Milestones (continued)

Where does the time go? How has it been [insert years here]? Time slow down!

When social media is used for its intended(?) purpose of connecting and sharing among friends and family, it can be a blessing. First day of school pictures are an absolute favorite of mine, especially when shared as a collage or in a sequence of photos over time. I can even dig the little chalkboards with kids’ favorites and future jobs, while wishing we’d done the same. Social media is certainly no stranger to milestones. For all its faults, Facebook has one feature that generally keeps me coming back. That feature is “Memories.” Especially around birthdays, holidays, and the first day of school, our memories are shared along with comments about how fast time has passed. Every year. At the same time.

After last week’s post and conversation on “milestones,” these memories and photo comments landed just a little differently. We may perceive the milestones in our lives as coming in rapid succession or distanced far apart, even when they occur at the same intervals of time. Regardless of our perception, our reaction tends to be consistent: It went too fast.

As much as I enjoy the shared memories, I’m always struck by our concept of time. What if time did slow down? Would we utilize our time differently? Or, would we keep doing the same things we do each and every day? The stark and sobering truth is that time is not going to “slow down” and will continue to pass, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, month by month, and year to year.

Our only choice, which we have the opportunity to make each and every day, is to slow down! Time won’t but we absolutely can. Choose to be present, engage fully with the world around you, and avoid the plague of distractedness and hurry. More milestones are on the way!

Milestones

Whether you think of them as stages of development, a state testing model, or as the green and white signs along an interstate highway, what are milestones to you? Are they something to be celebrated? Or would your rather overlook or perhaps ignore them altogether? These little reminders, not only of how far you still have to go, are a memorial to how far you’ve come. Whether we choose to celebrate or ignore the milestones in our lives, they will pass from a wide-open window into a narrow series of small mirrors with time and distance.

Since my last post in May, I’ve experienced a season of milestones in my life and family: My 50th birthday. A new job. Launching our oldest child into adulthood. And today will be the first day in twenty years that I’ve not welcomed students on the first day of school.  That’s a lot to pass in rapid succession, one after the other, as if I was traveling faster and faster. Was I traveling faster?  How were they so tightly arranged?  And yet now they are so spread out again I can’t even see the next one that’s coming.

I didn’t take many pictures. Or post much on social media. But, my son and I got to make his move together, just the two of us.  I drove the moving truck and he followed in his vehicle.  For three full days across the US. We stopped for gas, ate lunch together by the side of the road in states we’d never visited before, and slept like kings in the motel each night. He and I will always share that experience in both our lives.

My lack of social media engagement notwithstanding, I did catch one gem on Twitter over the summer. Let’s all put our phones away, enjoy our beverages of choice responsibly, and be attentive, engaged, and available to truly experience our milestones with those around us.

One Last Look

In this, our last week in advance for the 21-22 school year and my last principal’s message at Woodland, there’s one final observation I’d like to share with you.  There’s something interesting I’ve noticed about you middle school parents over the last four years.  And yes, you might be wondering what direction this is going.  But in many ways, I think your example is a powerful lesson for us all. 

As you may know, the front door has been my “post” every morning during my time at Woodland.  And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  In almost 20 years in education, I’ve found no more successful way to build relationships and culture than greeting people individually on a consistent basis.  Whether it’s the classroom door at Ravenwood, the bus line at Centennial, or the front door at Woodland. 

But you middle school parents, especially those of you in the car line, you aren’t fooling anyone.  I see you.  Oh they never look back, so you’re not going to get caught, but I see you.  Whether the drop off happens with fist bump, a “love you,” a hug or a kiss, or even an awkward silence before the door shuts, I know what happens next.  Every single time. 

One last look.

I can imagine all the things you must be wondering.  The most precious thing in the world to you  is heading into an environment that belongs to them and not you.  Will they have a friend to walk in with?  What kind of a day will they have?  How will they respond to success or adversity?  Who will they sit with at lunch?  And who are they on the other side of those doors? 

My hope is that during the last four years, you’ve looked back with pride and confidence that your child was walking into a safe, supportive, positive, and encouraging environment that always put students first.  And that it will continue to be that kind of place for years to come.   Eventually, we will all leave Woodland for the last time, whether it’s this week for some of us, later this summer for others, or in the years to come.  When that time comes, please continue to take one last look and reflect on what a special place this is.  Thank you for allowing me to share in this special time in the lives of your children. 

Family Comes First

Family comes first.”  Hopefully in our time together you’ve heard these words come out of my mouth.  More importantly, I hope you believe me when I say them.  I’ve tried to be as accommodating, understanding, and empathetic as possible when it comes to appointments, time off, sick kids and parents, you name it, regardless of what’s expected of us at school.  I can’t recall ever turning any request down or not finding a way for us to make it happen, because school will be here when we get back!  If you’re like me though, you occasionally get stuck in a reflective loop about whether your words match your actions.  Whether we are living up to our own standards.  I’m not.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized that I’m failing in this area.  With whom you might ask?  I hope you don’t think it’s you, but I realized that it’s with myself.  My family hasn’t come first. 

I came in last Sunday (yes, Easter) right at 1pm loaded for bear but our school network was down, so no email, drives, or anything available.  I texted the middle school principal group to see if anyone else was having the same issue.   No response.  After about an hour or so, I packed up and took the party to the home office.  I didn’t even take my weekly selfie of me alone in the parking lot, which I’ve been doing lately to make myself feel better?  When I got home, I thought to myself:  Self, there’s no law that says the callout has to go out at 4 or that my newsletter has to come first.  Sit outside.  Enjoy some family time. 

And this weekend?  Welp, since I was going to be home alone, I decided to go see my parents in Alabama who I haven’t seen since Christmas.  My dad is approaching 80 and they don’t travel much anymore (unless it’s a special occasion like a grandson’s college graduation in two weeks).  My Dad said they hadn’t had me to themselves since 1976, when my youngest brother was born.  I arrived on Friday night (after leaving right before school dismissal) to my favorite supper (corned beef hash, cabbage, and butter noodles) and a coconut cake.  My mother’s maiden name is Cassidy and yes, we are of Irish heritage. 

On Saturday, we drove around to all the old homes we’d lived in, talked about the old neighborhoods and neighbors, and had more cake and presents to celebrate our birthdays.  My Mom’s birthday is Tuesday and we are ten days (+25 years) apart.  We also went to the cemeteries of several friends, classmates, and teachers, saving our visit to my middle brother’s grave for last.  His birthday is May 5th

If I remember one thing about this weekend, it won’t be supper, or the cake, or riding up and down memory lane.  As we were leaving the cemetery and walking back to our vehicle, my Dad was trailing behind, which is not uncommon.  Even 80 year old former college football players struggle to get around.  When I looked for him, he had walked back over to my brother’s grave to reach down and touch it before we left. 

I’d never seen that.  And probably will never see it again.  But I saw it this weekend.  Because family comes first.  And just for the record…you’re my family too.

Cobra Kai Never Dies

If you remember the 1980’s as I do, the Karate Kid franchise is a classic.  An underdog tale with great music, the good guy winning in the end and getting the girl, and several references that have made it into pop culture lexicon.  Even people who haven’t seen the movie know the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi, wax on/wax off, and the crane technique.  My beloved Alabama Crimson Tide adopted the “crane technique” as a touchdown celebration last season over 35 years after the movie premiered. The Karate Kid is such a classic that it’s reboot as Cobra Kai on Netflix continues to be wildly successful and will soon begin its fifth season as a streaming behemoth.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Cobra Kai series is that it is told primarily from Johnny’s perspective.  If you’re Johnny, Daniel is the bully! Daniel always starts things he can’t finish (until Mr. Miyagi steps in).  Daniel moves in on Johnny’s girl, butts in on their conversations, and when Daniel sprays Johnny with a hose at the Halloween dance, Mr. Miyagi is there to save him from another beating by taking down Johnny and three of his friends.  Then, Mr. Miyagi and Daniel have the audacity to march into the Cobra Kai dojo to demand a cease fire to train until the tournament.  Which, of course, allows Daniel free reign to torment Johnny and Cobra Kai at school. And let’s not even get started on the illegal kick to the face that wins Daniel the All-Valley Championship!  

If our collective experiences over the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that there can be two wildly different perspectives on the exact same event.  Wildly different. Even over the simplest and most basic things. As hard as these differing perspectives may be to comprehend, they are reality to those who hold and experience them, much like Johnny and Daniel’s in the Karate Kid.  I encourage you, and ask you to help hold me accountable, to continue to do what’s best knowing that we all don’t see the world the same way. As Mr. Miyagi said, “no such thing as bad student.  Only bad teacher.”

Ruminations from Left Field

I remember my first exposure to sarcasm.  As a ten year old baseball player, I made the All-Star team in our league (for the record, every ten year old made the All-Stars because of the small size of our league).  In our generation, “All-Star” teams were similar to today’s travel teams, except with only one tournament at the end of baseball season instead of fifty-two all over the country every weekend of the year.  We’d have a tournament against other leagues in our home county, then against the city kids in Montgomery if we won our county.  Once that was over, the rest of the summer was ours!

On my first all-star team that summer, another team’s coach served as the manager instead of my team’s coach, so it was like starting over again unless you’d played on his team during the regular season.  At our first All-Star practice, several of us, outfielders maybe, were warming up and talking in short right field before practice.  Some instructions were shouted to the assembled group, but for whatever reason, none of us responded or moved.  The ten year olds.  On the first day of practice.  With a new team and and a new coach. 

Then came a question in a tone that I’d never heard before:   “Do you need an engraved invitation to go to left field?” 

We didn’t react immediately as our ten year old brains began to unpack the question.   We did pick up on a few cues however:   “Left field,” and knowing that we were currently in right field, we needed to move.  And, since he asked a question, we should probably answer him because you always respond when an adult asks you a question.   But, he doesn’t sound happy with us and might not want an answer (little did we know we were getting exposed to rhetorical questions as well as sarcasm).  Regardless, we knew something wasn’t right where we were so we beat feet for left field. 

From that point, I don’t remember a single thing about any of our all-star practices except that question on the first day.  I do remember our team losing our first tournament game, then winning out to win the Area Championship.  We went on to lose two games to the city teams and had the rest of the summer off before school started in August.  My friends and I had a good time playing baseball together and being kids.  I played centerfield and wore #7. 

In reflecting on our coach’s question almost 40 years separated from that day, I can state the following with absolute certainty:

  • No ten year old baseball player in the Holtville Dixie Youth League in 1982 had ever seen an engraved invitation, much less received one for any of our birthday parties. 
  • We’d still be running foul poles if one of us had answered his question in the affirmative. 

I wonder now, what was his intended purpose or desired effect?  We all went to left field.  I’m pretty sure we’d have gone to left field no matter what.  Even if he’d just gotten our attention and said “hey, run to left field.”  We’d have run over there still not knowing anything about sarcasm or rhetorical devices. 

Was it to make himself feel better or smarter than the ten year olds since we didn’t hear him or understand him the first time?  Was it to assert his dominance or authority?  Was he trying to embarrass us or make us feel dumb?  I’m almost fifty years old and still have no idea.  What I do know is that whatever it was, it wasn’t about us.  It was about him.  

In our communications with others, and especially in our most difficult coaching and leadership conversations, our goal should be to encourage and model positive behavioral change. What approach has a higher likelihood of success if behavior needs to change? Shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and punishment? Or reflection, recommendations, partnership, planning for next steps, and following up? You can get behavior to change either way, engraved invitations notwithstanding. The only difference will be the relationship that exists once they get to left field.

Nobody knows…

In the spirit of a Disney theme at school, who remembers this scene from Lion King?

Poor Zasu.  Living the dream one day under Mufasa’s protection, then imprisoned by the evil Scar the next.  And don’t get me started about listening to those hyenas non-stop and not being able to do anything about it.    

That song that Zasu is singing though…have you heard it before?  It’s what keeps coming to my mind after this week.  “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrow.”  Can’t you just feel the emotion?  It’s a song with an amazing history, beginning as an African-American spiritual during slavery, being published for the first time during Reconstruction, and finding popular acclaim during the 20th Century performed by legendary artists like Louie Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, and Sam Cooke.  What a song.  Just a classic.     

But after this year and after last week especially, I’m sure that’s how many of us feel.  Like we have to take a licking and keep on ticking, and either we can’t defend ourselves or nobody’s defending us.  That we have to absorb blow after blow and take on more and more with no relief or support.  Constantly questioned, even as a professional with multiple degrees and decades of experience.  Not trusted to complete the simplest of tasks without being challenged.  I get it.  It’s a bad place to be in mentally, spiritually, and physically, let alone professionally.  But that’s where we are.   

So, I decided that song wouldn’t apply to us anymore.  Nobody knows?  No longer the case.  This week alone I’ve shared all of the inappropriate, unprofessional, profane, and antagonistic emails and voicemails our teachers have received.  I will continue to raise the awareness of what you all are enduring on a daily basis, when not a single one of us would be here if we didn’t want what’s best for kids.  I hurt for you all and will absorb as much of it as I can until things change.   

People will know the trouble you’ve seen, people will know your sorrow, and better days will return to the Pride Lands!  It’s the Circle of Life!   

Showtime

Please indulge me for just a few minutes:  If I were to ask a random sample of 100 teachers “what is the last job you would ever consider outside of teaching,” what do you think the most common response would be?  Go ahead, pick your answer and hang on to it for a bit. 

I talk about this every week, both in this space and within our school and local community.  It truly takes a special person to do what we all do.  We have to all be wired some kinda way to do “this,” whatever “this” is.  What is it that we do?  Let’s try to define it.  What we do includes (but is not limited to) in no particular order:

  1. Being a subject matter expert
  2. Collaborating with like-minded subject matter experts
  3. Supporting organizational goals and initiatives
  4. Sharing our individual and collective expertise with our community
  5. Building individual relationships with each person you serve
  6. Differentiating what we do to best support each individual’s unique needs 
  7. Helping others see the value in our area of expertise and the rewards and benefits of using it effectively
  8. Having difficult conversations while motivating and counseling others through daily ups and downs
  9. Intervening with new solutions when our people aren’t successful 
  10. Assessing how well our solutions are working and reaping rewards (or lack therof) in the short term, with opportunities to build on and improve those in the future

Now…got your answer to my question above?  I’ve got mine and I’ll bet the majority of your answers is the same.  Let’s all say it at the same time:  1-2-3:  SALES or SELLING

I can hear everybody now:  “No way, not a chance, I could never, I’d rather dig ditches.”  And what would be the worst part of selling?  Cold calling.  I mean, have you ever just picked up the phone and called someone you’ve never spoken to before?  Asked for a few minutes of their time to explain something that happens/happened and a solution you have in mind?  Shared a plan for their success going forward and asked for their support?  Wow.  I mean, the horrors.  It sounds a lot like…

We’re selling every day whether we know it or not!  Our next “sales” project, which we’ve all collaborated to build, goes out to our community today.  Customers buy the relationship just as much as they buy the service or the reward.  We’ve had almost eight months to build that relationship and it’s almost showtime!

Have the hard conversations

When I’m asked what’s special about our school or what makes our school different, I respond consistently each and every time.  Oh we have our mission and vision, as well as our “true north,” but my response doesn’t immediately address those important representations of our school climate and culture.  Of course we want each student to have a safe, positive, and encouraging experience, and I truly believe that we all want what’s best for students.  However, those beliefs don’t come to life organically without our willingness and ability to engage in the critical, initial leap of faith:    

“We have the hard conversations.”

We have the hard conversations that lead us collectively to what’s best for students.  To creating a safe, positive, and encouraging experience for all members of our learning community.  That require us to reflect on our mission, vision, and values and ask ourselves if that’s what we truly believe.  Whether it’s about student behavior, teacher performance, administrative or staff support, our enrichment or athletic programs, and yes even our traffic pattern, we have the hard conversations.  That’s the kind of place I want this to be.  And each time I am challenged with a difficult question, I try to express my gratitude for it as well as the invitation to see whether our actions align with our values. 

As we wrap up our third quarter prior to Spring Break, I encourage you to look for the opportunity to have the hard conversations when we return, and yes, perhaps even to initiate them.  Whether they be with the most challenging student, parent or family, colleague, or administrator, the most important thing we can do is to choose to engage.

I am beginning a series of weekly open forums for our school community in the fourth quarter.  Each week, I will reserve a consistent time for any parent or community member who has a question, concern, or idea about who we are, what we do, and why we do it.  If you would like to join me one Friday in these conversations, please feel free to let me know.  Or, let me know why you wouldn’t even if I paid you extra.  Either way, we are better for having had the conversation.  Have a great Spring Break!

Who are you here for?

Believe it or not, there are certain times of day when I do get the opportunity to spend time in thought.  For a performing introvert who is an Enneagram Type 5, such time is critical in retaining one’s sanity (afternoon naps notwithstanding).  Most of that opportunity at school is greeting our car riders each morning.  While it’s only thirty minutes each day, it’s pretty much just me, our SRO, a hello or a wave from inside a classroom, the occasional visitor with a question, and our kids.   

While I have my reasons for being in that consistent place at that consistent time every day, one stands out to me more than any other.  As hundreds of kids stream by each day, each with their own personality, experiences, family background, interests, and their whole lives ahead of them, I wonder…

Who am I here for?

If my purpose is to positively impact only one student during my time here, who might that student be?  The first one at the door each morning or the last one in after the bell?  The one dropped off by an adult without a word or a glance or the one that still gives Mom or Dad a hug and a kiss?  One tumbling out of the cul-de-sac carpool laughing and giggling or the younger sibling discarded by a high school driver trying not to be late?  The kid with a cheery “good morning” or the ones who go out of their way to avoid speaking and making eye contact? 

The honest answer is that I don’t know.  And most likely won’t ever know.  No matter who it is, I hope they remember that their principal greeted them by name each and every morning, whether they can remember my name or not.  On their best or worst days, when it was the coldest or hottest, whether we were testing or not, game days and regular school days, and regardless of whatever it was that happened yesterday.  The worst thing I could do is to make the mistake of not casting my net wide enough and not being that person for that kid. 

Who are you here for?