Friday, May 10, 2019

May 8: Seeds planted

"The trunk of a tree is like a community where only one generation at a time is engaged in active business, the great mass of the population being retired and adding solidity and permanence to the social organism." - John Burroughs

"Space is not just going up and coming back down again. Space is getting into orbit and being there, living there, establishing a presence, a permanence." - Buzz Aldrin

The planting of a tree, a flag, or anything that takes time and effort to bury and keep, is both momentous and symbolic of something larger. It's an intentional act of permanence. It is an effort to permanently affect culture. It sends a message, though it may not be immediately recognized or received. This is what my team has done at the Graham Local Schools the past three years. I've called this blog planting seeds for a reason.

In fact, from my first Board action to hire the first SRO in Champaign County, Ohio, to my last hire here at Graham, my team has worked to disrupt the culture that was and to move forward by constructing new processes. We've added new leadership skill sets and communication protocols; strengthened relationships and the treatment of others; built new student traditions and honored our past with new ceremonies; developed community programs and partnerships that became permanent. We have been planting seeds that will grow and mature culturally in our absence long after these facts are forgotten. That is the work of leaders.

From new board policies to new choir robes, new STEM courses to new scholarships, new awards and new leaders, our team of partners have intentionally, routinely, and consistently altered history and put into motion new things that will never be undone. Through the planting of seeds that will grow unabated into the future and become the mighty tree trunks of the culture long after we have all moved on, we have taken the empty spaces around us, and the free spaces open for exploration, to change.

We experimented and failed and led and succeeded where others felt held back by comfort, fear, apathy, or unwillingness, to plant and sow the future, not just right beneath us, but over and above our heads, too. We have raised the eyes of our learners above and beyond the horizon of Graham, as we have cemented new culture beneath them.

Being a presence is one thing. Being permanent is another altogether. The seeds our team planted aren't for today or just the here and now. They never were. The #Legion abides.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

April 3: Where Have all the Dairy Bars Gone?

“I remember watching an episode of The West Wing about education in America, which the majority of people rightfully believe is the key to opportunity. In it, the fictional president debates whether he should push school vouchers or instead focus exclusively on fixing those same failing schools. That debate is important, of course...but it was striking that in an entire discussion about why poor kids struggled in school, the emphasis rested entirely on public institutions. "

"His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself."

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy

The IGA and its famous Dairy Bar are shuttered in Saint Paris. The sunny Saturday afternoon walks for a cool treat are gone. The chicken dinners and jo-jos are gone. The cheap veggies and local potato chips are gone. The memories will sting, and not be fond or sweet for a long time. The shock is too new to truly comprehend what it meant to the small community it served. Look down the road in either direction, and one could have seen this coming, what with the aggressive expansion of the dollar stores moving closer to the rural towns and villages around us all across America. That's what the competition does. Put up a gas station, build one across the street. 

Competition is king- the lifeblood of small town America is no different than the city streets. So why aren't we paying closer attention to our competition in education- they're right down the street? How long does it take to understand you have to fight a trend, or stand up for what matters? Doesn't an investment in ourselves matter most? One can sit around and be a "looky-lu" for decades, until one day, there is nothing left to look at.

Small public schools all across America are threatened with extinction in the same fashion as the beloved Dairy Bar. Swallowed up by vouchers and charters and online competition for our sweet little boys and girls of tomorrow, while local schools are left to rot by the neighboring destinations for learning "other people" choose. Locals can complain about big government and corporate America, the lack of state and federal funding, and point fingers at those "others", but in Ohio, there is most assuredly one vote that means more than any- funding local schools- and it's made by the locals, so no one else is really to blame.

You see the locals own the schools- they tell us this. They own the town. They own the village. They own the roads. And they own the outcomes, too. No ice cream! Woe is me. No quality schooling? Woe is all of us. We make decisions, and then there are outcomes. 

You know who those "other people" are? They are the ones who loved the Dairy Bar, and whose values are so meaningful they are willing to seek out and congregate with those who see opportunity in community building. Look no further than their schools. Those small schools thrive. They are the hubs of vibrant rural communities, and they are progressive places  that look and feel like a home town. They have students and graduates who become parents and who want to come back and help sustain the downtown, and build up the ball fields, and achieve together. They choose their destination.

There are tough questions to be asked of us locals behind the closing of the Dairy Bar. The problem is, they should have been asked ahead of it all, decades ago. Let's not leave the school question until its too late. All monuments weather, and some just melt away. I prefer sunny Saturdays.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

March 6: Lean In or Fall Out

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success" 
Henry Ford

"Strikes and gutters, ups and downs" 
The Dude

Any fan of bowling is a fan of both pin falls, and the body language of those rolling them. Pins react to the force imposed on them at varying speeds over time. That momentous collision creates force at angles and speeds that lead to change. The score is settled, the field of vision is cleared, and we do it again. Every frame is a new opportunity with a clear goal: high scores.

Watching bowling teams twist and contort their bodies and faces as they coax and cajole a curve ball or a few more mph out of their rolls is also much like prayer: strikes are rare for a reason, but the attempts are full of commitment and intention. Gutter balls are far more common, and our ability to lean into the lane helps us avoid falling out with our teams waiting for miracles to happen. Practicing improvement as a team makes us more efficient over time. It can also be fun. Watch any bowling league and see. 

Teams in schools are much the same. Assemble a group of elementary math teachers in a room with language arts teachers, and you'll see the same facial expressions and body language as they tackle their approach to use of time for their learners. Asking teachers in a secondary school to loosen up their content areas to share a cross-curricular project can smell like rental shoes to them. Sometimes educators miss out on the real opportunity in front of them- the league itself. They miss opportunities to build camaraderie among their teammates through their work, which ultimately, is more valuable to the team. A strong league consists of many unique teams. 

Bowling is what it is. The game requires you to make an attempt within a lane that has specific markings to guide you; there are tips for approaches literally marked with directional arrows that can spell success or doom. Sure there are different wax patterns and some layers are thicker than others; balls come in differing weights, and shoes can help or hurt; but the game of bowling can be boiled down to one fundamental premise: you have to approach the lane, lean into it, and focus on it to score pins at the other end. If you don't, you and your team cannot mathematically catch your opponents. So learn to embrace your role.

Recently I watched as a group of 50 high school students from 5 distinct school districts spent 1 day learning to become a team with new content, time pressure, and some fun competition. They were given a lane (global challenge), some gear, and a chance to shine together in teams. Much like a bowling league, the students learned some important lessons about relationships and teamwork throughout the day: 1) the game is defined for you; 2) everyone can't get special attention or "win" all the time; 3) the team score is always more important than any individuals; 4) you can have a lot of fun while attempting something new or different; 5) teams can always help individuals succeed.

No amount of shoe spray can fix a negative teammate, so falling out of the league can be hard. No one wants their name left off that special team shirt. We all want to feel a part of something even if our lane looks different than it used to. Leaning into change is much easier. We know gutter balls will occur, but there are plenty of frames available to try and try again. Doing it with a team is always more fun, and you might even roll a couple miracles along the way! 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

February 7: Fail Forward

"Ive not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Edison

"Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success." C.S. Lewis

Failing is common. I recently was presented a quote used by billionaire Warren Buffett about mistakes that stated that "half of all leadership decisions made are wrong." His posit was that the less mistakes made and problems encountered, the less leaders would fail. Therefore, mitigating possible mistakes and problems by being proactive, planning, and presenting a full case would hep leaders avoid problems, therefore avoiding being wrong when they have to make decisions. It's an interesting take on growth mindset and failure. If you know you're going to fail a lot up front, you'll be more apt to develop as a better leader who is prepared for it.

One of the worst mistakes we can make is failing at relational or attitude cues. Winter provides a perfect time to re-set mentally and reflect on the cues we see, or send out! The middle of winter in Ohio can be cause for much reflection and low spirits. Instead of feeling energetic, full of creativity and positive about work, educators fight the stress of weather delays, changing schedules, disrupted learning and fatigue from the longest sports and activity season of the year. Leaders, try flipping the script to keep the spirits up. Fight the "blahs" that infect morale when old man winter attacks purposefully with kindness, laughter, and some fun. 

The "Great Kindness Challenge" is just one way to provide a full week of structured events meant to shine a spotlight on all things nice, while also teaching children some valuable lessons about attitude, something we adults can use as well. Less formal ideas like a carry-in chilifest, or cake walks, can make for fun while they fill our bellies with a little sweet relief from winter, and some laughs with our colleagues.

Failure teaches us. When we get children and adults to embrace that it is OK to be imperfect- messy even- we learn. Experience is learning after the fact. The most experienced people in life are not, by nature, the most successful also, but they sure have learned a lot about attitude, both in winning and losing.

Look around a school district in the middle of winter and you'll spot those who have this figured out. They're still laughing. Harnessing a growth mindset and the resilient attitude needed to push through the implementation dips in life are the benchmarks we use to figure out true success, not only in our personal life, but also our careers. I've never seen anyone with a bad attitude have success. I've seen lots of people fail with great attitudes who end up successful!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

January 3: My 2019 #OneWord: FASTER

My #OneWord for 2019 is #FASTER

It's my #OneWord for 2019.
It was my word in 2018, and 2017, 2016, etc.
It's been used as a weapon and a critique against me, against public educators, against innovation, against change.
It's been used to celebrate champions and define winners.
It's been used to gauge progress, or a lack thereof.
It's been used to measure productivity, or stasis.

It's been a word I've associated with learning needs for children in public schools for over 25 years now. It's a word that speaks to a mission to prepare for their needs. It's a word I've heard over-used about change by politicians and the media and public school critics for decades, and they use it to create pressure and expectations. It's a word that annoys those who who don't like change or discomfort, or understand what it's really about- who's next. I'm interested in getting #FASTER for them.

Sure, it's also a word with power behind it. The word itself is an engine, a clarion, a gong, a bell, a siren, a speaks to pace and rate and time and urgency, and whatever else you want to make of it...#FASTER is about change. It's a personal and professional declaration.

Getting #FASTER isn't about how fast you move physically. It is about self-imposed speed limits.

Getting #FASTER isn't about the amount of change you can digest. It is about how you manage the volume coming at you.

Getting #FASTER isn't about recognizing change as a phenomenon that is never going away. It is about attempting to stay ahead of the game.

Getting #FASTER is about learning. It's all about you.
It's about defining your use of time
It's about your capacity to grow
It's about evolving in your thinking
It's about stretching
It's about boundaries
It's about your impact on others
It's about scale...and it's still my #OneWord

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

December 5: Traditions Were New Once

"Will you come travel with me?" 
Walt Whitman

"Men will always create new arenas for honor if traditional rituals fade."
Joel Dinerstein

Traditions matter. They are the time and date stamp on culture. Traditions are social, political, financial, and physical evidences of our shared values from the past, present, and our future. All traditions were once new. This is often forgotten. While time and age do not fade the importance of the sacred cows of our lives, creating traditions is often generalized as a one-off event or happening, something anointed or appointed. The truth is far more complex.

Culture is what you get after you build it, and traditions, ceremonies, and recognition events require a buy-in to some shared values or norms over time. Indeed, where there is no proof of buy-in, no consensus, no shared values, there are none. One can find lots of examples and proofs of common vision and missions, but scant evidence of the opposite. Therefore, not only do traditions matter in and of themselves, they are cultural beacons of collaboration, progress, and values. Take Superbowl commercials, for instance! They change annually, yet the tradition prevails.

Traditions are not timeless. Indeed, many are time bound. Sometimes they fall off due to change, and new traditions take their place. Sometimes they share space and time. Often, they accumulate. Rarely do they get cast aside, but often they evolve. Some are revived. Rarely are they extinguished, yet sometimes their powerful messages fade. They are the most tangible proofs of change. Does anyone know why champagne bottles are broken against the bows of newly christened ships today? From a historic perspective maybe not, but it's still dramatic and fun to watch.

Traditions speak to us in may ways. They connect generations. They highlight persons, groups, and organizational achievements. They celebrate our alumni and our youth. They tie reflection and progress together in a single moment. They are lessons learned and visions of the future all at once. They are one generation's Woodstock, another's Live Aid Concert. New or old don't equate to less valuable, for it's the consumers who matter. Those who observe traditions also evaluate them.

A parade is no more a celebration of what was than of what is, and they evolve. The players and parts and featured acts may not even look the same from one holiday or town to the next, though they carry on as a vehicle that buoys the culture on an annual basis, generation after generation, the way Santa Claus speaks to many of us, and Menorah lighting speaks to others.

While the circus seems to be a dying tradition, the number of rings and death defying acts of yesteryear don't diminish the feelings of nostalgia for many. For others, Ringling Bros. shuttering their famous March of the Elephants under Madison Square Garden last summer was simply an event, the last of its kind. Who is to say that traditions should stay or go? Often times its up to the majority. Sometimes its left to one's memory. Most of the time, its sharing that sustains those that matter most. They all matter, and were all new once.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

November 7: Gratitude

"A moment of gratitude makes a difference in your attitude" 
Bruce Wilkinson

This morning I have much to be thankful for. This is an important time for gratitude.

As a father, grandfather, and educator for over 24 years, I am thankful for so many in our community that care about public education. 

As a husband, I am grateful for a wife who tirelessly supports my career. She deserves better.

As a father, I am grateful for the sacrifices my children endure while I work in public education for other children. They deserve better.

As a partner to the group of volunteers I work with, I am forever grateful of the strong bonds and new friendships forged in the trenches together. You deserve thanks.

As an employee of 5 Board of Education members who champion Graham, personalized learning, and modern schooling, I am blessed to work for you. You deserve thanks.

As a supervisor of a fabulous team of administrators, I am grateful for that #Legion, who give their blood, sweat, and tears to bring equity and access to our children. You deserve recognition.

As a supervisor of a large group of wonderful teachers, I am grateful for their resilient leadership, dedication, and teamwork in the face of historic external odds. They deserve much better.

As an educator who is charged with providing a holistic experience in a healthy system to produce the next generation of Americans, I am grateful for the 1980 youth I serve daily, who remind me of my personal and professional vision and missions in public education. They all deserve the best I can give. I am grateful for you.

As a human being, I am grateful to those who took time to vote and to consider our historic need, and who championed Graham. Graham deserves this consideration.