Teach & Serve III, No. 33 – Move the Chairs

Teach & Serve III, No. 33 – Move the Chairs

March 28, 2018

I believe that if we, as leaders, are unwilling to move the chairs, if we somehow think the task beneath us or that we are more important than the work, then we are not effective leaders. I believe we are not even that good.

In a position I held a few years ago, I was walking outside across the quad of the school on my way from one building to another. On the grass, the maintenance staff was setting up for an all-school, outdoor event which was to occur within the next couple hours. The closer I got to the group setting up, the more I could sense something was wrong. The tension was noticeable.

I pulled aside the young man who was in charge of the set up just to see what was wrong.

“We set some of this up last night and it’s all wet.” He said.

He was forlorn.

I looked and, sure enough, the seats of the folding chairs had puddles of water on them and the grass below them was drenched.

Clearly, the staff had forgotten to shut off the sprinkler system.

“Okay,” I said, “what’s the plan?”

The staff had begun moving the chairs to a different part of the quad – a dry part – and had also started wiping the chairs down.

I pitched in.

They needed the help. The president of the school was very conscious of appearances. This event would have parents and board members at it and the maintenance staff – particularly the young man in charge – were more than a bit intimidated by him. I was only the principal. Not so intimidating.

We worked for about forty-five minutes and got the chairs re-arranged. I cannot guarantee that everyone had dry backsides when they sat in them, but they were out of the swamp of the wet grass and ready to go before the students, staff, parents and dignitaries hit the field.

All’s well that ends well.

“I can’t believe you did that,” the young man told me as the event started.

“It was no big deal,” I said. And it was not.

Growing up, I had watched my mother and father set up and take down many an event, those that they were speakers at or a part of and those that they were not. It was just what one did to help things come off correctly and well. That day in the wet grass, it never occurred to me to do anything but help.

I believe that if we, as leaders, are unwilling to move the chairs, if we somehow think the task beneath us or that we are more important than the work, then we are not effective leaders. I believe we are not even that good.

If you disagree, we have very different definitions of leadership.

Move the chairs, my friends.  Move the chairs.

EduQuote of the Week: March 26 – April 1, 2018

National Cleaning Week

Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.

– Phyllis Diller

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EduQuote of the Week: March 19 – 25, 2018

Shakespeare Week

He breathed upon dead bodies and brought them into life. Nor sequent centuries could hit Orbit and sum of Shakespeare’s wit.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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EduQuote of the Week: March 12 – 18, 2018

Universal Women’s Week

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made… It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.

– Ruth Bader Ginsberg

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EduQuote of the Week: March 5 – 11, 2018

Will Eisner’s Birthday

I want to point out to adults that there is a world of good material available to you now in comic form – in this medium – and learn to give it your support because the more you support it, the better the material will be as it comes out.

– Will Eisner

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EduQuote of the Week: February 26 – March 4, 2018

Peace Corps Week

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps-who works in a foreign land-will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.

– John F. Kennedy

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EduQuote of the Week: February 19 – 25, 2018

Sisterhood and Brotherhood Week

It’s a commonly expressed and rather nice, romantic notion that we are all “sisters” and “brothers.” Let’s be real. Fact is, we might be better served to accept that we are all siblings. Siblings fight, pull each other’s hair, steal stuff, and accuse each other indiscriminately. But siblings also know the undeniable fact that they are the same blood, share the same origins, and are family.

– Vera Nazarian

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 13 – Power and Responsibility

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 13

Power and Responsibility

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


If you have seen a Spider-Man (and, yes, the use of the hyphen is correct!) movie, then you are likely to be familiar with this mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Peter Parker’s uncle Ben shared this nugget of wisdom with his young nephew shortly before the old man met his fate – a fate (in an ironic twist of fate) Peter could have prevented.

Ben did not know his nephew was endowed with super powers. He did not know that his nephew would, eventually, become one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world. What he did know is that people have power. They have power to affect change.

His challenge to Peter is to use his power – whatever power he has – for good. He reminds him that, to do nothing when you can do something, is wrong. If one possesses the power to act for the good of others, they should.

What a message this is to all of us. Of the many, many messages that comic books and super hero movies and pop culture conveys, this is one of my favorites because it is simple and it is powerful.

If you have blessings, use them.

If you have power, exercise it for good.

If you are privileged, you have responsibilities.

Follow them.

Follow Spider-Man.

There are worse role models…

 

EduQuote of the Week: February 12 – 18, 2018

Take Your Family to Work Week

I actually look forward to Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I’m not great with kids, but I want to get better. Because I’m getting married. So I put on a bunch of extra candy on my desk so the kids will come talk to me. Like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” so kids will come talk to me.

– Pam Beasley, The Office

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Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

February 7, 2018

What happens when we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

This week, I have the great pleasure of working with a group of educators from Jesuit schools across the US and Canada as they focus on what makes them great leaders and what they can do to make themselves even better. This is such a terrific blessing of my work and it challenges me to focus in on significant questions facing educational leaders today.

Many (most?) of the blogs I have composed for Teach & Serve reflect on or reference conditions wherein good leadership is present in a school. They are written from a perspective assuming solid norms and procedures, relatively healthy environments and excellent standards for behavior.  

Let us be honest: those conditions do not always pertain.

Where does that leave individuals who wish optimal (or, at least, functional) leadership is in play? Where does that leave those who aspire to greater things for themselves and for their schools? Where does that leave people who seek perpetual improvement?

These are challenging questions, to be sure.

But there are answers.

Like the best answers, they start from within us. They start with us making honest and clear assessments of who we are in our leadership and of how we relate to the leaders and systems around us. The best answers ask us to ask ourselves hard questions.

And to answer them.

Good leaders know that one of the fundamental qualities of leadership is authenticity. I have written previously that I believe it to be the central and most important quality of a good leader. Good leaders, then, take the questions they are posing outward and turn them within.

If leadership is bad in our schools, we must ask ourselves if we are part of the issue. What role have we played to sour the milk? Have we contributed to an environment that is less than ideal? We must be willing to examine ourselves as a necessary first step.

And what happens, then, if we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

We must, then, assess what change we can make from where we are. We must consider who we can help and for what reason. If our challenge of authority and status quo and broken systems is for the good of our students (and the good of the adult community – a secondary good; students come first) then we are called to confront.

We must respectfully disagree and offer alternatives. We must exercise the authority we have as teachers and as educational leaders within the same structures our chairs and administrators occupy. We must speak truth – truth to colleagues, truth to power. We must do so offering suggestions and solutions, through-lines and conclusions and ways forward. We must be willing to suffer slings, arrows, criticisms and critiques.

When we are authentic, when we act from our true selves, all of this, though incredibly heavy to shoulder, is worth the weight.

If our systems hurt our students, if our leaders are negligent in their most important tasks, they must be examined and changed. They might even need to be set aside or torn down.

However, our seats in the school, our positions and our power along with the management and leadership styles of our superiors may make true and lasting collaboration and change so difficult as to be impossible.

This can be a bleak state of affairs and cause crises of the heart.

When leadership does not work and is unwilling to reflect and consider change, authentic leaders are in painful positions. If one has done all one can on behalf of students to confront challenges and bad actors, to affect change and to advance the institution and there is no way forward, another question comes into play: is my presence here so important for those I serve that I must stay?

If the answer is yes, it is good to remember that systems alter over time and leaders do not stay in place forever.

If the answer is no, it may well be time for an individual to change one’s circumstance. While that is easier written than done, it may be an inevitable conclusion and a legitimate alternative to continuing frustration and pain.

The best answers start from within. Knowing ourselves is a significant key.