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.

 

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.

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.

 

EduQuote of the Week: May 28 – SUMMER, 2018

EduQuote Will Return This Fall!

Let’s do what we love and do a lot of it.

– Marc Jacobs

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EduQuote of the Week: May 14 – 20, 2018

Police Week

Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.

– Barack Obama

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EduQuote of the Week: May 2 – 6, 2018

Salvation Army Week

With the backdrop of The Salvation Army’s century and a half of service to the world’s poor, these songs and reflections are born of meaningful engagement with a living Gospel.

– Sara Groves

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Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

April 18, 2018

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

When I was in the first grade, the day before school picture day, I ran into a brick wall – not a metaphor, I, literally, ran headlong into the corner of our house, smashing open my head on solid brick. My father took me to get stitches – seven of them as I recall – and, on the way home, changed my life.

My father was forever changing my life.

He bought me my first two comic books.

Thanks, Dad. Tens of thousands of issues later, I am pot-committed as a comic collector. More important than that, I have become more than an aficionado of comic book collecting and consider myself something of an expert on the study of comic books as an American literary art form.

You read that right: comic books are a form a literature.

The two comics Dad bought me that day featured two of the most famous American literary characters (in any list, they would have to be listed in the top ten): Batman and Superman. In case you’re wondering, I still have the issues – Batman Family #10 and Superman Family #181.

Superman is the longest running, continually published character in American literary history. Let that sink in for a moment. No other creation of any American writer or artist has been in continual publication as long as Superman has. That is something. That is special. That is powerful.

Superman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, any quick search will convince one of that. And, today, the comic book in which he first appeared reaches its astounding 1000th issue. That is not a typo. Superman’s Action Comics hits number 1000 today.

Superman has not simply appeared in Action Comics, of course. He has starred in his eponymous title and in many, many others. He has starred in a newspaper strip, in radio and television and movies. He has been featured in video games and music and cartoons. He is all but ubiquitous.

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

One could discuss Superman as a myth or as the genesis of the superhero or as a stand in for Moses or Jesus Christ. These reasons could be posited as causes for his longevity and I would not argue with them. But I have another.

Superman endures because what he stands for endures. Superman fights a never-ending battle. It is a battle of absolutes. There is good. There is evil. Good people resist evil. They resist temptation. They resist taking the easy way out. Superman stands for all that has been good, is good and can be good again in humanity. Superman, as he beautifully says in the majestic and (in my not-so-humble opinion) misunderstood 2013 film Man of Steel, stands for hope.

He would have made a wonderful educator, this Superman, this hero who fights a never-ending battle, who does not give up, who is a champion of truth. He would have been an amazing teacher, a role model who has endless reserves, who rallies in the face of injustice, who empowers those around him. He would have been a inspiration in a classroom.

Oh, wait. He very much is.

Superman, as I have written about before and in my accompanying blog Superheroic Leadership, inspired me. He inspired me to read. He inspired me, “in his guise as Clark Kent” to write. He inspired me to lead.

Clearly, I am not alone.

1000 issues. 80 years. A massive and recognizable presence in the world.

I guess that is why they call him Superman.

I know this: my life would be much, much different without him.

EduQuote of the Week: April 2 – 8, 2018

Golden Rule Week

In nearly every religion I am aware of, there is a variation of the golden rule. And even for the non-religious, it is a tenet of people who believe in humanistic principles.

– Hillary Clinton

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Teach & Serve III, No. 32 – Settle In; Don’t Settle For

Teach & Serve III, No. 32 – Settle In; Don’t Settle For

March 21, 2018

One of the best parts of this work is the cyclic nature of it. We simply must guard against giving in to the troughs in that cycle. We must remember the peaks are coming.

We must never settle for.

I have found it most difficult to explain to my friends and family who work in fields other than education what the months of February, March and April can feel like in the school setting. There is a certain malaise that I have found creeps in, a feeling wrought of early mornings in darkness followed by late evenings in darkness. A concern – unrealistic and unfounded – that the school year will never end, that we are locked in a Groundhog Day of educational proportions that will never let us go.

Rationally, we know this is untrue, but there is something about these late winter, early spring weeks that make us believe it might – just might – be.

The temptation in these months is to settle for. To settle for less than the best effort our students can give us. To settle for less than what we expect from our staffs and colleagues in terms professionalism and conduct. To settle for less than what we know we of ourselves to be capable.

We can make excuses. We can find reasons – often good and legitimate ones – for our failings and for failings of those around us. We can allow ourselves to settle for.

This is not the time to settle for but it may be the time to settle in.

Recognizing that there are segments of the year, pages on the calendar that are more promising or less promising for innovation and creativity, understanding that sometimes it is all right to look ahead and conclude that moving forward in the direction we are already heading without massive course correction is more than acceptable, settling in is an excellent decision.

The energy will return as the end of the year approaches. It ever does. The promise of summer and renewal and breaks will fire the spirit and rekindle the enthusiasm. Teachers will look ahead to the promise of what is to come and students to the next steps in their lives and everything that was old will seem new again.

The key is to never settle for, but to know when to settle in, to ride out the ebb in energy, to await the coming of renewal.

One of the best parts of this work is the cyclic nature of it. We simply must guard against giving in to the troughs in that cycle. We must remember the peaks are coming.

We must never settle for.