A Journal of the First Year | Thirteen

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7 | February | 2019


It had to happen. Perhaps I ought to be surprised that it did not happen until this past week.

At some point, and I knew this intellectually beginning the role as principal, I was going to make a decision that made sense, that was necessary that I was wholly committed to and that made me question whether or not I was fully supporting the faculty I serve – fully supporting them both individually and collectively. 

I had that moment this week. 

It was the first time.

I did what I could do to explain my reasoning to all involved.  I spent time with individuals, with department chair and teacher, and time with the department overall. I tried to be transparent. Authentic. Honest.  I don’t believe (but who can really judge their own intentions with absolute clarity?) that I was not trying to justify or defend, only to explain.

It didn’t feel great and this is through no fault of the people with whom I was speaking or did speak over the course of the situation. They were terrific.

But, a week later I am still wondering if what and did and the manner in which I did it served the faculty well. I do not doubt my decision. I believe it was the correct one. 

I just wonder if I did right by the people involved.

I tried. I tried very hard. Perhaps that’s enough.

It’s been a week of lessons… perhaps next time we’ll talk about Colorado snow.

 

A Journal of the First Year | Twelve

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(L) 1994      (R) 2018

24 | January | 2019


Intellectually, I have known that part of the work of being a principal is being very, very flexible. Typically I frame that concept as being ready to change my schedule or my plan as needs dictate but I often think about it in those parameters: “Hey, be ready to skip a meeting or to take one, you never know what’s going to happen” is how the self-talk has gone during my half year as principal of Mullen High School.

But we experienced a day a couple Fridays back and a morning just this week that expanded my idea of what flexibility really requires and just how important a concept for principals (at least this one) it is!

The day began with snow, and a fairly significant amount of it. The snow hit during the morning drive and, with consultation with and support from my administrative colleagues, it was determined that a late start schedule was required. That would be one of the easiest decisions of the day as things turned out! That afternoon, within the span of 90 minutes, three things happened: a major plumbing issue, a sparking fire in a breaker box and a significant roof issue that led to the partial flooding of an office.

The plumbing issue was first. A bathroom pipe had been broken by a student and water was, literally, shooting from floor to ceiling, arcing over one of the stalls and splashing against the opposite wall. How did I hear about this? I was called to the sodden restroom over my trusty walkie-talkie. I can honestly say I had never seen anything like this. It was pretty spectacular.

We settled this issue down fairly quickly. Our terrific maintenance staff got the water turned off, repairs underway and we informed people in about a third of the building that they would be without water for the rest of the day. 

I returned to my office.

Moments later, I heard my colleague and one of our assistant principals whose office is across the hall from mine exclaim. I went across the hall and saw water from snow melt pouring – that’s the right word – through his ceiling. Clearly the roof was compromised. We moved anything in the line of water, as it were, and brought trash cans in to collect the run off.

I returned to my office.

Within moments,  another call came over the walkie. This time I was asked to come to an office that housed a major breaker box. I arrived and was greeted by our Maintenance Director (who was, himself, still in the midst of dealing with the broken bathroom pipe) and someone I did not recognize. As it turned out, the person I didn’t recognize was an electrician who said “stand back and watch.” I did. Seconds later, a spark and small flame shown inside the breaker box. I immediately thought we would have to dismiss school but was assured the issue was under control but all power through out the same hallway affected by the water shut down would have to be turned off directly at the end of the school day. 

So… a group of us informed the exact same set of people who had no water that they would be losing their power.

I returned to my office.

And just this past Tuesday, another snow storm timed – thank you, weather gods, to coincide with the morning commute – hit. Early in the morning, a group of us collaborated on the decision to put the school on another late start. I began my drive and realized about halfway through it that we needed to close. I pulled off the side of the road into a shuttered Rite Aid and made the necessary updates and calls.

Whew.

My takeaways from all this? First, I love, love, love this work. Love it.

Second? Flexibility is my friend and it does not always come easily to me. I do not know that I’ll have many more days like the Friday I recount here, but I know I’ll be faced with many, many more snow events. The through line in these: be flexible. Be nimble. Don’t get too locked in to any plan or any course. Be ready for the unexpected.

I love this work!

A Journal of the First Year | Eleven

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(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…  


10 | January | 2019


This past Sunday evening marked the last day of Christmas Break.

I had plans – significant plans – going into the Break. Beyond all that is associated with Christmas, the rituals of shopping and church and family and friends that I love, I had a few other goals. With the downtime from the day-to-day activities, I was going to work ahead on a few projects. I was going to finish editing the draft of a novel I completed earlier this year. I was going to do some around the house stuff.

Good plans.

I didn’t get to all of them. In fact, I didn’t get to many of them.

And so I found myself, on Sunday night a few hours after the “bedtime” I had set as a goal organizing my t-shirt drawer.

True story.

As I turned off the light Sunday night, I tossed and turned as the dawn of the first day of school 2019 approached. I couldn’t sleep. As I lay there in the dark, I wondered worried that I wasn’t more excited and energized about going back to school. Haven’t I loved the job? (I have) Didn’t I love the place? (I love it) Didn’t I enjoy my co-workers (I enjoy them immensely)

As I returned to school Monday and the faculty and staff filtered in for a day of professional development and meetings, the energy came rushing back like cool, clear water. The enthusiasm returned. The excitement for the work.

My feelings Sunday night were not about not loving Mullen High School and the students and faculty and staff there; they were about me loving home and time I got to spend with my wife and my children. And my feelings of excitement and feeling, in just over six months, at home, at school are not about me not loving being at home home.

One of the things I’ve tried to keep in the forefront of my mind in this first year as principal is wellness and the blending of my personal and professional lives. I’ve tried to enable the staff and faculty here to consider what is a healthy approach to wellness in their lives.

I think that is what I was feeling Sunday night and what I felt Monday morning. I was going to be missing the downtime and embrace of home, sure, but that loss was mitigated by the enjoyment of the work I am lucky enough to do.

It’s a blend and it’s a blessing.

And I am so happy to be back!

Teach & Serve IV, No. 21 | In Review…

For this last edition of 2019, here is the school year rundown of blogs, the Year in Review as it were… perhaps you missed something you may wish to review.

A Journal of the First Year | Ten

(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… 


20 | December | 2018

There is very little that resembles a school as it approaches Christmas Break. The sense of anticipation of weeks away from classes infects and excites both the students and the staff and faculty alike days before the actual last day before vacation hits. The halls buzz. The energy changes.

It’s a fun time of year.

There is no better way to go into this Christmas Break than that.

As I approach this break in my first year as principal, I am filled with deep gratitude to the faculty and staff with whom I journey at Mullen High School for so many reasons. I am so thankful for the work they do with our amazing student body, for the care they give to them, for the love they show. I am humbled by them.

Truly.

Breaks give us opportunities to reflect and to assess. In this first year, I have been asked many times how I am doing and how I think the year is going.

I can say with sincere and deep honesty that this year has not proceeded in a predictable manner. I am doing different work in different ways than I possibly could have anticipated as are many of our staff and faculty. The group of professionals which began the year here is not the same group that embarks on Christmas Break. People have gone and people have arrived. Some of us are in different positions. Some of us are doing unanticipated work. Some of us are thrilled. Some of us are wondering about next steps. Some of us are fatigued. Some excited for the days immediately following break.

In all of that, in the unpredictability of the days and weeks and months that make up the trimesters here, in all that we have done, I can say that I am so happy with these first months. I am so proud to serve this faculty and staff and student body.

I am so blessed.

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

Office Door Quotes 2