Category: Ethics (ISLLC 5)

A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of the students by acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner.

Be Selfish, Make Others Feel Good

I recently read a powerful & though-provoking quote.

I don’t remember it precisely, but paraphrased it went something like, “Everyone you come across is struggling with challenges beyond your understanding. Be kind.”

Indeed. Powerful & thought-provoking.

Now, focus on yourself. Consider your personalized interaction-utopia.

Specifically, how would people treat you in a perfect world? What would interactions look like? What would they sounds like? How would they make you feel?

Maybe everyone would communicate with kindness and respect all the time, even through challenges. People who feel good do that.

Maybe everyone would express lots of gratitude with all kinds of humility. People who feel good do that.

Maybe everyone would genuinely listen for deep understanding while truly considering your perspective with open minds. People who feel good do that.

Maybe everyone would treat you in ways that match your intentions and core values. People who feel good do that.

Maybe everyone would be patient. Maybe they would give you space & time when you need to process & rejuvinate. People who feel good do that.

Maybe everyone would get excited about your thoughts & ideas, and maybe they would all believe you can achieve your goals, no matter how precarious. People who feel good do that.

Maybe everyone would focus on making you feel good. People who feel good do that.

Maybe you have interaction hopes that I wouldn’t think of. Whatever they are, I would suggest that if they’re built on thoughtfulness & the common good, people who feel good do that.

As parents & educators heading into a new school year, I say we consider being selfish by squarely aiming our communication efforts at making others feels good so that we can come ever-closer to perpetuating the types of interactions that are best for us, & even more importantly, drive the type of collaborative culture that’s best for our kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Even When You Can’t Be Certain, Be Positive

As a parent and an educator headed into the final month of preparation for the upcoming school year I find myself reflecting considerably on how I intend to face the many challenges and celebrate the many triumphs that will undoubtedly come in working to ever-enhance my leadership and learning practice on behalf of the the kids and the community I serve.

Around each bend, my reflective thoughts turn pointedly to the language and the practices that drive individual and cultural positivity. The following is some food for thought on that foundation.

Your input is always is always welcome and greatly appreciated in the “comments” section. Thanks for reading!

Certainty.

Certainty is a paradox.

We must move forward with conviction. We must attend to our core values as we confidently think, reflect, decide, and act along the shifting pathways upon which we tread ever closer to the achievement of our goals, on the foundation of particular concepts that we consider to be certainties.

As educators and parents, one such concept might be that all kids can learn at high levels, and that it’s our responsibility to hold hope for, provide opportunities to, and inspire each that we serve to consistently and joyfully do just that. It’s one for me anyway.

There are other things I’m certain of as well. I deeply and inexorably love and appreciate my wife and my kids, I’m not interested in even considering anchovies on my pizza or in my salad, I’m a dog person, etc. These are some of the things things I’m certain of, however, lots of the other stuff exists on a spectrum from “let’s give it try” to “I’d bank on it!” That’s where moxie, optimism, problem solving, and positive partnerships come in handy.

Moxie.

Moxie is word that indicates: strength of character, determination, and courage. It’s also fun to say. Try it. “Moxie.” Fun…right?

In fact, it’s so fun to say, and so profoundly grounded in our core value of grit & in the growth-mindset orientation my partners and I work deliberately to impart upon the kids we serve that I’ve chosen it as my word for the upcoming school year.        Stakeholders in our school community are “Meadow Mice,” and Meadow Mice have moxie! I plan to use that language in driving a message of hope, inspiration, and unlimited possibility.

Another way to describe someone with moxie is to say that he or she has the ability to face challenging circumstances with audacity. For my money, people who face challenging circumstances with audacity do so because they believe they can overcome the challenges embedded within those circumstances.

I would further speculate that the same people believe overcoming challenges is a pathway to learning and growth. I would even go so far as to suggest that they might consider that possibility a certainty. I do, which leads me to “optimism.”

Optimism.

One defining characteristic of an optimistic person is that he or she considers any challenge to be: short term, limited in scope, and manageable. This consideration is in contrast to a pessimistic the viewpoint that some challenges (if not all) are permanent, pervasive, and insurmountable.

People trapped in a pessimistic paradigm preemptively and consistently defeat themselves, drive negative tones and worry into the cultures in which they serve, and, while typically not intentionally, they tend to counteract positive progress.

Taking an optimistic tact, conjoined with holding a core founded on moxie can greatly enhance our ability to carve positive pathways for ourselves and for those we serve. It’s a good start anyway, and if you’re worried that “moxie” and “optimism” are well and good, but possibly shallow and vague, let’s talk tactics. A solid problem solving process can be relied upon to take a focused & progressive attitude to the next level.

Problem Solving.

For the purpose of leadership and learning I tend to consider problem solving on two fronts: supportive and restorative.

Supportive Problem Solving. This is what educators and parents do when we work out the details for the kids we serve. Here is the four-step process my team and I have refined to use for both academic and behavioral intervention and enrichment thinking and implementation (I am increasingly consistent in using the same process in my personal life as well…it seems to work when I do):

  1. Identify the challenge (what’s happening that calls for the problem solving process?)
  2. Consider the reason through multiple lenses (why might this be happening according to various lines of thought?)
  3. Assign a connected course of remediation (what can we do to address the challenge though intervention and/or enrichment?)
  4. Decide on data-collection methodology and a time-line (how will we understand the impact of our chosen remediation & when will we evaluate that impact for next steps?)

Restorative Problem Solving. This is what kids (and adults) do when they (we) work out challenges for themselves (ourselves), particularly social challenges in which someone is treating them (us) in counterproductive ways, or ways that they (we) don’t appreciate.

Restorative problem solving rests on regulating and restoring energy levels and emotions to a place where rational thoughts prevail so that rational, positive actions can be taken.

Click the following link to explore a post in which I write about restorative problem solving more extensively on the foundation of the “Color Zones of Regulation.”

The basics exist within another four-step process:

  1. Tell the person what they’re doing that you don’t appreciate (“You’re calling me names.”)
  2. Tell the person how it makes you feel (“When you call me names I feel sad and angry.” Some educators refer to this as an “I” statement).
  3. Tell the person what you would like them do from now on (“Please don’t call me names anymore.”)
  4. If steps 1-3 don’t work out, remove yourself from the situation and enlist the help of a trusted adult, or a supervisor if you are an adult. I am always available to work with kids, teachers, parents, and colleagues on restorative problem solving as needed. My efforts in this collaborative work revolve around Stephen Covey’s advice to assume positive intentions, seek shared understanding, work toward wellbeing for everyone involved, and promote positive progress.

Positive Partnerships.

Finally, unless the progress you seek exists in a vacuum in which you’re alone, trusting and positive partnerships are critical.

The key is to stack each of the previously listed concepts on top of one another to set a workable foundation for the partnerships you form and perpetuate.

With moxie, optimism, and a commitment to shared standards of intentional problem solving in mind and in practice, partnerships can and will thrive, even and especially within the often challenging and frequently uncertain waters of parenting and education.

The very language we use can either drive or diminish a culture of positive progress. Words cast into cultures like rocks into water, rippling shock waves that stretch out as far as they are permitted to.

While making way for optimistic tones to ring out loud, clear, and indefinitely, we must each do our part to thwart gloom and crush cynicism. We must do so on behalf of ourselves, and most importantly, on behalf of the kids we serve.

When we enlist moxie, maximize optimism, firmly root ourselves in intentional problem solving, and dig deep to maintain positive partnerships, we are all significantly better off.

Being human, we are sometimes discontented, we occasionally fall into slumps of doubt, and we are each as fallible as one another. In that, we can sympathize with and support one another.

As I work to take the tact described in this post I find the need to regularly forgive myself for falling off course, and to always shake off the dust as I regroup and reset. The more I do, the better I become, the less I fall, and the quicker I recover.

After 43 years of ups and downs I’m certain that moxie, optimism, problem solving, and positive partnerships perpetuate progress. If that ship goes down, I’ll be on it.

Still, there are many things about which I remain uncertain. My hope and inspiration comes from the fact that even with regard to those things, the ones about which I remain uncertain, I am confident that I can always find my way to being positive and thereby making a positive impact on myself and on those I serve.

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

What KIND are you?

I’m constantly looking for tools and strategies connected to emotional regulation and restoration, for myself, and for those I serve. I believe both contribute significantly to effective communication and meaningful relationship building. Each of us comes across challenging times during which our blood pressure rises and our vision blurs. A walk, a deep breath, some reflective writing, drawing or paining, talking to a friend, and so on; there are lots of effectual ways to calm the heart and settle the mind.

Among those ways is the transfer of kindness, and it works both ways. Simple acts of kindness don’t only make the receivers of that kindness feel good; they also have the potential to significantly impact the giver in positive ways.

With that in mind, I ask, what kind are you?

Here’s a list of a few kinds I can think of:

The hold the door kind. This kind is pretty basic. This is the kind who sees someone walking up behind and decides to step aside and hold the door rather than charge ahead. Sometimes this kind sacrifices a quicker trip to the counter or a better seat on the train. This kind doesn’t mind. This kind is rewarded by a smile or a nod. This kind enjoys the moment of shared humanity that generally transpires as a result of the humble act of holding a door.

The comfort kind. This kind is there when needed. This kind is a listener. This kind can deliver a message of compassion with his or her eyes. This kind truly seeks to understand. This kind is a friend first. This kind assumes positive intentions. This kind feels deeply, and this kind genuinely hopes that a listening ear and an open heart can support positive pathways for those entangled in challenging times.

The shine a light on others kind. This kind operates on the foundation of what Covey refers to as an abundance paradigm. This kind is happy when others achieve and this kind actively celebrates the achievement of others. This kind believes that the world is a better place when serenity and joy are spread far and wide rather than concentrated. This kind is excited to share and thrilled to be a part of the advancement of others.

The invite and include kind. This kind looks for opportunities to include. This kind seeks those out who struggle to get involved. This kind is actively aware when someone is standing off to the side, but seems to want to be a part of whatever action is fashionable in the moment. This kind smiles and reaches out. This kind is happy to show and to share. This kind feels good when he or she plays a role in putting a smile on someone else’s face. This kind understands the significant and profound nature of human interactions, and this kind seeks to build as many bonds between as many people as possible. This kind recognizes that even, and especially through our diversity, there runs a common thread linking us all together in a cosmic chain. This kind thrives on the strength of that chain.

The give gifts kind. This kind looks for ways to surprise those around him or her with gifts. This kind tries to understand the wants and the needs of others, and thrives on finding ways to translate those wants and needs into tangibles. It might be a piece of chocolate on your desk, a card expressing gratitude, or even a cool new bike. This kind is overjoyed at the delight associated with the giving as defined by the hopes and desires of others.

The gratitude kind. This kind is authentically grateful. This kind also knows that sharing gratitude can be deeply empowering, and that it feels good to appreciate and to be appreciated. This kind moves through life with a sense of good fortune associate with the people and things he or she has access to, and the experiences he or she is blessed to have. This kind expresses gratitude regularly and feels that the expression of gratitude is more than a passing pleasantry, but a model of healthy living. This kind is not looking to receive gratitude (although he or she welcomes and enjoys it), but rather to show anyone who’s looking that living with it is a boon to personal and communal balance, harmony, tranquility, and joyfulness.

The smile a lot kind. This kind smiles as much as possible. This kind believes that people should smile when they’re happy, and that smiling can serve as a catalyst to happiness. This kind can feel a smile on his or her face and on his or her heart. This kind allows smiling to infect him or her, and he or she believes that a smile is infectious to others, too (whether on not they understand, appreciate, or admit it).

I believe we’re each at least one kind, and probably more. I also believe that we can each learn to be any kind we want to be. It simply takes interest and effort. What kind or kinds are you? What kind would you like to be?

It’s fun to try out new kinds too. If you’re interested, you should give it a shot. You might just find that it’s cool to be kind. Personally, I feel almost certain you will. But then, I’m the naively optimistic, hopeful, and filled with faith in the human spirit kind.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

3 Ways To Practice Forgiveness, 2 Reasons To Consider It, & 1 Disclaimer

Near Seems Bigger

Do you ever have moments you’d like to return? Have you ever thought better of an action or a decision and wished you could step back in time? Is there an occasion you can recall in which bringing your best would have been wonderfully effective, but instead you brought something else?

Have you flopped? Have you failed? Have you disappointed yourself? Have you disappointed someone else? Has something like this happened to you? Has it happened repeatedly? If so, congratulations! Not only do these circumstances represent powerful opportunities for learning and growth, but if you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, I can verify with a high degree of certainty that, like me, you’re a human being; a flawed but extraordinary thing to be.

The 3 Ways:

1. Forgive Yourself. Do it. You can thank yourself afterward. Forgiving yourself is a boon for maximizing the learning and growth of which I speak. It’s not always easy. Not for me anyway. Sometimes you’re not forgiven by others, and in those cases it’s especially not easy. But still, do it. Don’t forget. Don’t overlook. Don’t dismiss. Just forgive, and then, reflect with intention. Don’t repeat the same mistakes too many times; a few will do. Be strong in your resolve to make positive progress. Focus on your core values as you reflect. Enlist strength to defeat frustration. Never give up. Try to remember things that are near can seem bigger than things that are far. Down the line you might even wonder why forgiveness was needed in the first place. Still, I would suggest that it might be.

Think about what might happen if you make strides with each opportunity; even tiny strides. Do it. If you don’t like it or see value in it, stop. But I think you will. If you already do it, keep it up, even and especially when it’s most challenging. Give yourself permission to stumble, and if you don’t catch yourself, to fall. All the while, remember that you’re brave, strong, and in every way capable of bringing your best at every turn; dark, light, or otherwise.

2. Forgive Others When They Ask For Forgiveness. Grudges are bad. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone along the way, but don’t waste time obscuring your positive progress with extended negativity. I believe most people are well meaning. Like us, they stumble and they fall. Give the benefit of the doubt, maintain optimism, consider that good intentions abound, suppose that pain could be the root of hurtful behavior and that sadness might be the foundation of insensitivity, and then use those considerations to exercise compassion in the face of frustration. Take an apology as an invitation to support someone in learning and growth. Give them that gift.

3. Forgive Others Before They Ask For Forgiveness. Why wait? If you agree that forgiveness is a positive thing you might consider carrying some with you all the time. A reserve, if you will. Even a bit of “just in case” forgiveness can go a long way. Most people mean you no harm, and those that do are typically seeking to gain power over you. Dissolve that possibility. Don’t be harmed. Be strong. Have resolve. Again, stick to your core.

The 2 Reasons:

1. Practicing Forgiveness Is Good For You. When you practice forgiveness in any of the ways listed above you open yourself up to a world of possibilities that tends to be stifled by the opposite. Again, forgiveness and apathy are wildly different things. When you forgive the humanness of any given situation and the human being within it, with the understanding that we learn from bumps on the road, you stand a chance at paving the section of road you just stumbled on. Pave it. You bring your best when you seek do so. You enhance the world when you bring your best.

2. Practicing Forgiveness Is Good For Those You Serve. Speaking of enhancing the world, we are all servants. I mostly speak to parents, educators, and organizational leaders because that’s my wheelhouse, as it were. When we offer forgiveness we model forgiveness. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. We should be teaching those we serve, especially the children we serve, about the power of forgiveness and we should support them in learning to exercise it themselves. Practicing it might just be the best way. Besides, it feels good to be forgiven. It promotes confidence and suggests value. Confident people who feel valued contribute great things to the world.

The 1 Disclaimer:

1. I Could Be Wrong. It’s a human thing. My thoughts and ideas on this and all other topics of which I think, speak, and write are inexorably tainted by my limited capacity to understand the complexities of this world and inescapably skewed by the experience I’m having within it. In other words, this stuff might work for you and it might not. It’s really just food for further reflective thought.

So, if forgiveness isn’t currently a part of your paradigm and you decide to consider it on the basis of reading this post…and, if doing so isn’t effective for you…please forgive me, or not. I already have.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

A Happy Thing

I belong to a small neighborhood gym.  It’s not much, but it’s plenty for me.  Something unique about the morning locker room population at this gym is that I’m among very few men under the age of a hundred & twenty five.  While that might be a slight exaggeration, there really is some serious senior socializing happening.  I love it.  These guys are wandering back and forth from the lounge to the steam room, wrapped in little white towels, talking about everything from politics to pizza, shrugging their shoulder, flapping their hands, and rolling their eyes at one another.  In the midst of that shrugging, flapping, and rolling, they seem to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the nuances of their little old man banter.  I enjoy it too.

I mostly listen.  However, knowing that in the relatively near future I myself am likely to be a towel wrapped, shoulder shrugging, hand flapping, eye rolling, little old man, I do try to work my way into the conversations every so often; for practice.  Isn’t it amazing, almost unfathomable?  I’m not complaining.  I know there are many joys that go hand in hand with aging…increased wisdom, enhanced knowledge, the early bird dinner special.  It’s just that there’s something mind-blowing about knowing that if I manage to last another forty years, I will undoubtedly be reflecting on what I now know as “today” with statements like, “it seemed like yesterday,” and it will seem like “yesterday,” only it won’t be “yesterday,” it will be forty years ago.  Time moves pretty darn fast.  I recently had cause to remember that every moment is precious, and that maximizing happiness is a good idea if you’re looking to live a happy life.  The undeniable truth is that each of us is happiest when we’re happy.

One of the guys at the gym is named Fred.  Yesterday Fred stopped me and asked, “Did you hear about Herman?”

I had not.

Fred told me, “He had a heart attack.

I asked how he was doing.

Fred said, “He died.”

My heart sank.  Last week Herman was going on about his grandchildren.  He was beaming.  He was filled with joy.  Herman was always filled with joy.  It billowed out of him like steam from a fog machine.  Wherever Herman was, so there was the joy…flowing from him, seeping out, spreading, attaching itself to everyone in its path.  Herman wouldn’t allow anything but happiness.  He smiled in the face of bitterness, offering the jelly donuts and bagels with cream cheese (which he brought to share every morning).

If someone said, “I’m having hip surgery next week,” Herman would say, “Oh…have a jelly donut.”

If someone said, “My sciatica is acting up,” Herman would say, “Oh…have a bagel with cream cheese.”

He would smile when he suggested these things.  He made the others want to accept his offerings.  He made people understand that it really was that simple to focus on joy.  During the moments Herman spent with you, you knew how to countermand the negative with the positive.  He was always quietly teaching an important life skill.  Maybe it was his mission.  I never realized how impactful Herman’s message was until I found out that he had passed.  Once I did, that realization was instantaneous.

Friends come in all shapes and sizes.  I never hung out with Herman outside of the locker room.  His children are old enough to be my parents.  We never talked on the phone or met up at the mall.  Regardless, Herman was my friend.  I hope he knew that.  I believe he did.  I will miss him, but to honor his legacy, I will do so with happiness in my heart.  I will carry Herman’s message with me, and work to exemplify his joyful spirit as I tread my path.  For me, old man-ness is but the blink of an eye away from right now.  I intend to be a joyful old man.  I will do my best to be joyful in all of the moments from now until then, and when I fail…I will do better.  I will find the positive stuff among the negative stuff, because I will focus on it.

I think that Herman was suggesting that our moments as we know them are fleeting and limited.  He thought that eating jelly donuts and bagels with cream cheese was a better use of time than complaining or feeling sad.  He thought that smiling was better than frowning, and he showed what he thought through his words and his actions.

Commendable, brave, and wise.

There’s a proverb that suggests, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly.”  Fred told me that the last thing Herman said, with his friends and family at his side, just before he passed, was, “Don’t be sad, this is a happy thing.”  He said it with a smile.

Dignified.

I don’t know what happens to people when they die.  I wonder if caterpillars know what happens to their caterpillar friends as they loose them to cocoons.  I wonder if they’re scared when as they watch their fellow caterpillars embark on that journey, or as they prepare to take it themselves.  What do they think is going to happen?  Do they ever get to know?  Does it matter?

This reflection is dedicated to my friend Herman, and to his endless pursuit of happiness, even in the face of life’s many challenges and mysteries.  Thank you for sharing you gift of positive energy, and for always reminding me that happiness is the way.  Wherever you are along the pathways of your journey, I hope that peace and joy are with you.  Having known you for even a moment, I have to believe that they are.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Mirror, Mirror

Fairness

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  Are you looking for particular information, like the evil queen desperately wanting to be the “fairest of them all?”  If so, and you find that you’re not the fairest, are you the type who would serve up a poisonous apple to the one who is?  Can comparative reflection catalyze authentic growth?  Maybe?  What about individualized reflection with comparative components?  For example, what if the evil queen was simply seeking to be the fairest that she could be…her fairest self?  What if she had asked the mirror to show her a pathway to potential lifestyle choices that would propagate growth and development in such a way as to maximize her own fairness without directly comparing it to the fairness of others, but possibly cross referencing the fairness of others (along with their individual journeys leading to that fairness) in an effort to generate a potential means to that end for herself (no doubt a less marketable storyline for Disney, but maybe a better example of reflective learning and growth? Who knows?)

Let’s face it…we are each unique.  We can’t always become what we see, what we admire, or what we wish we could be, and in many ways, that simply doesn’t seem fair (and it certainly doesn’t seem to be the fairest).  However, I would argue that critical and consistent reflection, drawing on comparative analysis without resting on comparisons for individualized outcomes, can fosters and maximize fairness in meaningful ways.

Poisonous Apples

How much energy should a person spend working on the degradation of the people, places, and/or ideas that they see in their rear view mirrors, as opposed to working on the positive promulgation of people, places, and/or ideas that lay ahead of them?  What’s the point of distributing poisonous apples?  What benefit can we derive from the defamation or breakdown of others?  Would it not serve us better, specifically as we seek reflective development, to identify and articulate the positive attributes of those we pass, rather that highlighting their perceived negative ones…especially because perception, like beauty, is arguably in the eye of the beholder?

Unless I’m missing something, it seems important to view reflective growth though a lens of abundance and optimism, rather than one of resentment and scarcity.  I’ve seen it done both ways.  I hate to admit it, but I’ve done it both ways.  Having seen and done so, I have come to firmly believe that a compassionate, positive, optimistic, individualized, and celebratory reflective paradigm is enhanced tenfold over a negative, diminishing, targeted, and excusatory one (and frankly, I don’t even know if “excusatory” is a real word – creative license rocks!).

Sharing Light bulbs & Letting It Happen

For those of us in educational leadership, we are well served (and better able to enhance the lives of those we serve) when we can recognize and perpetuate positive reflective growth in others.  I recently had an amazing experience.  While monitoring the cafeteria on day last week (“other duties as assigned”), an eighth-grade boy responded to me with unrestrained disrespect, which wasn’t the amazing experience, just a fundamental preemptive annotation.  Stick with me.  I’m getting there.

If you’ve never faced a cafeteria occupied by almost four hundred eighth graders on the second-to-last full day of school, I’ll invite you to invoke your imagination.  It’s an energized space.  These young people are truly bustling with end-of-the year enthusiasm.  A great majority of the students in our school community are very well mannered.  For the most part, they make thoughtful decisions scaffolded by solid core values.  During the moment that I’m referencing now, this young man did not.  So there I was, doing my best to maintain a safe and sanitary environment in which these kids could rejuvenate and nourish themselves, when all of the sudden, I was staring down an opportunity for shared reflective growth.  Exciting, to say the least!  Actually, I was “marching” the young man to the office in a bit of huff, but “excited for positive, reflective growth” sounds better, and deep down, it’s always my intention.

Here’s the thing, when we got to the office, this insightful kid pushed ahead of any assistant principal huffing and puffing I might have unintentionally slipped into by saying, “Mr. Berg, I was being silly with my friends, and for some reason, I couldn’t switch from being silly to being serious when I started talking to you.”  In that moment, he was being critically reflective.  In doing so, he showed incredible self-awareness, identifying an inability to effectively code in that situation.  I was thrilled, and frankly, I had to sit back and reset for a moment.  We went into an upbeat and thorough conversation about self-awareness, coding, and the importance of critical reflection.  We celebrated the fact that he could identify this challenge, and we enthusiastically decided that spending some time thinking about how important communication is in high school and beyond would be a positive use of some of his time this summer.

The student teaches the teacher!  How cool.  It reminded me that the sharing of reflective growth might be as important as reflective growth itself.  I would argue that being willing to learn from the reflection of others…whether they’re your students, your teachers, your friends, your children, or even total strangers, is an important characteristic of those who learn best.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

When You Can’t Be Certain, Be Positive

I’m about to wrap up my first year as a public school administrator.  While there have been many incredible challenges to overcome, a multitude of remarkable moments to celebrate, and seemingly limitless opportunities for reflective growth, in many ways, I feel as though the school year began about ten minutes ago.  As with any job in education, mine is filled with long and fast-paced workdays, that are chalk full of excitement.  Sometimes that fast pace is energizing, and other times it’s exhausting.  At all times (energized and exhausted), I feel truly fortunate to get to do this work!

One of the more delightful confirmations I’ve been repeatedly reminded of this year is that we in K-12 public education are doing good work for children!  We are helping them grow.  We are keeping them safe.  We are providing joyful spaces in which they are poised to thrive, and we are offering abundant opportunities for positive learning and growth.  We are not perfect.  I am certainly not perfect.  However, a building administrator’s lens has been an incredible and rewarding perspective from which to witness this outstanding process.  Furthermore, the “not perfect” part is the part that has been most valuable in my ability to build capacity.  For me, there is always something to learn, and always some direction in which to grow.

Coming in this past fall, I understood that the middle age learner experiences unreal development over the course of a relatively short period of time.  I knew (as has now been substantiated with sharp clarity) that children in the fall of their sixth-grade year are all but completely different people from who they become by the spring of their eight-grade year.  Essentially, they arrive as elementary students and leave as high school students.  It’s truly an amazing transformation!  What I didn’t fully understand at the onset was the magnitude of transformative growth that takes place over the duration of just one middle school year.

I am awed by the development that gets packed into ten and a half months of each of these amazing children’s lives.  What a remarkable test for them and for us.  It’s a wonderful, but confusing time to say the least.  Among the many positive aspects of engaging from a new perspective has been that all year long I’ve felt a heightened connectedness, due in large part to the fact that, like the students I serve, I’ve been growing at an accelerated rate too.  I’ve needed to.  My learning curve was quite steep (still climbing).  Like the students, I had to take what I knew of myself and actively transform with each step along a critical and challenging path.

It’s been an exhilarating and sometimes frightening course of action, and here’s some learning that hit me hard: during intense periods of growth it is not always possible to be certain.  Here’s a suggestion that’s been invaluable to me in the light of that learning:  even (and arguably – especially) when you can’t be certain, be positive!  The bad news (which technically doesn’t need to be articulated because of its obviousness) is that I am still not able to remain positive during every situation.  Ironically, I’m close to certain that I never will be.  Being a flawed human being isn’t always easy.  However, I am getting better with each moment that I actively put my mind to the task and reflect on my progress.  I’ve found success at building capacity through that mindfulness and reflection.

Possibly even more ironically, one situation that really pushes me to the limit is when others insist that they can’t, or don’t want to see though positive lenses.  Even worse (for my ability to remain positive) is when people actively decide not to grow (though they know we all do, whether we like it or not).  Just the other day someone looked at me and insisted, “I’m doing the best I can…this is who I am, and that’s what I’ve got to work with” with reference to a situation that’s negatively impacting a child.  It really didn’t sit well with me, so I insisted, “Well, you’re going to have to do better!”  That didn’t sit well with either of us.  For the person I was talking to, it probably sounded presumptuous (actually, probably not probably…but actually).  For me, I know there’s a better path to fostering understanding and growth than a short, frustrated outburst.

I appreciate the essence though.  The “doing the best I can,” part seems positive when it’s looked at in any given moment.  What gets me piqued is the “this is who I am, and that’s what I’ve got to work with” part.  People are living things.  All living things are constantly growing, changing, developing, and building capacity for new and augmented competencies all the time.  Especially when it comes to the wellbeing of the children we serve, we have to believe that our enhanced ability to serve them has a coaxial relationship with our consistent building of capacity.

We’ve got think positively about it.  Why not believe that we are each becoming something we might not be able to imagine?  I don’t exactly remember, but I would guess that as an incoming sixth grader I couldn’t have imagined what I would will be/feel/know, or what capacity I would have developed upon becoming an outgoing eighth grader.  Likewise, I couldn’t have known how this first year would transform me as an administrator, and I certainly don’t know what capacity I might build/access in the upcoming years of my career in educational leadership.  Because I can’t be certain, I’m going to be positive.  I am going to put myself out there, stretch my comfort zone, remain committed to reflective growth, and believe that the possibilities are limitless.  For me, it feels right, and so far…it’s proven at least a decent way to live, learn, serve, and lead.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Sacrifice & Gratitude

I wasn’t planning to post today.  I have way too much work to do before heading home for swimming and park playing with my wife and kids.  So, this is going to be brief!  Upon receiving a much-appreciated cup of coffee, the barista at my local café sent me off with a very pleasant, “enjoy ‘Grilling Day’!”  She meant well.  I was lifted up by her authentic smile and the effort that I know it takes to consistently provide excellent service, even while working on a holiday.  The word service can be defined as: the action of helping or doing work for someone.

This morning, the barista that I’m referring to helped me.  She worked on making a very tasty cup of coffee that I’m extremely grateful to be drinking right now, and then she enhanced my experience by adding well wishes and a smile.  I appreciate all of it, and on this beautiful Memorial Day, it made me think about what it means to serve in our military.  I’m in the habit of thanking our military personnel for their service, which seems appropriate given the work that they do to help an enormous amount of people.  However, today, as I reflect on what that service truly means, I wonder if I should actually be thanking those in uniform for their service…AND their sacrifice.  They certainly work hard to help others, but think about the implications of that work.

The word sacrifice can be defined as: the act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.  The men and women who bravely serve in our military are protecting the freedoms we enjoy, while literally risking their lives.  Is it not incredible that these courageous individuals consider the fidelity of our freedoms to be more important than the potential of losing their own lives…and in extension, that they act on that consideration?  Military service is a true expression of putting the many above the few, or the one.  I can only assume that soldiers would want us to celebrate by enjoying that which they put themselves in harms way to provide and perpetuate.  I can only imagine they would celebrate the knowledge that we are here, grilling burgers, swimming in pools, laughing and playing, taking some time off to live the kind of lives that they, and their predecessors, have, and continue to sacrifice so selflessly to preserve.

Only through reflective projection can I even begin to consider that soldiers around the world are smiling today, thinking of their loved ones, and the multitude of others, who are safe in their freedoms as a direct result of the ultimate service and sacrifice that they have chosen to extend.  I am grateful.  I am grateful to those who serve and sacrifice today, and for those who have given so much to sustain the wonderful life that I am able to share with the people I love.  I am truly grateful that my children are growing up in a place where they can feel comfortable.  I am grateful to know that there are people who care so deeply about that comfort, that they leave their own homes and families to travel around the world, taking extreme measures to ensure it.  I think of them with the hope that they will return safely, and I grieve the loss, and with deep gratitude, celebrate the courage of those who have not.

I think that grilling, playing, laughing, and swimming are all wonderful activities to do today.  I simply think that as we do them, we should be sure that they are coupled with extreme and authentic gratitude.

I hope you have a peaceful, happy, and reflective Memorial Day.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

There’s A Bug On My Hand & The LIght Bulb has Got To Want To Change

Playing at the Park:  A Learning Adventure

My wife and I were playing in the park with our kids the other day.  We were hanging at the swings with our two-year-old and our soon-to-be one-year-old when we heard a shriek from across the monkey bars.  Our four-year-old was doing an obstacle course maneuver over a wooden fence, during which (& much to his dismay) a bug landed on his hand.  “Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh!”  I looked up to see that he was bouncing around, holding one hand in the other, and crying hysterically (a solid, full-on, hyperventilating cry – this big guy leaves very little to the imagination when it comes to expressing his discontent).  I figured that a splinter from the worn wood had jabbed him in the palm, or that he knocked his funny bone in just the right way, or possibly that a confused squirrel had attempted to nest in his hair (again, it was a pretty intense shriek).

So, in line with any delusional father who believes that a calm reaction can make pain and/or fear instantly diminish, I strolled over with a raised brow and a combined look of compassion and confusion, and I serenely asked, “What’s the scoop Bud?”  Now convulsing uncontrollably, alligator tears streaming down his face, lower lip forcibly curled and trembling, an impressive, globular string of drool emerging from the corner of his mouth, and through an Oscar caliber puppy dog whimper, he mustered the strength to utter, “A-a-a…a b-b-b…bug l-l-l…landed o-o-o-on my ha…ha…hand!”  I would be remiss if I neglected to articulate that this particular child has somewhat of a flare for the dramatic.  I don’t where he get’s it.  No one in my family is overly dramatic.  Must be from his mother’s side (nice folks none-the-less).

Anyway, the very next thing he said was, “I want to have my birthday party inside this year.”  I love this guy!  What a mind!  If you spend any time with children you quickly realize that their personalities shine as bright as interrogation lamps (stars felt a bit cliché…but you get my meaning).  I can picture how it went down.  He felt a bit of a tickle on the back of his hand.  He was in mid-climb.  He reached down for a quick scratch.  Then came the moment of shock and distress, the instant of realization when he was supremely aware that no mere scratch would remedy this situation…the disgust, the awfulness, the unadulterated terror of being faced with the knowledge that this was no simple itch.  No patch of dry skin or wind gust could have caused this sensation.  He felt the bug.  Even worse, he may have crushed the bug with his gargantuan human child finders (ironic, isn’t it).  Can you imagine the shudders that ran down his spine and lingered in his soul?  Chilling!  I truly love that he projected the possibility of a bug landing on him again, and the need for a bug-secured birthday party.  I giggled as he continued to cry and leap into my arms.

But here’s the rub, kids (along with the rest of us) are intense and easily distracted by lots of stuff.  It makes sense.  They’re figuring things out.  This one has only been alive for four years.  Kindergarteners have only been alive for five years.  Fifth graders have only been alive for ten years.  High school freshmen have only been alive for thirteen or fourteen years!  Considering the intense volume and sheer magnitude of things I have yet to understand at the tender age of forty gives rise to the notion of distraction as an important part of the developmental learning/growth process.  Let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken, and when I reach for an itch that turns out to be a big, hairy bug crawling on me, I’m startled enough to consider an indoor birthday party.  I had to carry this kid around the park for next half hour.  What fun for the both of us.  He was eventually able to make his way around independently again.  He joyfully returned to swinging and sliding, and I’m guessing that he might even re-consider an outdoor birthday party.  However, it’s the intense and immediate distraction that peeks my interest from an educational leadership perspective.  We have an agenda.  We have learning standards and pacing guidelines that must in be taken seriously, and rightfully so.

As our students progress, they do need to develop skills and understandings appropriate to next steps at each level of growth and achievement.  Also, bugs on their hands (along with many other legitimate distractions) will contribute and/or detract from their focus and motivation.  How do we, as educators, account for, appreciate, and value that which is important to the individuals we serve while perpetuating cultures of collaborative learning and universal progress?  In what ways can we recognize that bugs on hands are legitimate issues to be addressed, and keep the growth train moving simultaneously?

Some related stuff I’m working to improve upon      

            Seeking First to Understand.  Here we go again with the darned Covey references!  Whether in a disciplinary situation with a student, a professional learning effort with colleagues, or in partnership/communication with parents, I am consistently working hard to remind myself that we each have a personal, unique, and deeply critical perspective; critical in part because our individual perspectives drive our motivation, and in part because it is through those perspectives that we are able to contribute to the achievement of universal outcomes.

Recognize, Appreciate, & Address the Bugs.  Wouldn’t it be great if our organizations ran like clockwork simply because we want them to.  What if we could will every learner to be ready and excited for each new day of exploration?  What if educational leaders were able to effortlessly perpetuate positive partnerships with all stakeholders simply by knowing how effective optimism, collaboration, and mutual respect are in growth and development?  That would be cool.  However, as we know, this stuff takes lots of dedication and hard work.  One piece of the partnership puzzle is that bugs cannot simply be brushed off (pun intended).  I am working hard to remind myself that when communication doesn’t seem to be working, it could be about a real and important distraction.  I am working hard to listen with an open heart and an open mind, so that when my partners (be they students, teachers, parents, colleagues, or other school community stakeholders) need to address bugs that land on their hands, I can compassionately assist.

Be Patient.  How many people does it take to change a light bulb?  One, but the light bulb has got to want to change.  I know that as an educational leader I must remember that change, while ever-present, is a patient process, and that each of us needs to see the value in potential growth before we are able to fully engage.  To that end, I am focused on listening and learning, modeling and encouraging, and being patience as those who I serve work independently and collectively to learn and grow through the constant changes that drive progress in our learning community.  I just wish it wouldn’t take so long:)!

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Are You My Leadership Philosophy?

Do you remember the classic P. D. Eastman book, “Are You My Mother?”  In the book, a baby bird is hatched while his mother is searching for food.  Realizing that his mother is gone, he sets out to find her.  His first step out of the nest is a long fall, followed by a plop on the hard ground.  He’s not able to fly (yet), so he begins his search on foot.  He’s never seen his mother, and he knows nothing of the world, so he askes each charater he comes across if he, she, or it, is her.  In the beginning of his journey, he walks right past his actuall mother and doesn’t even know it.

He asks a kitten, dog, a hen, a cow, a truck, a boat, a plane, and even a “snort” (which, as you may remember is a steam shovel).  None of them are his mother.  Just as he becomes tired, frustrated, and maybe even a bit frightened, the “snort” sets him down in a nest.  As fate would have it, it’s the very nest in which he was hatched, and also the very same one that his mother eventually returns to with a loving smile and a fresh worm.  This time, after his long serach, and a bit more experiential knowledge, he recognizes her.  She’s a bird, he’s a bird, and she is…without a doubt, his mother!

Now mother’s don’t evolve in the way that leaderhsip philopophies can.  By that I mean, your mother is your mother, and that’s that.  However, the bird’s search for his missing mother gives inspires me to think about the evolution of my leadership philopophy, especially as a first year administrator.  I’ve been thinking about leadership for several years now.  My interest extends way back into grade school, where I explored my leadership self at school, in clubs, on sports teams, etc.  Throught my leadership life, I’ve been blessed to come across, and learn from an incredible cast of characters.  The amazing people I know and work with continue to help me understand myself, my role, and my values in deeper and more meaningful ways each day.

My leadership philosophy is grounded in core values that haven’t budged for as long as I can remember.  Those values are the things that drive who I am personally and professionally.  Among them are vision, hard work, optimism, communication, compassion, reflection, autonomy, faith, and more.  When I see, or am able to excersise those core values in my daily life, I recognize them and feel a great sense of comfort.  There are also uncomfortable times.  As you might imagine, I regularly find myself in situations that I haven’t been in before.

In my role as a new administrator I am often facing challenges for the first time.  When I do, I find it helpful to look to collegues, mentors, research, friends and family for input.  I am on a journey similar to P. D. Eastman’s baby bird.  In order to evolve, even though I do return to my core as a base of operations, I find it helpful to consistantly be asking, “are you my leadership philosophy?”  Every time I feel like I’ve got it down…I realize very quickly that there’s plenty more to learn.              Sometimes it starts with a long fall and a plop on the ground, then there’s the seemingly endless searching that leads to the relentless twists and turns.  Those twists and turns are sometimes followed by exhaustion, frustration, and maybe even fear, but finally, in every cycle, I end up face to face with the something that I recognize and am comforted by, mixed with some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.  While this never happens with my mother, it’s really cool when the bits and pieces I pick up on my journey add to that comfortable thing.  I think that every leader should have a solid base that excemplifies his/her composit core values.  However, I think it’s that drive to jump out of the proverbial nest, and that willingness to search that really pushes us to be our best for ourselves, and for those we serve!  And by the way…thanks mom!  I’m glad that you’re my mother.

 

A few thoughts/ideas you might consider:

– Jump out of the space you’re comfortable in…even if you fall and plop, because (and here’s the cheese) we do tend to walk before we can fly.

– Ask/look around.  Whether or not you feel your leadership style/philosophy is entact and effective, seek to evolve.

– Consider that you have everything to learn from everyone you encounter, and from every situation you find yourself in.  It’s amazing how people grow when they’re open to it!

–  Embrace change, celebrate diversity, thrive on possibility, and extend yourself by truly accepting others.  Every philisophical outlook you come across is not going to mesh with yours, but that doesn’t necissarily make it less valid.  Consider that someone else’s thoughts might fit into your paradim.  Ask, “are you my leadership philosophy?”  Whenever you can.

 

A few articles you might read/people you might follow:

http://whittyplcguy.blogspot.com/2014/03/get-back-up-again.html

by Tom Whitford

@twhitford

http://jonharper70.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/1-1-1/

by Jon Harper

@jonharper70bd

http://starrsackstein.com/category/community-outreach-education-should-extend-outside-the-classroom/#more-2629

by Starr Sackstein

@mssackstein

http://colorfulprincipal.blogspot.com/2014/03/meat-potatoes.html

by Ben Gilpin

@bengilpin

http://leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com/2014/03/40-things-i-know-about-education.html

by Tony Sinanis

@tonysinanis

are you my mother

Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.