Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Learning 2013 - Part A

It is morning and cold in the house.  I don't look forward to heading out today, though I know this is inevitable at some point.  It is New Year's Eve 2013, and there are noise makers and goofy party hats to purchase.  Dick Clark's Rockin' NYE on the tube tonight, even if Ryan Seacrest hosts and Dick Clark is departed from this life.  I wonder if they will change the title of the show in future years.  I drink coffee and begin to warm up and think about the past year and so ask my wife about her 2013.  Surely she will have a lot to say about it, as there have been many highs and lows for her this year.  She does not let me down.  As she talks, however, my mind wanders over my own 2013 and I think about goals and how I don't usually set them and I settle upon a quote I read somewhere online yesterday that said something along the lines of, "putting your thoughts and ideas on paper lets you start fixing them."  And I thought this was wise advice.

Now to start... that will be my first goal for 2014.  Just start.  At some point.  Any time now...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Good Reminder

Walking in to a quiet school today, I had no idea what to expect.  I think it is like that every day we walk in to our schools, which is one of the reasons we love it here: no day is the same as the one before it.  Today would be very different, however, as I received a visit from a former student.  She is a freshman this year, and thought she'd pop in to see if I was here over Winter Break.  I was, of course, and she ended up staying for the better part of the day.  We had lunch with my assistant principal (we both work most days over the holiday), and while perhaps I didn't get as much done as I had planned, I could not think of a better way to spend a cold, wintry day than with a student I am honored to know.

As educators, we keep in contact with many students over the years, and always like to think that we are making a difference in their lives.
Sometimes we don't see that until years later.
Sometimes not at all.
Sometimes we hear of their trials and tribulations.
Sometimes we hear of major success stories and all we can do is sit back and listen, in awe of the changes in mindset and life choices these kids make over the years as they journey into adulthood.

This was my experience today, and it reminds me of the reasons I went into education in the first place.  It sounds so very cliche, that response of:  "I want to make a difference in the lives of children."  When you see it live, up close and personal, however, there is nothing better.  The power of building relationships, of working to help kids make sense of it all, goes a long way.  We read of the impact this has in the classroom - of the student transformations, both academically and personally, that can transpire when there is a solid bond between educator and student.  What we don't read or hear about as often is the power this has to change the life of the adult as well.

My life has changed for the better many times over because of the things I have learned from students, because of the bonds that have been created over the years, because of the countless hours per week I have spent with these incredible kids.

I am honored and blessed to be in the field of public education today.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Leaving Cooperstown

Leaving Cooperstown last weekend was like leaving a loved one at the airport, knowing you aren't going to see each other for an indefinite period of time.  And it wasn't just the fact that I was in Cooperstown, like really in Cooperstown... this was amazing in itself and I will never forget walking the downtown streets, filled with baseball nostalgia and people and, of course, the Hall of Fame.  What was more even more surreal for me was the experience of watching 12 and 13 year olds play the game of baseball - the game I have loved and honored since I was a boy - with as much heart and ferocity as I have ever seen.  All of a sudden, it didn't matter that it was a steamy, blistering 99 degrees in the sun; it didn't matter that there was not a single spot of shade anywhere nearby... all that mattered were those boys and that field, out there playing the game of baseball.

So leaving hurt.  Leaving meant, for the boys, saying goodbye to the friends they had made from all across the nation; it meant that all that remained were memories of the times they had together, both on the field and later at night in the bunkhouses, keeping their coaches up late and playing games that only boys staying in a bunkhouse - away from their parents - will play.  I have only heard half of the stories, I'm sure, and that's okay with me.  That is as it should be with the summers of our childhood.

Regardless of how many games they won (or lost), what matters is their experience and the memories they created. These are the things that will last a lifetime.  Sure, they picked up a wealth of knowledge about the game of baseball - after all, they were playing teams from all across our great nation; teams from California, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and New Jersey.  There was even a team from Canada. 34 teams in all, some of whom play all year round.  But it is the life experiences that will stick with them, and I began to think about school (of course), and what it is we really hope kids walk out our doors knowing, remembering, feeling, thinking and caring deeply about.  This will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Heading out for vacation today and ironically, I came across a post on Twitter about putting the "vacate" in your vacation.  I spoke about this with my colleagues, who encouraged me to leave the laptop closed and "step away from the inbox."  I wanted to fight back and assured them that, if they really needed me, I would be available by phone and that I could still check my email at night when everyone went to sleep.... They looked at me with crooked smiles on their faces and gave me a playful shove.  I know, I thought to myself - don't worry about it.  This is exactly what they were thinking.

At a previous school, I had teachers who begged me "not to learn anything new" while I was on vacation. They explained that, whenever I came back I always had fresh ideas for them to try out in their classrooms.  This translated, of course, into more work for them, more training that they would need, and definitely more time away from their own rest and relaxation...

While I am a firm believer in always learning new things, I have a new appreciation of vacation and what it means to treat your people well.  It has only taken me twelve years as a public school administrator to figure it out...

1.) Leaving your work at work while you're on vacation allows others to step up and take charge.  If you have been transparent and included your people every step of the way, they've got it under control.  Let them step up.  They can do it.  Trust them.

2.) Leaving your work behind while you are on vacation allows you to free your mind.  You need to do that.  I have learned that, miraculously, everything will still be there when you get back...  and running just the way you left it.  This doesn't mean that your employees don't need you, like I used to think in my early days of administration; it just means that people have learned from you.  Be proud of that, and be proud of them.

So I leave today for New York.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as my son and his baseball team play for the next few days in Cooperstown.  My wife and I will live the lives of baseball parents - cheering, rooting, soaking up the sun, and just being.  I will finish reading the novel I have been reading on and off for the last year, and I will let my mind wander.  I will enjoy the road trip for the sheer excitement and driving pleasure that is a road trip.  And I will leave work behind.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I am trying to tell myself that I deserve it.