Now what?

You would think after over a week or so to rest and reflect that I’d have something eloquent and poignant to say. About gratitude. About family, friends, and loved ones. But I’m struggling to come up with anything that doesn’t sound hollow or some meaningless platitudes that will fail to resonate with you. I just recorded our weekly parent call out and that might be evident in my voice, but hey…I am a pretty good actor. Like most teachers.

I’ve always heard that if you gathered with a group of people, formed a circle, and then everybody threw all their problems into the middle, you would want to dive after yours to get them back. And I believe it. We have so much to be thankful for while there is so much suffering around us, and yet often within us as well. In the midst of this circle, where I am willing to scratch and claw and fight to get my problems back, how am I any different? Once I am safely back to the perimeter of the circle, do I remain content? Or do I behave differently? Thanksgiving is over.

Now what?

My challenge for the next three weeks is to be a visible and demonstrable example of the gratitude I have for everything in my life, including this work, this place, and each one of you.

Nailed it!

The video linked below was making the rounds on social media last weekend.  I’ll give you a minute to watch…or take as long as you want to watch it multiple times like I have. 

Ellen Alaverdyan

Never once during the times I watched this video did I think:  I wonder what her most recent STAR scores were?  Or if she needed Tier 2 or Tier 3 intervention.  How’d she do on the Benchmark or CFA? Or what her growth projections were for next school year.  Or if she did her homework first (pretty sure I know what she prioritizes outside of school).  What I wondered is how she found something that gives her so much joy at such a young age.  I wondered how many times she practiced those riffs.  And I wondered, although I think I know, what her parents must think and feel. 

In all that we are asked to do as professionals, let’s never forget who we do it for:  Kids.  Kids like Ellen.  Our “Ellens” may never remember the early modern European history we taught that was so important to us.  What I can guarantee, however, is that Ellen will never forget how she felt in our classrooms knowing that what was important to her was important to us. 

Look up!

As soon as I saw the “One Minute Walk to Work” on Saturday morning from my friend Joe Sanfelippo, I knew I wouldn’t have to write a message this week.  Joe is a superintendent in Wisconsin, an amazing leader and speaker, as well as a great follow on Twitter (@Joe_Sanfelippo).  Nothing I could write or say this week could put the message any better. 

His message hit home especially after our Halloween Dance on Friday night in the courtyard.  Thanks to our Student Council members and teacher sponsors for putting it together and making it possible.  If you weren’t there, it was truly an experience to see our kids having fun, just being kids, and making memories with their friends.  For many of them, it’s been a really long time.  For me, there is no reward, no recognition, no acknowledgement (and certainly no test score, trophy, or banner) that will ever be more important than kids having a positive experience in a safe environment and making memories with friends. 

Make it a priority this week to look up!!!

Simplify

I’ll take just a few minutes of your time to share a highlight from our last quarter.  One of my goals for this school year was to “simplify.”  That one word is still written at the top of my whiteboard as a daily reminder.  We are inundated with so much information and have so many resources and tools at our disposal.  So many that even trying to keep up with them all, or even trying something new that might even work better, is overwhelming.  The same is true for our students and teachers with what they experience each and every day.  After two weeks of classroom observations, this is the image that came to mind:

Fortunately, a 6th grade student came to my rescue.  As I was circulating in a classroom watching students work, I noticed that one student had his Classlink Dashboard organized in a different manner.  He had one (1) folder at the very top left of his display.  When I looked closer, I noticed that this folder was one that he had created and given a unique name.  What had he named this folder?

“The Only Things I Use”

Simplify.  Let’s look for solutions in every corner of our organizations. They may be there without us even knowing it.

Be willing!

I may have set a personal record this week on conversations with parents.  It was A LOT, and being the big talker that I am, you know how much I love to just chat and chat about everything under the sun.  Seriously, I could probably go back and research how many conversations it actually was, but that would be a waste of time, unfruitful, and completely beside the point.  You see, each one of those conversations was an investment, a seed planted, with a positive future return. 

Whether it was about starting a new Warrior club, special education eligibility, for/against masks, “Devious Lick,” missing work/low grades, math placement, lunchroom behavior, our traffic pattern, personal records in cross country, school staffing, or teacher behavior, every single conversation ended on a positive note.  Every single one.  How is that possible in the world we live in today? 

As a leader, I have only found one way to get there:  Be willing!  Be willing to…

…have tough conversations.

…be the first to reach out.

…be honest.

…be vulnerable.

…listen more than you talk.

…apologize or admit you were wrong.

…put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

…be creative in finding a solution.

…do something different!

…put a plan in place.

…follow up and stay in touch.

Heading into a full week this week, let’s focus on what we are willing to do each day for students to experience success! 

The Man in the Red Bandana

Friday September 10th was our monthly PTO meeting.  Each month, I get the opportunity to share a quick update with the group about how things are going at school, express any needs or wants we might have, and address any questions or concerns they have for our school. 

This month, I kept it very simple.  I just expressed how proud I was of our students, teachers/staff, and school community.  All of the divisiveness going on “out there” has not manifested itself “in here.”  We accept what we are asked to do and move forward.  We have the difficult but necessary conversations and come to workable solutions.  It is hard work that has taxed each and every one of us to our limits.  But, we keep coming back. 

The 20th Anniversary of September 11th this weekend was also a poignant reminder of the extremes of the human condition.  It also reminded me of one of numerous compelling stories of selflessness and sacrifice from that horrible day.  I’m grateful to be standing and serving along with each one of you. 

Everyone who can stand, stand now.  If you can help others, do so.”

Welles Crowther (The Man in the Red Bandana), 9/11/2001

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.