Teach & Serve IV, No. 8 | When to Care, When Not to

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.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 7 | Share Thanks, Liberally

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.

Thank them.

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.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 6 | Belonging

Teach & Serve IV, No. 6

Belonging

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.

EduQuote of the Week | 9.10.18

So often you find that the students you are trying to inspire are the ones that end up inspiring you.

Sean Jenkins

Teach & Serve IV, No. 5 | Balance & Reflection

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.

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.