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.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 11.5.18

You can perform miracles by touching the hearts of those entrusted to your care.

Jean-Baptiste de La Salle

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

A Journal of the First Year | Six

(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… 


25 | October | 2018

When I was thinking about this work of being a principal and teaching about it and writing about it, I had a number of ideas of what I was going to be and what I was going to do and how I was going to serve. At my school, we are approaching the end of our first trimester (and my first trimester ever as I have never been in a school on trimesters before) and I can take a breath and catch a moment and note a few things:

How I handle meetings does matter. I thought about this for years and talked about it for years and said “this is what I will do when…” for years and, here’s the deal: it matters when I start meetings on time. And it matters when I end them on time. It matters.

If I say I’m going to do something, I have to DO IT. I’ve missed the window on this one more than once the last few months. I have said that I will take care of something or do something and I haven’t. This is a failure. For sure. Being in this role, I don’t have the flexibility to pick and choose. No. If I say I am going to do something, I have to do it. Period.

Don’t miss the moment. There are things in this work that have to be done immediately. The action or situation that needs addressing has to be addressed in the moment. I have realized (and I knew this going in) that when the moment is gone, there is not getting it back. Act in the moment, man. Stay on top of that.

I cannot close every loop (but I should try). Two things here: At this point, I have to allow myself space to miss a few things. I don’t want to miss things. I want to keep all the plates spinning, but there are going to be some that drop. Okay, good. I just need to try to be sure they do not break when they do. That’s the second point: I can drop a plate or two, yes, but the plates won’t break if I own up to that. I have to try to close every loop but, when I leave a loop open, I better be willing to admit it.

Temperature check? I have been doing this for a quarter of a year. My responsibilities have significantly changed. I have not been able to conduct myself the way I planned to, listen as much as I wanted to, lean into the work like I hoped to. AND I utterly love this work. 

Love it.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 12 | Icubators

Teach & Serve IV, No. 12

Incubators

October 24, 2018

If one looks at the calendars of school leadership, department chairs, teachers and staff, one would find a significant number of meetings there on.

Is this inherently a bad thing?

 

I am not sure if a study has been done of how many meetings it takes to effectively run a school. Anecdotally (and I understand that the plural of “anecdote” is not data), I gather from my experience working in and with schools that it, completely scientifically speaking, takes an awful lot. If one looks at the calendars of school leadership, department chairs, teachers and staff, one would find a significant number of meetings there on.

Is this inherently a bad thing?

No, it is not. Meetings – face-to-face gatherings of committees and teams – are important elements in the work of a school. I do not deny that. However, this supposition that a preponderance of meetings is not a bad thing presupposes that the meetings people attend are good meetings, meetings that have reason to occur and meetings that are well run.

If they are otherwise, honestly, let us stop wasting people’s time.

My wife speaks of a person she once knew of whose was engaged in placing baby incubators in third world settings. He was engaged in giving life-saving technology to those who need it.

That seems like important work to me.

Of meetings, he would say: “Any meeting I am in that doesn’t help get an incubator into a home is a meeting I don’t need to be in.”

That is an interesting and compelling perspective.

As educational leaders, we are not putting incubators in third world countries. I understand that. But we are doing important. We are doing critical work.

I love and embrace the sentiment that, when I am wasting people’s time with meetings they do not need to be in, I am taking them away from that critical work. When I am monopolizing their time needlessly, they are not getting the incubators where they should go.

That is on me.

As educational leaders, let us be careful when we require people to meet with us. Let us consider that our meetings, when we need to have them, ought to be well planned, well run, start and end on time and have a purpose. Let us remember that we do not want to waste one another’s time.

Let us consider incubators.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 11 | Lane Eight

Teach & Serve IV, No. 11

Lane Eight

October 17, 2018

Know their hopes and their fears. Know their weakness and their strengths. Know who they are and what they do.

I was blessed to work with a talented administrator and friend for 20 years. He was the Dean of Students (the man in charge of student discipline) when I was a high school student, was in the role when I returned to my alma mater as a teacher and remained Dean all the years I worked there. From time-to-time, we still meet for breakfast and it is ever a delight to chat with him. He knows his stuff.

I served as a Dean of Students in my time at my alma mater and the two years I did the job were among the toughest ones of my career. Deans of discipline are not made, I think. They are born. I was not born to the work, but my old friend was.

Having that kind of longevity in a job as demanding as this surely indicates more than a little something about his ability for the work. And his character. Last spring, at one of these breakfasts I mentioned previously, I and another colleague sat with him and we got to talking (as we always do) about the work we love and share and what has kept us in it for so long.  

He talked about being connected to the students. That is where his focus was. Among the stories about the latest antics the students pull and the serious challenges that our students face, he spoke of maintaining his connection with the kids. He believes knowing the kids – their lives and their desires, their hopes and their dreams – is what keeps educators like us excited for the work.

He is absolutely right.

My friend was a varsity head swim coach (and an award winning, all-state recognized and honored one at that) for many years. His experience as a coach is, perhaps, more impressive than his experience as an administrator. Over his oatmeal and apples at breakfast that morning he put his theory of working with students succinctly into a perfect swimming metaphor:

“Lane One may win you state championships, but you better know what’s going on in Lane Eight. Lane Eight may never win a point, but it can change your locker room and the whole atmosphere of your team real fast.”

That was it, his philosophy in a nutshell.

Know Lane Eight as well as you know Lane One and, by implication, know the swimmers in every lane in between.

Know their hopes and their fears. Know their weakness and their strengths. Know who they are and what they do.

Know them.

It is simply too easy for us as educators to focus only on the challenging students or to center ourselves entirely on the successful ones. We can too readily find our focus narrowed. We can lose sight of the larger picture. We can miss the forest while barking up the wrong (or the right) trees.

Breadth and scope. All the lanes. All the students. All our colleagues.

In as much as it is possible, we must keep our focus wide.

Because Lane One might bring victory but Lane Eight might bring disaster.

Great advice from a special man.

 

EduQuote of the Week | 10.15.18

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.

Saint Oscar Romero

A Journal of the First Year | Five

(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.

Calm.

Got it.

A Journal of the First Year | Four

(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… 


27 | September | 2018

Parent/Teacher Conferences at my school are happening today. Over the course of the last two weeks, I have been involved in many a conversation about them, about their efficacy and about how we such structure them to encourage people to attend them.

There has been no shortage of opinions on this as you might imagine.

Following conversation, deliberation and reflection, I settled on a format that I thought was good, a message to families I thought conveyed what we wanted to convey and put that out to our community. And I did not hear very much in response.

But I did receive a couple concerns from parents which is a very good thing. Right?

When emails and messages go out, they reach, literally, thousands of people. To assume that everyone who reads them (not sure what that number is actually) is going to complete their perusal and say “yes, that’s exactly right; I agree completely” is ludicrous.

But I so want that to be!

I have said to faculty and staff and parents and students that I want feedback on the manner in which I am serving the school. I have said that in public and I have said it in writing and I continue to seek it out.

What I need to remember is that feedback is not always going to be what I would hope or what I wanted. Some of it will not agree with me. Some of it will be critical. I know this.

But, as I have told teachers many, many times in the past when they are going through student evaluations, feedback must be evaluated. Just because someone does not agree with you does not make them wrong. That is obvious.

I am more than ready to correct, concede, console. I am more than ready to resource and to find solutions. I am more than ready to change course.

Perhaps I am, sometimes, too ready.

When dealing with feedback, less obvious for me and who I am and want to be as a leader is just because someone disagrees with me does not make them right, either.

Too often – and more than a few times in the past week – I leap to correct whatever I have been critiqued about. Sometimes that is the right course. Often it is.

Sometimes, it is not.

Sometimes I know more. Sometimes I am right.

Admitting this is not always easy.