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You can be grateful for lessons, even the hard ones

Life can be tough.  Nobody ever said it was easy.  There are many trials and tribulations that we all face from time to time but we are always stronger for coming through them.  Everyone around you has had them or is currently going through them.  If not, they will be.  When times get tough that is when we grow.

Ella Fitzgerald once sang “into each life a little rain must fall”.  While we cannot control how much rain falls in our lives, we can choose to put up an umbrella or put on rain coat.  Others choose to just let the rain fall.  Regardless, we have a choice in how we respond in difficult times.  We can either shutdown and let ourselves be hardened by it, or we can choose to learn by it and grow from the experience.

As we grow from experiences, we develop a set of beliefs that we rely upon each day, it is the foundation in which we build our daily lives.  When it “rains” in our lives, it is very unexpected.  An unexpected rainstorm can be catastrophic.  Only well built foundations will survive a tremendous downpour.  Foundations that are already rocky will need support.

As a leader, we experience rain in our lives as well.  Just like our teachers and our students.  We must make sure that our foundations are built tough as there will come a time that one of the staff or students will have rain in their lives and it will disrupt their very being.  It will be our job to stand in the gap and help support them in their time of need.

I often think about this question.  More now than I have in the past.  Ever since my Father-in-Law past in November 2017, this question really does come to mind in many different aspects. What’s one hard lesson you are grateful life taught you in the past year?  For me as a leader, 2017 and most of 2018 was not easy due to his passing.  He passed in the middle of the school year but was diagnosed right before the first day of school.  So we were living this right from what we all wanted to be a great school year.

Having to navigate this rainstorm was not easy.  As I reflect back on it and all that I and my family has learned over this time, I am grateful for the lessons that this storm has brought into mine and my families life.  Our foundation is stronger for having come through that storm.

As you go forward, I would encourage you to look at the others around you and see where you can help them through their storm.

Make them feel special, because they are!

When was the last time you had somebody do something for you that made you feel special? Chances are it was fairly recently.

What about your students in your classrooms? Chances are that if it was not you that did something to make these students feel special, then nobody did. 

Our kids come from the roughest of places.  Many thrive at school, because it is the best that they know.  They know when they are here they are warm, fed, and taken care of.

Some never know where their next meal is coming from or where they will lay their head tonight.  Many live in cramped housing with two, three, or even four other families.  Chances are that the eyes that you look at are needing something special and that something special was you.

How will you let your students know that they are special everyday?

I am in your corner…

This weekend, as I was reflecting on my week, I ran across an article by Daniel Steele entitled “Letter to a Discouraged Student“.  This was a very profound letter.  Beautifully written from a principal to student perspective.  While I have no idea if this was actually written for a specific student or for the general masses.  One thing is for sure, it applies to every student who struggles with school and every student who did struggle with school.  I can relate to this letter.

We as educators always put ourselves in the place to make things better for kids.  I am not the type of person that likes to be at the front of attention, especially in large crowds.  Being in a leadership position at times does put you at the forefront.  Remembering my first year as an Athletic Director being put in the position of heading one of the largest departments in the district was a real growing moment in my professional/personal life.  At the end of each year, we held an athletic awards banquet.  Of course, the MC?  Me.  This was a nerve-racking situation for me all year.  I started working out what I was going to say months before it was time.  In the end, it was fine.  I was nervous, to say the least.  The next year I repeated the event and pushed through.

While I know that this was a weakness of mine, it didn’t stop me from doing what was important, being there for kids.  Most recently I was in a similar position where our student-body was looking for people to be part of a fundraiser that in the end, the winner would get a pie in the face in front of the whole school.  There were some pretty popular teachers as well as the Principal that all signed up.  I figured I would be way down the list before getting picked.  Nope!  I was in the top three.  So that meant pie in the face!  Now, this is something that put me in front of everybody again.  I did it because it was important to kids.

Kids, I know my weaknesses and I know my strengths.  Being part of the attention is not one of them.  But know that even if it means being front and center with the spotlight on me, if that is what you need, I will do it.  Know that I am in your corner.

 

Positive School Culture

What school culture really looks like

Be relentless about creating, maintaining, and sustaining a positive culture in your schools. What students experience becomes their norm.

We all know that many of our students experience norms at home that we would not want in our schools, but we must counteract that with a positive culture. That all begins with the relationships we develop with our stakeholders, most importantly our students. While high-quality instruction and rigorous content are important, relationships trump all of that. I am often taken back to a quote that my former high school principal said to me when I was in grad school. “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” There is so much truth to that statement. The roadmap to being a great teacher with solid relationships with students is no different than being a great parent. It is filled with love and high expectations.

Just remember moving forward that school climate is how teachers and students act when the superintendent is in the room but culture is how they act when he/she is not in the room. Focus on culture, not climate. Climates change from day-to-day but cultures will stand the test of time.

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The Myth of the Super Teacher

The Myth of the Super Teacher on Vimeo

Roxanna Elden is a great speaker.  The message that she sends forth in this video is stellar.  I have not read her book as of yet but I intend to.  She is 100% correct when she says that all teachers need honesty, humor, and practical advice.  The only problem I see is that a lot of leaders forget that teachers need this and that they view us as lazy if we are not getting 3 hours of sleep a night in order to create that amazing lesson plan.  We are human.  Nobody works with teenagers on 3 hours of sleep.  Did you before becoming an administrator?

Here is a touching story that is good for everyone to remember:

The Mayonnaise Jar

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day is not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.
When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and fills it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.
He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “YES”.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – God, family,
children, health, friends, and favorite passions. Things, that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.” he said.
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “There is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are
important to you…” he told them.
“So… pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Worship with your family. Play with your children. Take your partner out to dinner. Spend time with good friends. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

Many administrators have forgotten this over the years of not being in the classroom.  They have forgotten this story for their teachers, but they have not forgotten this for themselves.  Most want us to fill the jar with the sand first and they call us lazy when we don’t.  We are all people, not robots.  It is important to remember that we all have lives outside of those walls, including students, and sometimes situations take place that impacts what goes on in those walls.

This year our superintendent in his opening address wanted to work with various positions around the district as a way to stay connected on what we do day in and day out with children.  This was a huge inspiration for me as a teacher.  Here is someone who quite frankly has a very busy schedule and wants to come in and work with teachers, secretaries, custodians, and bus drivers for a day to get a sense of the “trenches”.  This is a leader.  Not many superintendents would be able to invest, not sacrifice, the much needed time in order to do get the first-hand view of the classroom after so many years being out.

In my talks that I have had with many people I have worked with over the years, many of stressed upon me that whenever I do step into that position of the administration, to not lose sight of what it is like in the classroom.  My intention is to always keep that very close to my heart.  The true battleground is the classroom, not the office.