Name Change

As I prepare to start year 40 in the game, I have decided to change the name of this drivel from “Reflections and Rants from the Assistant Principal” to “Living Outside the Box.”

Have a few reasons for making the change.

1. I am no longer an assistant principal. After 32 years as an administrator, the last 5 as an AP, I retired and moved from Montana to Denver. My last 5 years working in the Big Sky, my title was Assistant Principal. Had several different titles during the first 26 years in the office, from Principal to Director to Instructional Systems Specialist to Superintendent. And from 1987-2006, every school or district that I worked in was either a state, national, or international model. Was able to help write state and national legislation impacting education during that time as well. Thought it was part of the job description. Guess I was lucky enough to pick great people and places to work. But I got bored with “retirement,” so I am now a teacher assistant at a local charter school. And loving it. Again, part of a state model school. Go figure.

2. In the high flyer schools where I worked, a standing rule was to question the status quo. Conventional wisdom didn’t mean much to us. So we made a point of working “outside of the box.” The district where I worked as Superintendent of Schools during the period from 1993-1997 was a founding district of the Virtual High School Global Consortium. Which meant we got into the ed tech game way before most. We were the only district in Colorado to be part of that consortia. As we “innovated” our policies and practices to reflect new ways to teach and learn, we sometimes came up with questions for our state Department of Ed that were not addressed in the current accreditation guidelines. We had a champion working for us, the Deputy Commissioner of Ed. When I was leaving Colorado to join the Department of Defense Education Activity, I met him for lunch, and asked how the Department had felt about us. His response was, “We knew you were working outside the box, we just hope you remembered that there was a box at one time.” I wear that as a Badge of Honor.

3.  Which meant that for the period of my career that I worked in a tradition-bound district, I was a Peacock in the Land of Penguins. Also, to me, a Badge of Honor.

So in the time I have left in the game, I will be writing about things that may challenge the status quo, and the way things have always been done. It made for a great career, and I hope the 3 or 4 of you who regularly read this enjoy it.

And so it goes…

Questions and Answers

Speaks volumes. The Era of Accountability in public ed pushes us to measure the answers when we should be working on, and encouraging, more questions. We don’t know what our kids will need to know when they are in our age, so we them looking back at current answers instead of challenging them to anticipate future answers through questioning.

Finishing Strong, Teacher Appreciation, and All That Jazz

Melancholy.

I live in suburban Denver, and work in a school a few short miles from the Highlands Ranch STEM school. I had the honor of spending a day there last winter, met some amazing teachers and truly gifted and inspiring students.

So it is rather difficult today to talk about “10 Tricks To End The Year Strong.” Or share ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week.

But I will do my best.

Ending my year strong has always meant to do whatever it takes to make everyone, students and staff, want to come back next year. There is a reason why the ceremony at the end of the year is called Commencement, or Promotion, or Transition, or some other variation on the term. It isn’t an ending, it’s the beginning of what comes next.

Too often, I hear us talk about how tired we are, how much we look forward to resting, being away from the kids and our colleagues.

What message does this send?

After nine months of telling our students how much we love them, and how they have become a big part of our lives, now we are telling them we need a break from them. And the countdown calendar on the whiteboard only reinforces this attitude.

Have we forgotten that we are the significant, consistent adults in many of their lives? And now they see and hear us tell them, again, that they are unwanted.

My students get enough of that away from school, their stories would break your heart.

Do we need rest? Yes. But find it in our own way, throughout the year. It’s called balance. Think about what went right during the year. Focus on the successes and how it will be even better next year. Focus on the hope of the future, filling your tank, not thinking about how empty it is.

I get it. End of year field trips, field days…office referrals go up as supervision routines go down. The stress of not getting “everything” done goes way up. Testing season is finally over. For the fraternity of administrators, the legislature is out of session, hopefully our elected representatives helped us with the questions we confront daily rather than tell us the answers.

In a nutshell, end with optimism and invitation rather than relief.

I realize that what I have written is unpopular with many of you. But I write from the background of working in some elite schools for nearly 40 years. Most of my career has been spent in minority/majority, high poverty schools. They aren’t like most of your schools. What worked for us isn’t necessarily what is going to work for you and your school.

So be it.

Subtle segue to Teacher Appreciation Week. And Administrative Professional Day. And Paraprofessional Appreciation, et al…

Shouldn’t we be showing our staff how much we appreciate them all the time?

Instead of filling their mailboxes with another coffee cup, water bottle, gift card, cake, cupcakes, t-shirt, or 7″ ruler, all things I have received during my career, try giving your staff the gift of time. Cancel a staff meeting and replace it with an email, cover a duty every now and then. They will appreciate that much more than one more trinket passed out during the Hallmark Week.

As a teacher and administrator, the best way my students or staff could show their appreciation was to take what I had taught them and do great things.

I came of age in the 1960’s. My parents and teachers pushed me, and my generation, to question, challenge and change. It was not “taught” to us, it is not a “skill.” It was instilled into us, it is an attitude.

In this time, when blind obedience is expected and demanded, when anything not accepted by those in charge is declared “fake” and not to be believed or trusted, it fills my heart with joy to see a generation of students from schools like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the Highlands Ranch STEM school demand that they be heard, that their agenda take center stage. Their parents, and others in my chosen profession, have instilled the same attitude in them. I am proud to stand with them.

My heart is heavy as school closes this year.

School should be a place where kids prepare for their lives as adults. It should not be a place where too many of them fear they won’t have the chance to become an adult.

The conversations I had with many of our students over the last couple of days were not part of the “curriculum development” classes I took in college. The conversations I have had with many of the same students after each active shooter drill weren’t either. But unfortunately, they have become part of our daily lives.

Kids should not have to make gun laws in schools.

I am looking forward to seeing my students tomorrow. They know that, I get the chance to tell them every afternoon as they leave our building.

I am looking forward to seeing all of my students when we come back to school in August.

I hope they know that.

And I hope all of them walk through our doors.

And so it goes…

Start With the End in Mind

This will be the first of several posts where I will describe my ideal school.

“The general purpose of education is to increase the probability of success for our students post-education. Until we embrace that notion, no radical change is going to happen.” Joe Harless, Ph.D., author, “The Eden Conspiracy”

This is the cornerstone for my school, preparing our learners for what’s next in the educational progression, or life. Focus will be given to the traditional transition years; grades 5-6, 8-9, and graduation to either post-secondary or directly to career.

“Education” is what takes place in a school. School is a concept wherein students are welcome to learn and enhance the quality of their lives without fear of intimidation or safety for their lives, guided by hospitable and caring people in a clean and orderly environment.

Guiding questions for my school, also asked by other evolving and improving schools:

1. What do our learners need to know in order to be successful in the world beyond our school?

2. What must our learners do in order to succeed in the world beyond our school?

3. What must our learners be like in order to succeed in the world beyond our school?

My school is designed to bridge the gap between what is and what should be, what the literature describes as Adaptive Challenge, which requires a response outside the usual repertoire of most schools.

I will close this introduction with what my school will not be. It will not be one-size-fits-all. As educators, we serve a very diverse population of learners. No one model is “our best” for all of them. While everything in my school already exists, either in schools I have visited, or schools where I have worked. The status quo will not necessarily be honored.

Life is different;

Work is different;

What learners must know and be able to do is different, so…

Learning must be different;

Teaching must be different;

Tools must be different; and

Leadership must be different.

Subsequent posts will focus specifically on “elementary” and “secondary” programs.

May the words of my mouth comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

And so it goes…

Personal Growth – You Can’t Cross a Chasm in Two Small Leaps

The March topic for the Compelled Tribe is to write about a potential change and possible growth that may be ahead for each of us as we get closer to spring.

In 1993-1994, I was completing the coursework for the Superintendent of Schools endorsement on my state license.

My district was very socio-economically “challenged”, to say the least.

When we looked at our student performance data, and how well were doing/not doing on meeting the expectations of our State Department Accreditation Performance Targets, we were among the lowest in the state for districts with similar characteristics.

Yet we were doing everything “right” according to the literature on how to increase student performance for our demographics.

Yes, there is a difference between doing things right and doing the right things.

Working with our staff and community, we had to re-imagine what we were about and how we conducted our business. In other words, for the benefit of our students, we had to start doing the right things, not just do things right.

Which brings me to the Compelled Tribe topic. We started with a clean white board, dreamed big dreams, and decided to “boldly go where no (few) had gone before.”

We took some incredibly large risks, since we had few, if any, models to follow. There really wasn’t any “best practice” to build upon. Upside was huge, but the consequences of failure were enormous. Not only would our students suffer, but financially, we had the resources to only try something once, and we couldn’t invest in processes that did not yield the returns we needed.

In one of the papers in my program, I spoke about what we were planning. I remarked that it would have been very easy to do what had always been done, making incremental improvements in policy and practice, and I would have continued to make a very comfortable living to support my wife, children, and the lifestyle we had come to enjoy.

Was I willing to risk all that in an effort to “leap the chasm” and try some things that were not part of any of our preparation programs, but showed tremendous promise to positively impact our learners? I was willing to accept the risk for me and my career, but also risking the welfare of my family.

Spoiler alert – at all worked. Exceptionally well. And we not only made history, we changed the rules for everyone else.

So my response to the Compelled Tribe topic is to start with a clean white board and design my ideal school. From the ground up. What the physical structure will look like. What will happen both inside and outside the physical structure. And why.

On this site, I will be publishing my thoughts, for my school, over the next several weeks. Would love to have as many readers of this tripe join in and share your thoughts.

As before, I will dream big and in color.

A dream supplies meaning and intensive value. It is our deepest expression of what we want, a declaration of a desired future. A dream is an ideal involving a sense of possibilities rather than probabilities, of potential rather than limits. The passion is missing when we work with only our rational left brain. Without passion, there is little enthusiasm and vitality. A dream is a wellspring of passion, giving us direction and pointing us to lofty heights. It is an expression of optimism, hope and values lofty enough to capture the imagination and engage the spirit. Dreams are capable of lifting us to new heights and overcoming self-imposed limitations. Dreams aren’t limited by what you think can or cannot be done, or by what your rational mind tells you is or isn’t possible. It represents something that you really want, as opposed to what you think you can get. Goals are tangible, but dreams are intangible. Dr. King said, “I have a dream.” He did not say, “I have a strategic plan.”

But my dreams are grounded in the reality that school will go on while we are under construction…

Building Airplanes in the Sky

And so it goes…

Innocence and Priorities

At breakfast this morning, got to watch 2 year old Mr. Man catching sunbeams streaming through our curtains. Love God for sharing with us the innocence of being 2 years old, the joy in his eyes and on his face as he captured them, the wonder and exploration of a child, the reminder that He has everything under control, and letting me know I need to slow down and appreciate the things in life that truly matter. Thanks be to God!

One Word 2019

Better late than never, with thanks to the many cliches I have heard, and “drive by” quotes in many presentations. A few many even be semi-original thoughts…

My One Word for 2019 is ONE. As in, sometimes, “first.” Words of wisdom for the year:

For many students, you may be the most stable adult presence in their lives. Just by showing up every day, setting boundaries, believing in them, showing a genuine interest, being “on their case,” demanding their very best, you just may have a positive impact. Even on your worst day, you are still some child’s best hope. It only takes one teacher to change a child’s life. Some children will come to school today because of that one teacher. Be that teacher.

Children must have at least one person who believes in them. Be that person.

Every winning streak starts with the first win. Win the first one.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip toe if you must, but take that step.

You are one decision away from a totally different life. Don’t let your dreams die within the walls of your comfort zone. Call your shot.

Tell the story of the mountains you have climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.

One day, you will just be a memory to some people. Do your best to be a good one.

You are the person God is preparing as the answer to someone’s prayers. Be there for them.

Remember the words of songwriter Sam Cooke, as performed by Louis Armstrong in “(What A) Wonderful World,” talking about our children, “They will learn much more than I will ever know.” The one day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit. Keep moving forward and know that all the hard work you are putting in, day in and day out, will produce the results you are looking for.

And so it goes…for 2019.