we work in our schools is a diverse one and each and every member of it comes to “the office” with different concerns, different priorities and different needs.
Of the many responsibilities educational leaders carry as part of their work, support of teachers and staff is very, very near the top of the pyramid of the most important of them. Schools that foster positive environments for students and families do not work simply because they have excellent mission statements or have installed the proper policies and procedures. School culture that invites and welcomes and comforts does not result from inattention. Rather, this type of culture arises when educational leaders recognize the value in offering true and genuine support to the teachers whom they serve.
Educational leaders who effectively support their staffs value:
- their co-workers as individuals,
- collaboration with the broadest possible constituencies,
- admission of mistakes and misjudgments on their part,
- acceptance of opinions other than their own,
- granting down time, creative time and recovery time and
- knowing the stories of those with whom they journey.
The cast of characters with whom we work in our schools is a diverse one and each and every member of it comes to “the office” with different concerns, different priorities and different needs. Excellent leaders recognize that their job requires an understanding of and empathy for their staff. They understand that, in order to support their staff, they ought to know them, value them and care for them.
Leaders who grasp the idea that support of their staff is crucial to the health of the school not only will see a happier community of adults around them, they will see a happier school overall and a staff that supports students at a higher level because they feel so well supported themselves.
Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.
God’s compassion for you is greater than the troubles you have.
Jean-Baptiste de La Salle
Teach & Serve IV, No. 8
When to Care, When Not to
September 26, 2018
Separating the essential from the trivial and being able to place the other stuff on a continuum in between is crucial. Acknowledging and responding to what is real and acknowledging and moving on from what is not is a skill that good leaders have.
The work we do can be difficult. The spotlight we are under can be bright. The frying pans we dance in can be hotter than the fire.
But the fire can be pretty damned hot, too.
As educational professionals, an analogy that comes to mind and is most accurate is that we are on stage. Being on stage implies being watched.
By an audience.
Often that audience is highly critical of our performance and members of it can be quite clear about their feelings concerning our work. They can be vocal. They can be challenging. They can be curt. The mechanisms by which they make their feelings known are, perhaps, too readily at hand: texting and email. These are immediate and they hit in real time.
Educational professionals live our lives publicly. Our words are scrutinized. If we have a social media footprint, our Snaps and Tweets and Instas are reviewed. If we do not desire this kind of attention, we may wish to consider other work.
Bad reviews are going to come to us. That is part of the game. So, what do we do when we are nailed by a negative critic or receive a comment that is hurtful? How do we react to these kinds of feedback?
We are best advised to hold on and take a beat, draw a breath and compose ourselves.
There is a first step to the process is to calmly (as calmly as possible) analyze feedback from our critics. We have to determine what is significant and what is not – what is real and what is false. We have to examine what we hear and weigh it. Measure it. Reflect on it.
Because, and here is the magic – get out your pens – we do not need to care about everything. We do not need to react with the same energy to everything. Not every comment is equally important nor is every critique equally valid.
Knowing the difference is key. Separating the essential from the trivial and being able to place the other stuff on a continuum in between is crucial. Acknowledging and responding to what is real and acknowledging and moving on from what is not is a skill that good leaders have. It is paramount that leaders have this ability.
If not, every critical comment sounds the red alert klaxon. Every brusque remark keeps one awake at night. Every negative review generates consternation.
They are not all the same thing. They are not all on the same level. Knowing the difference makes the difference.
Not for nothing, we should apply the exact same steps when we are praised… perhaps with a higher degree of scrutiny.
[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.
Teach & Serve IV, No. 7
Share Thanks, Liberally
September 19, 2018
Thanking those around us should be a far higher priority than most of us make it. Let us change that.
I am often amazed at the amount of effort it takes to keep a school up-and-running – and I am not talking about effort from the Principal’s Office. When I consider it, I am in awe of the people power necessary to get the lights on, keep them on, unlock the doors, fire up the technology, learn the students’ names, observe the faculty, teach the classes, coach the kids and on and on and on.
It is a wonder it happens as consistently and as well as it does.
It might be worth our time, as educational leaders, to remember that and to set aside part of our calendar in our week to do something very, very important.
Share thanks, liberally.
Likely, we could schedule a full day a week for this activity and it would not be enough time.
Think about it. Think about all the people who make the work of your school possible.
Then thank some of them. It would be ideal to thank all of them, to be sure, but start small. Select some around you who deserve thanks. Single them out for your praise in a meeting. Send them an email. Write them a note. Give them a token.
The reality is none of us can run our schools alone. It takes more than a village. It takes a community.
I trust that you have been thanked, at one time or another, out of the blue, when you least expected it. I trust it made you feel good to receive that gratitude.
Share the love.
Imagine the feeling a custodian or a volunteer parent or a brand-new teacher or a long-term substitute might get from reading a card from you. You can change someone’s outlook with that kind of gratitude. You can surely change someone’s day.
Thanking those around us should be a far higher priority than most of us make it. Let us change that.
Nothing is impossible. The word itself says “I’m possible”
Teach & Serve IV, No. 6
September 12, 2018
As leaders in our institutions, we bear responsibility for ensuring that our schools place a premium on our constituents feeling they belong. Very little good happens when people are on the outside looking in.
It is not new anymore, is it?
We can deny it if we wish, but the school year is not just upon most of us, it is rocketing forward. In the midst of all we must do as educational leaders – designing curriculum, going to meetings, greeting new staff members and students, getting our LMS up and running, figuring out where our new parking spot is – there is something else to which we ought to pay definite attention to: belonging.
As we begin a new year, we begin to discover where we belong in it. No year is just like the one that came before nor is it like the one that will come after. Each is distinct and different and the role we play and the space we occupy within it is different, too. Spending time considering where we belong and where we want to in the hustle of all that happens in the early weeks of the year is going to mean much for how our year proceeds. Establishing our beachhead, our belonging in the context of the school is most important. It creates safety and comfort and it is somewhere from which we can build a successful year.
Even more important than considering our belonging is nurturing the belonging of those around us. Our students, our staffs, our teachers, our parents, all of them must feel they belong, too. Part of the responsibility we have to the overall community is to help them feel they are important, that they are parts of this great whole.
That they belong.
As leaders in our institutions, we bear responsibility for ensuring that our schools place a premium on our constituents feeling they belong. Very little good happens when people are on the outside looking in. People cannot pull in the same direction if they do not have a hand on the rudder or a place in the boat. People will not buy into any mission or message if they do not feel it applies to them.
People will not love the school if they first do not feel as though they belong.
Prioritize belonging and all that is good will follow.