Additional duties include…

As a young platoon leader in the Army, we were quite often tasked by higher with “additional duties.”  While we’d all graduated from our basic training, advanced individual training on our military occupational specialty (MOS), and held a myriad number of individual degrees, qualifications, and certifications, we quite often found ourselves doing anything but those things.  Like the things we’d joined the Army to do and were trained experts in.  Instead of jumping that day or training on our weapons and tactics, we’d be painting rocks, landscaping, or picking up trash.  “Area beautification” they called it.   To bide the time, our running joke became “additional duties include [insert your actual job here]”.  

Sound familiar?

Our 8th graders have never had a year in middle school unaffected by COVID.  As if teaching isn’t hard enough, we have teachers on our faculty who’ve never had a class or school year unaffected by COVID.  During these times, we’ve been asked to do an innumerable number of things besides focus on teaching and learning, many out of our realm of expertise or level of comfort.  It can feel like one of our additional duties is teaching! 

I have some fond memories of the Army, even some from trash detail during Red Cycle.  It wasn’t about having to wear a safety vest.  It was about spending time with my people, sharing an experience (good or bad), and coming out the other side closer because of it.  We remember our connections more than our circumstances. We’re in this together! 

The Breakfast Club

Over the past year, you may have heard that living through a global pandemic was like living through a movie.  I don’t know about living through one, but when I was middle school age, watching movies was just a LOT different.  We either went to the theater, went to a video store to rent a VHS tape to watch at home on our VCR’s, or waited for the movie to come out on cable or commercial television.  The versions of the movies that we saw on commercial television however, were usually sanitized for a family audience, which is how I saw most of my ‘80’s movies in the Boyd household.  One of those movies was The Breakfast Club.  

If you’ve not seen The Breakfast Club, it is about a group of 5 high school students assigned detention on Saturday…ALL DAY SATURDAY (not just two hours like our Saturday School).  These five students are from completely different cliques at their high school and are all in detention for different reasons, which they eventually share with each other.  What they come to discover over the course of the day is that they are more alike than they are different.  Each of them has their own unique struggles that have shaped who they are.  They arrived as five individuals but left detention that Saturday afternoon in Shermer, Illinois as the Breakfast Club.  

I love the message of this movie.  The Breakfast Club is an 80’s classic and one of my all-time favorites.  And if you get the chance to watch it, I hope you see the same edited and family friendly version that I did many years ago.  But I’ve always wondered one thing…why was there never a sequel to The Breakfast Club?  It could have been because of the actors in the Brat Pack and their scheduling or availability.  It could have been about director John Hughes moving on other projects.  But I have always wondered…was it because the sequel would have been about school on Monday?  Did anything change after Saturday?  Was their shared experience strong enough to overcome the return to normal on Monday morning?  I wonder…did the Breakfast Club ever eat at the same lunch table?  

Students, as the Class of 2025, you have the unique and once in a lifetime opportunity to choose how you begin again as you head to high school in the fall as 9th graders.  My ask, as you leave us, is to reflect on our shared experience, to remember that we are all more alike than we are different, we are all shaped by our own unique experiences, and that “each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” 

Veterans Day

To our distinguished guests on the floor:  Thank you for joining us.  Thank you for sharing of your time and experiences serving our great nation.  Students, I hope you were listening closely as our veterans were recognized.  I hope you heard all the different branches of service that were recognized and when and where they served, whether in war or peace, stateside or abroad.  And noticed how many of your classmates in the audience are touched by one of our honored guests.

I am a peacetime veteran.  I was in ROTC at the University of Alabama during Desert Shield/Desert Storm and left active duty before September 11, 2001.  Not a Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day for that matter, goes by without me remembering those whose service and sacrifice far exceeded mine.  Or going to bed thinking about who’s on radio watch.  Or a holiday wondering what junior officers, NCO’s, and enlisted are on staff duty or CQ.  Or when the weather and conditions are awful like they are today:  hot/cold, wet/dry, hungry/thirsty and knowing that somewhere, somebody has it worse than I do.  This is one of the gifts that my service has given me:  Perspective.

Perspective on what is important.  Perspective on the things I missed that I will never get back.  And the perspective to recognize how precious our time together is.

When I was 21, believing I was ten feet tall and bulletproof, I didn’t think for a minute about what my parents must have felt watching their first born get on a plane to Fort Lewis, Washington.  When I was 22, I didn’t think for a minute about how my in-laws must have felt watching their baby girl drive away with a soldier headed to Fort Hood, Texas.

In all the time I spent with my fellow soldiers, from every walk of life and corner of this country, I cannot recall a single conversation about politics or parties or ideologies during the hours, days, and weeks we spent in tanks, tents, and Humvees.  What I do recall is conversations about family.  Stories that started with “So, there I was!”  Stories about other soldiers.  And conversations about home.  Homes like:

  • Pocotello, Idaho
  • Thibodaux, Louisiana
  • Elkhart, Indiana
  • North Tonawanda, New York
  • Brownsville, Texas
  • Elko, Nevada
  • Compton, CA
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • And Tyler, Texas visiting the home and family of SGT Eric Ferguson, one of my squad leaders who was killed in a military vehicle accident in October of 1997 at Fort Hood, TX.

In addition to perspective, military service has given me a myriad number of gifts that have become part of my fabric, part of my DNA, part of my being, the essence of who I am as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, neighbor, and educator.

Those gifts include:

  • Living up to a standard
  • Taking ownership
  • Eating last, or not at all. If you were at our ceremony last year, you may have heard Coach Jimmy Gentry tell his story about never taking the last biscuit.
  • Realizing that “It’s not about you.”
  • And probably my favorite quote: “How you do anything is how you do everything”

Service is a gift.  A gift that gives in perpetuity, whether you realize it or not.  A gift that begins with volunteering, taking a first step, raising your hand.  Volunteering to be part of something bigger than yourself.  Doing your job.  Playing your role.  Making things better for someone else.

Students, service doesn’t have to start with or even include the military for that matter.  It did for me and for that I will be forever grateful.  It did for our honored guests here today and we are gathered to demonstrate our gratitude to them for their military service.  As you continue your journey, I encourage you to be part of something bigger than yourself, to give selflessly, demonstrate gratitude, and live up to a standard.  If somewhere along your road in life, you find yourself alone, out front by yourself, and not knowing what to do, just keep moving forward.  If you take a look over your shoulder, we’re all right behind you…cheering you every step of the way.

Coach Gray

I’ve never quit anything in my life.  I have completed and fulfilled my commitments and obligations to teams, schools, churches, employers, and my country, but I have never quit.  Coach Dwight “Buddy” Gray is to thank for that.

I didn’t play JV football at Holtville.  I went out for varsity in the spring of my freshman year and to say I was behind physically and fundamentally would be a gross understatement.  During the last full week of spring practice, after a particularly miserable afternoon with awful weather in which I didn’t catch a single football, I hit the wall.  To this day I don’t know what it was or where it came from:  I wanted to quit.  After practice, I made the walk from the locker room to Coach Gray’s office in the field house and told him my heart wasn’t in it and wanted to turn in my stuff.  He was standing up at his desk and never asked me to sit.  Coach Gray looked me in the eyes and said to quit now, given all you’ve invested and the time you’ve put in, would be “foolish.”  Finish this week out, he said, and we’ll see where it goes.

As a leader, educator, and coach, I now know how easy it would have been for him to tell me to clean out my locker and leave my stuff at the equipment room door.  I also know now why he didn’t, and can’t thank him enough for that one minute of brutal honesty and encouragement.  After Coach Gray left the next season for Jemison, there would be many more opportunities to quit Holtville Football.  Many of my friends and teammates made that choice as we won only four games in 1988 and went winless in 1989, my senior year.  I didn’t.

Coach Gray passed away unexpectedly in the early morning of Wednesday, March 28th.  His last “TeAm GrAy Monday Message” was on gratitude.

Thanks Coach.

 

BoydFridays Bookshelf

I’m proud of my little bookshelf.

Since late October (by my count), 15 books have moved on to parts unknown (including undisclosed locations in Afghanistan) with no expectation of them being returned.  Inspired by the work of @jarredamato and @projectLITcomm, I decided to start reading more diverse juvenile fiction and giving those books away at my school.  My initial vision was to purchase and read one new book per week, then put it on the shelf outside my office window for the taking.  I bought a few to start, including All American Boys, Strong Inside, and Refugee, and added a few “timely” paperbacks from home during November.  I have also started to receive donations from community stakeholders interested in a project to get free books in the hands of kids.  And, I can always count on my neighboring English teachers for a kind word and recommendations!

Today I am looking at one book left on my shelf and I couldn’t be happier.  One, I get to go to the bookstore!  But most importantly, a kid got to pick up something they were interested in with no expectation or pressure of returning it.  Coming back to my office and seeing a book “missing” from my shelf brings a smile to my face.  It’s a single drop of rain in anything but a “book desert,” but I think it matters.  And that’s good enough for me.

 

Harmony

I’ve not been much for New Years’ resolutions over the last several years.  Perhaps my hesitation comes from my tendency to overdo things, to set too lofty a goal, and to go to extremes, thus always setting myself up for failure and disappointment.  While I appreciate the sentiment and love the idea of the tabula rasa, I want to believe that if some decision, some life-changing shift was that important, why not start immediately?  Why do we wait?  Has any resolution ever been sustained just because it began January 1st? Are we just putting undue pressure on ourselves based on an arbitrary Gregorian paradigm?

*Disclaimer:  As I compose this post, six drafts (including portions of this one) sit in my WordPress account.  Perhaps I shouldn’t rule out timely resolutions so soon, but I digress.

For this reason, my wife and I take the new year differently than most.  She creates a set of “Good Intentions” while I have latched on to the beauty and simplicity of the “One Word” phenomenon.   What is most impactful to me in utilizing one word is that the word becomes a platform or a mindset in approaching any situation at any time.  The one word becomes a goal, a vision, a lens, and the desired outcome of all interactions.

My #oneword for 2018 is the word “harmony.”

I was pleased to see “harmony” as one of my signature themes in the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment I completed in the summer of 2017.  While I have received positive feedback on my effectiveness in this area, particularly in parent meetings, harmony had not appeared on the assessment I took five years prior.  In fact, nor had any other themes addressing relationships.  I firmly believe that my experiences in both my doctoral program and working as an assistant principal have strengthened my emotional intelligence, empathy, and understanding in a time it is so desperately needed in our world.

In 2018, I look forward to sharing positive stories of harmony in my personal and professional life and would love to hear yours as well.

 

“The Work”

Every weekend, I get a report from one of our teacher leaders who supervises our Credit Recovery program at my current school.  This report summarizes the students who have completed courses over the previous week and gives a shout out to the teachers, aides, and staff members who have assisted in their progress.  Normally, I only give this email a rudimentary glance to keep my finger on the pulse of the work being done, but something jumped off the screen at me this week.  As I scanned the list, I saw the name of a student whose name was not unfamiliar to me for attendance and disciplinary reasons.  What struck me was the comment this junior student made about his rapid completion of a freshman physical science course online.

“I like science.  I just don’t do the work.”

There are many layers and levels to this statement, but as I peel this particular onion, I am left wondering two things foremost:

  •  What is “the work” exactly?  And…
  •  If the student likes the content area but just doesn’t do “the work,” whose fault is that?

Thanks Steve

Over the last few hours, in short stints and bursts, I was able to make it through Gleason, the documentary on the life of former NFL player Steve Gleason.  Steve is a nine-year NFL veteran most noted for his block of an Atlanta Falcons punt in the first football game to return to the New Orleans Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.  I remember watching the game live on Monday Night Football while still coaching high school football and texting my head coach:  “Did you see that?!?”  It is one of the most dynamic and emotional plays I’ve ever seen in a football game, all things considered.  And kudos to the television announcers, who let the moment speak for itself rather than blabbering all over it with their meaningless platitudes.  

Shortly after retiring from the NFL, Steve was diagnosed with ALS.  The film documents Steve’s progression with the disease and the video journal he created for his then unborn son.  It also depicts in graphic detail the physical degeneration of a professional athlete in the prime of his life into an invalid.  While the film is simultaneously heart-wrenching and inspiring, it is time well spent as a testament to the human condition.  As a husband, father, son, brother, and human being, the documentary left me shaken and looking for answers to questions that can we cannot answer as individuals on this side of eternity.

  • Why Steve Gleason and not me?  Why are some condemned and others not?  Steve’s wife Michel addresses this in the documentary when people comment on their lives and how they have responded in the face of such adversity.   
  • How would I react to a terminal diagnosis, either for myself or a family member?  Would I respond with grace and purpose as Steve has?  Would I live the life of a selfless, ever-present servant with a heart of gold as his wife Michel?  Or would I take the easy way out? 
  • What will my kids remember about me?  The teacher, coach, and administrator who worked tirelessly to take care of kids not his own?  Or the coach who gave it up to spend more time at home coaching youth soccer and baseball and going to dance practice?  The jokes, the laughs, the silly nicknames, the singalongs, and the horseplay?  
  • How have I let so much valuable time in my life go to waste?  Precious time for which Steve Gleason and others with life-threatening and terminal diseases would give a king’s ransom.  
  • And knowing what we know, why don’t we change our behavior on a consistent basis?

Whether we are facing these questions presently or not, there are those we love, those we work with, and those in our classrooms and workplaces who are carrying these burdens on a daily basis.  One of the most powerful skills an effective leader utilizes is the ability to listen and empathize.  The mantra of “two ears, one mouth” has always resonated with me.

Listen.  Hear them out.  Connect with them on some level.  If I have learned one lesson in emotional intelligence as a leader, it’s that you just never know.

Thanks Steve.

Signs

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”  –  Les Emmerson

Over the course of the last year, I took pictures of signs posted throughout school buildings I visited.  I was struck by how many of these signs communicated a double standard between student and teachers, sent the message that students cannot be trusted, or implied that students aren’t mature or responsible enough to make decisions for themselves.  The vast majority of these signs provided direction on the use of technology in the school building, which I find laughable given my experience with both students and teachers and their respective proficiencies with technology.  Other signs provided such important directives as which tables and chairs to use in common areas and the most appropriate doorways for entry/exit.   Lastly, an epidemic of inappropriate consumption of food and drink plagued schools in 2016-17 requiring an abundance of signage.  Check out some of the exemplars below.

 

Ah, the dreaded “no phone zone.”  Some of the noncompliance may originate from confusion over to whom the signs actually apply.  Just a heads up…they apply 100% to students.  Certainly they don’t apply to the teacher who checks their phone during every classroom transition or steps into the hallway to take/receive personal calls during the day.  Perhaps the confusion could be resolved by including “unless you’re a teacher” on each of the posted signs.  And what can kids do with a bunch of archaic desktops in the library?  They certainly can’t print a presentation or review packet but the teachers in the building can go through twenty pallets of paper in a year.  What message are we sending?  It reminds me of…

I’m going to wager that at least one of these kids not named Forrest grew up to be a librarian.  Or one of those supremely tanned kids working chair and umbrella rentals in front of a gulf coast timeshare.  I’m certainly an order, structure, and process guy, but not an anarchist either.  A little choice, high expectations, responsibility, and accountability go a long way.  If students sitting at a particular table is such a problem, maybe moving the table is a better solution, but that’s just me.

 

Food and drink…different strokes for different folks.  That’s all I’ve got.

 

The following sign gets an entry all its own:

This picture was taken in a public high school cafeteria in the southeastern United States, the most unhealthy region of a country that leads the world in rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.  A country that throws away 40% of its food unused.  And a country in which citizens choose surgery to reduce the size of their stomachs to lose weight.

Let’s consider the message.  These signs aren’t about saving paper or money, keeping the building clean, or whether your Mama works here.  They are about one thing:  Compliance.  Compliance with a double standard that reflects a lack of trust and relationship resonating throughout the entire building.

Signs have their place.  Let’s make just a few more of them relevant, inclusive, and uplifting.

P.S. Kids, if you’re reading and want more than two servings of fruits and vegetables, by all means, come find me.

 

The Brave Team

I’m not sure when it happened exactly.  It certainly wasn’t overnight.  But, over the course of the last several months a stark reality has emerged in my life and to be honest, it hurts.  I mean, like really hurts.  I’m talking constant daily reminders that life as you know it is over kind of hurt.  What is it, you ask, that could so profoundly affect a 43 year old married father of two, with a terminal academic degree and tenure?

My daughter is no longer my little girl.

We were the “Brave Team.”  We ran through dozens of silly nicknames for each other.  We took forever to say goodnight as I tried to sneak out with her stuffed animals.  We took naps together under the princess blanky on the couch.  We fit perfectly side by side in my chair watching whatever cartoon, movie, or TV show she wanted.  And the hugs…oh, the hugs.  The kind of hugs that let you know you were someone’s universe, their center of gravity, and there was no one else on this earth that made them feel as safe as they do with you.

All now part of our past rather than our present.

These days it’s a smile and a wave.  A side hug if I’m lucky.  It’s a “night night” with not so much as a look back as she heads up the stairs, not needing (even wanting?) a “Daddy Express” piggy back ride.  A text with a heart and a “Brave Team” emoji.  Hoping that she’ll say “Hey, you know what?” and share something with me about her day.  A few minutes in my truck at the bus stop, before she walks to the bus while “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac plays on the radio.

I suppose this fate, this reckoning, falls to every father of a daughter.  Not that it makes it any easier.  I’ve never told her this, but I know that someday she will meet someone who may love her “more” than I do.  Certainly my father-in-law experienced the same feelings over 21 years ago.  I understand now, as I’m sure he does, that no one will ever love my daughter like I do.  I am strengthened by knowing that one day in her future, Audrey will slip her arm in mine for a short walk together before we go meet this person at the altar.  If only for a brief moment, we’ll be the “Brave Team” again.

Originally published 3/12/16 at wpboyd.blogspot.com.