Saturday, August 27, 2016

Surprise Phone Calls and Personal Connections

I'm not certain that I've had it right all these years.  Focused so intensely on test scores and whether or not people were satisfied with how we were doing academically and a host of other things that really didn't matter. If all I focus on are relationships between kids, among adults, and really getting to know one another on a deeply personal level, will all of that other stuff take care of itself? Including test scores?  Perhaps part of the answer can be found in the story of a school day in August, on a day before teachers and kids were back in classes. 

I simply posted a picture of the two boxes of books
that I had ordered for my staff to start the year. I was excited, my administrative staff and I were pumped up, and so I tweeted about it and went down to the cafeteria to set up. It was a Friday, and our first day back with teachers was Monday.

A couple hours later, I go back to the office to check some email and grab a quick bite to eat. Unbelievably, there was a voicemail sitting in my email box waiting for me. Not that it's unbelievable I had received a voicemail; I mean, I'm a middle school principal. We get voicemails all day long.  But this was technically summer still.  And this one was from Adam Welcome, co-author of Kids Deserve It.  He had looked me up on Twitter, and decided to call the school to see if he could catch me. He wanted to thank me for purchasing the books, and just chat about being an educator. It was totally unnecessary, and at the same time I was so thrilled and excited that he took the time out of his day. I called him back, and we ended up chatting for half an hour.

And it didn't stop there.  I also received, out of the blue, a call one evening from a connection I had made this summer through Voxer, and then on Twitter (of course).  While watching the Olympics one night, my phone rings and Dene Gainey is on the other end, from Florida, just calling to check in and see how I'm doing.  Who does that?

The power of these phone calls really changed my thinking about this school year, and about school years past. There isn't anything I can do about those days, about those years, about those moments that I did or did not spend and connect with people. What it did for me was make me realize that I could do better by people. What it did for me was to motivate me, make me want to be the best school leader that I can be.

But how could a simple 30 minute phone conversation have such an impact on someone?

The answer is simple. The power of human relationships does wonders. Think about the relationships we have with our kids, the relationships that we have with other adults with whom we work. As educators we know it is essential for kids to feel wanted, to feel loved, to feel that they matter. They do better when they experience these feelings, when they know that we just can't wait to see them again tomorrow.  It is at this point that real magic happens - the power of school as it should be.  When we focus on relationships, on intentionally being with people, on making them feel like a million bucks when we are in their presence, the environment starts to change.  I mean, everything about the environment starts to change - including test scores - and it is really so simple.  It really starts with making people feel important, helping people to understand how much power they have to do good, to make change, to have an impact on someone else's life.

So my goal this year is simple.  My goal is to be present, to be intentional, and really show up to every single interaction with every single child and every single adult I encounter this year.  And not just that, not just chance encounters; my goal is to seek out opportunities to show up and make a difference in people's lives. What a difference we can make.  Who doesn't deserve that?

If you don't follow Adam or Dene, you really need to.  These amazing educators are doing real work to make a difference in the lives of kids and adults.  Go follow them on Twitter now.
                                   Adam Welcome               Dene Gainey


Saturday, August 6, 2016

On Procrastination, Libraries and Dissertations

At the library today, trying to finish the last section of the last chapter during year 8 of my doctoral program. It is the reason why I have not written a blog post since January of this new year.  And I realize, as I sit and watch people back and forth in front of the table where I sit and work, and I watch the homeless men sitting in the back of the library, passing their days in the cool air - reprieve from the heat outside - that this is why I have not found the time to finish this mammoth task.  Because, although it is a mammoth task - believe me, anyone who has taken on the behemoth that is doctoral work understands - it is not unattainable.  It is I who have done it to myself.  It is in the watching of other people that I realize my problem.  I am a procrastinator.  As the end of this dissertation writing nears, and I know my defense is coming soon, I find myself doing everything except the one thing I know I need to get done.

So it is time now.

Today is the day.

I have come to the library for a reason, and that reason is not to watch other people (although this is a mindless and enjoyable thing to do).

The day is mine.

I will blog again when the dissertation is complete, and then I will let you know of my experiences as a working middle school principal who is also a husband, daddy, foster parent, life-changer, reader, half-serious runner, wannabe innovator, and professional procrastinator.