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. 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.

 

Teach & Serve IV, No. 9 | Take the Time

Teach & Serve IV, No. 9

Take the Time

October 3, 2018

Why is she so successful in getting students to care about her and the subjects she teaches?

Because she cares about them. Deeply. And she is not afraid to let them know it

My wife is a high school teacher. A veteran. She has been doing the work for years and she simply knows her stuff. I admire her so much and respect what she does and how she does it. I want to be more like her in so many ways, including the manner in which I work with students. I have been able to watch her in the classroom – we used to team teach – and I have had hundreds of hours of conversation with her about teaching and about students.

I have learned her secret.

Why is she so successful in getting students to care about her and the subjects she teaches?

Because she cares about them. Deeply. And she is not afraid to let them know it.

A case in point: last year, as she was moderating an after-school club, there was an issue with a student. Unbeknownst to my wife, this student was being removed by a coach from a role on a team, a role for which the student had worked very hard and a role he very clearly wanted. The young man was stressed out, maybe by the club, maybe by the coach, maybe by his school work, maybe by other forces. He was at his wits end. And he lost it.

He fled the room screaming and ran from the building – and this was after hours.

My wife, who had been working in another classroom heard the commotion (perhaps it is appropriate to note that the coach who triggered the event did not call for my wife). She went out after him and got him to stop running, quit yelling and calm down. She brought him back in the building, asked him his concerns, engaged him and told him that, given his state of upset, he would need to call a parent to pick him up from practice. She listened in as he made the call.

Perhaps any competent and caring educator would take these steps. While I would argue that experience has suggested to me that may not be the case, let us accept that most would do so.

It is the next steps that distinguish my wife.

She spoke that night with the student when he returned home. She spoke with his mother that night as well. She spoke to them for hours. She made a plan for the student to come to the next practice and meet with the coach – a meeting my wife moderated. Following that meeting, she spoke again on the phone with the student and the student’s mother. She offered to go out to coffee with them. When she realized that the dynamics at play for the kid and his family went beyond his role on the club, she brought in the appropriate resources.

She could have walked away or shied away or dealt with the scenario in any number of less responsible and less satisfying ways.

She did not and the kid’s life was better for it.

My wife took the time to engage the student. She took the time to listen. She took the time to care.

Our students and our children deserve more teachers like my wife in their lives.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1 | Temporal Landmarks

Teach & Serve IV, No. 1

Temporal Landmarks

August 8, 2018

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start of the school year – has power.

You cannot hold back the sea and you cannot hold back the beginning of the school year.

Those of us involved in education are ramping up, feeling the itch, sensing the inevitable. In the coming days or weeks, we will embark on the opening rituals of the 2018-2019 school year: meetings and planning, cleaning and decorating, organizing and implementing. While we may now be stealing the last few moments of summer vacation or time in our buildings without students, we know that those moments are, at this point, fleeting and running out on us.

Hopefully we are rested. Hopefully we are ready. Hopefully, we are excited.

Let us embrace the moment because this moment – the start of the school year – has power.

In his work When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (which was suggested to me by a wonderful friend and colleague and which  I highly recommend) sociologist and scientist Daniel H. Pink writes about when people do things, when they are most successful at doing things and when they should do things.

Particularly salient to those of us in education at this time of year are his thoughts on temporal landmarks defined as dates that have significance and that draw a line between what is past and what is to come. Building on the work of researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis, Pink says of a temporal landmark: “This new period offers a chance to start again by relegating our old selves to the past. It disconnects us from the past self’s mistakes and imperfections, and leaves us confident about our new, superior selves.”

Wow. That is a very interesting way for us to consider ourselves as we start this new school year.

Last year, and the years prior to it, are in the past. We can, as appropriate, disconnect from them. It is not that we forget them, we simply leave them behind in favor of this new year. We use the temporal landmark of the beginning of the school year to set goals, to dream, to let go of our past “mistakes and imperfections” – which we all have.

This is a good thing.

Even better is embracing the confidence that comes with starting a new. Better still is envisioning ourselves as we start this new year as superior to who we were last year.

One of my favorite things about being in education is that our time is broken up into manageable segments. I have not, until this year, however, thought about these segments as temporal landmarks. It is such a powerful way to reflect and to project.

As we start this new year, let us reflect on who we were last year and learn from those reflections. Let us take into this year all that was good in us last year. Let us be confident as we stride into 2018-2019. Let us know that we are better – we are superior – to who we were last year and let us start this year compassionately and confidently.

The temporal landmark of these last summer days leads us to wonderful possibilities of a bright, new year. Blessings as we begin!

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