So often you find that the students you are trying to inspire are the ones that end up inspiring you.
Teach & Serve IV, No. 5
Balance & Reflection
September 5, 2018
It is through reflection that leaders assess what has worked and what has not. It is through reflection that leaders can approach objectivity about themselves and their role. It is through reflection that leaders understand the impacts they have, good and bad.
Great educational leadership requires much. I am in my fourth year blogging on the topic and I am so very aware of how much more there is to write and how much more I have to learn. Excellent educational leaders handle the demands of the position with grace. They share themselves as servants to their schools and communities. They seem to me never to be too high or too low. They find balance.
I believe that leaders find balance in reviewing their decisions, their institutions, their work. They find the balance by leading reflective lives.
Most literature one can find on good leadership practices includes a heading or section on reflection for good reason. It is through reflection that leaders assess what has worked and what has not. It is through reflection that leaders can approach objectivity about themselves and their role. It is through reflection that leaders understand the impacts they have, good and bad.
Reflection is a key component in good leadership. Leaders who do not ground themselves in reflective practice have very little way to gauge progress personally or professionally. It is difficult, as well, for leaders who do not habitually reflect to understand how they might be perceived by those whom they serve. And it is all but impossible for leaders who resist reflection to strike any kind of balance in their lives.
As part of their difficult and rewarding work, leaders should make time for reflection. It is as important as any meeting, any email, any contact they have in any given day. Practicing deep reflection is an element of practicing good leadership.
The expert in anything was once a beginner.
(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
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.
It is impossible to please God if you do not live on friendly terms with others.
Jean-Baptist De la Salle
Teach & Serve IV, No. 3
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.
Our job is to teach the students we have. Not the ones we would like to have. Not the ones we used to have. Those we have right now. All of them.
Teach & Serve IV, No. 2
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?
The way you behave should be a model to those you teach.