Monday, November 10, 2014

Until You Know

The academic year is well under way, cross country and volleyball seasons have wrapped up already, fall conferences have come and gone, and it is only early November.  It seems like a lifetime ago since I first walked through the front doors of my new school and began work with new staff, students, and community.  As I sit and reflect upon these extraordinary two and a half months that have gone by, there is a verse from a favorite song of mine that keeps running through my head.  It goes:

The longest hours you'll have in your life, 
Are the ones you sit through to know if you're right.

And then the portion of chorus that goes:

You don't always know where you stand,
'Til you know that you won't run away.

I won't say who the band is, but those who know me may be able to narrow it down...  The point is, I have been in public education for eighteen years.  Thirteen of those, now, have been in administration.  Actually, that's not the point.  The REAL point is that one has to put in long hours, one has to stay and not run away, to persevere, to dig deep and find meaning, to slog through and display an indomitable spirit, your true grit; to, as Abe Lincoln so wisely said: "Determine that the thing shall be done, and then we shall find the way."

They can seem like the longest hours.  And you won't always know where you stand.  But if you don't run away, and you determine that you will just do it because you believe in your heart that it's right and it's good for kids, then you will find that you were right.  Every single time.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Day Before

It is the day before students arrive - Sunday - and I sit at a little desk in my home office.  The two days of back-to-school-learning-and-acquaintance for my staff are complete, and went so fast that I haven't even had the time to sit and reflect on them.  Did I do enough to motivate my new faculty?  Did I give them enough about me so they really understand why I do this?  Do they feel ready to start the first few days and weeks ahead?  Time will tell, and if there is one thing I know after opening a school year as an administrator for the last 12 years, it's that nothing can ever really prepare you for the first days back with kids... except actually being there with kids.

I know that teachers won't sleep much tonight.  I know that some will even go in to school today and look around the room, move desks around one last time, erase the welcome message they had written on the board and replace it with something more meaningful they thought of saying last night, look over their carefully drafted plans one more time... just to be sure they are overly prepared because we all learned it is better to have more than enough material than not enough.  And boy, do they have enough material to cover.

I think of what I will say to my new students - all 950 of them - as they walk through the doors of their school tomorrow; I think of how they will receive me, their new principal; I think of what I will say as I prepare to deliver the first morning message of the year over the intercom; I think of how I will interact with my new students as I pass them in the hallways and see them in their classrooms and sit with them in the cafeteria at lunch.  This new year carries with it much anticipation, much excitement, much to be thankful for, much to look forward to.  It is the mark of a new start for many, myself included.  What I would hope adults and students walk away from this year with, is the excitement that they were able to try something new, the courage to keep moving forward despite what life throws at you, and the overwhelming feeling and knowledge that they are cared for deeply by those of us who are unable to sleep the night before being with them because we are so very thrilled about what we have chosen as our life's work.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Other People's Children

In addition to being a public school administrator and doctoral candidate, my wife and I are also foster parents.  We currently have living with us, in addition to our 13 year old son and three dogs, three small siblings whose ages are, from oldest to youngest, 5, 3, and 1.5.  They have been with us for approximately 6 months now, and their CM (case manager) has told us to make sure we plan on having them for a long time.  I was not sure exactly what that meant, but have since come to find out, through the court system, that they have a "permanency hearing" in February.  It is pretty clear to me, without the need to even bother looking this term up, that a judge will be deciding upon their fate on this date in February.

I have begun to wonder about this whole concept of raising other people's children, both in the school house and in the home as foster or adopted children.  And what I wonder about the most is how children view us - the adults - as we impart our knowledge and enforce our rules and open our hearts and give our love.  I begin to wonder what they think of us, whether we are coaches or parents or teachers or social workers or principals.  What do they think of us and at what point does what we are attempting to do in their lives matter to them?  Because it has to matter, and they have to be open to that.

But why?  Why should it matter, and why should they be open to what we have to offer?  There are adults in many of these children's lives who have abandoned them and abused them, leaving wide-open, glaring wounds that won't heal.  Why should they trust another adult?  And herein lies the problem, the problem with other people's children.  Regardless of your role in someone's life, know that the first thing you have to do is to gain their trust.  Hard to accomplish with hurt children.  In fact, you might view it as damn near impossible.  And yet you keep going.  You must keep moving ahead, letting go of yesterday, forgetting about the hurt feelings you might have over an angry barb thrust in your direction, or the sidelong glance of disgust clearly meant to get under your skin.  It is imperative that you move on, smiling when you least feel like it, forgiving when you would much rather hold a grudge, opening up and talking when all you want to do is give the silent treatment.  Even as adults, it is important to remember that these are huge trust-building opportunities.  Why?  Because they are so ready for you to do the opposite.  They are so ready for you to abandon them, just as another trusting adult has probably done to them.  They are so ready for you, just some stranger - definitely not family - to get up and walk away for that reason alone; you are not family. You have no ties, no bonds hold you together.  Why would you stay?

You stay because you know that, at some point down the road, maybe years later, maybe decades later, they will be better people, better adults because of you.  They may not know that you are the reason, but they will be loving, caring, thoughtful, productive members of society because you cared for them.  Other people's children.  It's what we're here to do.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Something Different

If anyone had come down the hall just a moment sooner, they would have seen me banging away on an
African drum I found in the music room.  I couldn't resist, and so found myself tapping out a beat in the middle of my morning walk around the schoolhouse.  Truth is, I would probably have done this if the room was filled with students anyway.  It just happens to be the middle of summer and I am enjoying my new habit of walking the building every morning when I've had enough behind the desk.  It is quiet here, there is no one in the building except for me and the custodians, and I certainly don't want to interrupt their work just because I need someone to talk to.  So I walk.

I have transitioned to a new school and district this summer.  For the first time in ten years, I am completely out of my element; my comfort zone is no longer there for me to fall back into.  This was a most difficult decision for me to make, but it's okay.  I am so very appreciative of everything my previous district gave to me, and I did a lot of learning during those ten years.  A lot.  I will miss my kids terribly, and that is the worst part of the whole transition.  My kids mean everything to me, as I make it a point to know as many of them as I can during every school year.  This makes it all the more difficult to leave, because for them (and for me, honestly), it feels like abandonment.  It is a part of our lives that we have come to expect, this coming to school and knowing that we will see each other every day, that we will have lunch together sometimes, that we will see each other in the hallways, in classrooms, in the cafeteria, in my office when it's time to have a chat.  The knowledge that this is going to change, and that there will be someone new in that office - this has been the hardest part.  For them, and for me.

A new direction, a change, something different.  It is still, obviously, schooling, so it is not that different.  In fact, schooling has not changed much at all in the past 50-100 years, and this is a strange concept in itself. But I will have to explore that topic another time.  For now, I must settle in. Into my new office, into my new school, my new community, where I will get to know new teachers and new parents and students.  I look forward to that.  I look forward to getting to know a whole new group of students, to learning from them, to (hopefully) teaching them something, to something different.