Life, Adversity, Sports, Resiliency, Mark Dantonio and Faith

Mark Dantonio after the MSU vs. Penn State game – “I don’t want to get too philosophical for you, but I think mankind in general responds to adversity. When they see something happens to them negatively, you can either go in the hole and bury yourself or you can fight your way out of the hole a little bit. You can go back to work.”

Sometimes sports and real life collide.  Life makes more sense to me when different facets of my life connect.  Yesterday was one of those days.download.png

This is the 37th consecutive season I’ve been part of a sports team as either a player or a coach.  Those seasons range from the youth level to varsity to college.  Yikes, that’s a lot.  What I’ve learned during those 37 seasons is that sports mirrors life in many ways, but maybe none more than the adversity it puts you through.  Wins, losses, injuries, chemistry troubles, parent issues, ups, and downs – are all common – even in the best of seasons.  When I see my kids play sports, that is what I see.  There are many things I’m not good at, but being a sports parent is a strength of mine.  All of those 37 seasons play a big role in that.  I don’t worry about how many points my kid scores, I’m not tracking it on a piece of paper in the crowd.  I’m not worried about college scholarships.  When my daughter persists through a shooting drill, I see her persisting through a tough marriage.  When I see my son react to a teammate who has made a mistake, I think about how he might be as a collaborative teammate in the workplace.  I see life, not just sports in the moment.  The ability to be resilient in the face of the most adverse situations was the difference between the most and least successful teams I’ve been a part of.

Well, that sounds an awful lot like our personal lives.  Adversity comes flying at us every day.  For some of us, that adversity can be self-imposed due to choices we have made, I’ve been there.  At other times, it’s just what life throws at us.  I’ve been there, too.  My bet is you have adversity in your life right now, have had some in your past, or have some that will be coming towards you soon.  What type of resiliency you have will allow you to respond and recover, or dwell and erode.  The ability to be resilient in the face of the most adverse situations has been the difference between some of the least and most successful people I’ve ever met.

Back to Coach D and the dumpster fire that was the 2016 MSU football season and the download.jpgresurgence that is the 2017 MSU football season.  “Mankind in general responds to adversity.”  His quote after the game spoke to all the negative the program went through for 18 months.  Some of that was self-imposed by the MSU staff and players.  But at some point, the circumstances don’t matter.  You find yourself in that hole.  You get to choose to stay there or dig yourself out.  Coach D relies heavily on his faith in those situations.  He handed kicker Matt Coughlin a small prayer card yesterday before he kicked a game-winning field goal.  It’s who he is.  Maybe that’s the same for you, maybe it isn’t.  Maybe for you, it’s a family member or a friend.  I’ve had times in my life that felt like the 2016 MSU football season.  My faith, friends, family, and an ability to be resilient helped dig me out of that hole.  Daily reminders hang around my neck and are tattooed down my spine.  Kind of like that prayer card that Coach D just so happened to have yesterday.  That has meant better days ahead for me, kind of like MSU football 2017.  Life makes more sense to me when different facets of my life connect.  Yesterday was one of those days.

Life, Adversity, Sports, Resiliency, Mark Dantonio and Faith.

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Teachers and Principals: Run Through a Wall for Each Other  

Think about the expression, “run through a wall.”  Literally to hurl oneself into a wall made of bricks knowing the outcome.  The passion behind that statement is what I’ve always connected with.  images.jpgThe belief in the leader that running through the wall seems like the only choice.  I’ve been led by people that have made me want to do that and hopefully have led others to feel the same way.

As a leader, I am working tirelessly towards one main goal with our staff.  I want to create a culture where every single person on the staff is willing to run through a wall for me.  Now, it’s not actually for me.  It’s for a student in a tough situation, a parent who is very upset, a new state mandate, or a curriculum change.  The “wall” is really all of the adverse situations that come up during the year and the mindset of the staff members which is put to the test.  It happens every month, possibly every week, and maybe even every day.  I want them to be able to run through a wall for our common vision, our purpose, and what our staff is striving towards.  “How” you do that is an entirely different blog post, but it’s built on relationships, trust, shared ownership, and a common vision.

What is the potential for a school staff when you want to run through that wall for each other?  The leader does for their staff?  The staff does for their leader?  The staff does for each other?

None of those thoughts are unique or new to me.  But this week, something did change. During “Boss’s Day” on Monday, I received an amazing gift from the staff here at school.  It was about 30 individual note cards of what people appreciated about my work as a principal.  I’m not exactly sure why, but they really hit a chord.  I maybe dropped a tear or two in my office as I read through them.  I think they were especially touching because they used so many of the words/phrases I strive towards as a leader: person first-employee second, transparent, real, work-life balance, approachable, passion for my job, and relationships with students-staff.  But it made me stop and think something that download-1.jpgI’m not sure I ever thought before, at least not in these terms. 

In a career where I’ve focused so much of my time and energy trying to get the staff to run through a wall for me, would I run through a wall for them?

I feel like I’ve always supported teachers.  I hope they would say I’ve had their back.  But that’s not exactly the same as “running through a wall” for them.  While trying to get 40 people to run through a wall for me, would I run through a wall for each of those 40?  Well, moments like reading those note cards made me stop and consider it. I’m sure I’ve thought of it, but never quite in this way. 

Back to the drawing board.  How can I help to create the culture where the staff wants to run through a wall for the leader, for each other, and the leader for the staff?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Being a Principal Means to Me

October is “National Principals Month.”  It probably always has been, but I never noticed. As I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, for some reason, I finally took notice. There was a short article about the role of a principal and the types of impact they can have on a school. I tend to have reflective moments out of the blue, not always spurred upon by a powerful moment or event. This was one of those times. It wasn’t hard to do, but it was really fun. It made me think, ponder, question, smile, and laugh. 

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I love to promote the profession of education. I’m pretty open about sharing my thoughts and feelings as it relates to the work that takes place in our schools on a daily basis. I wanted to share what I ended up writing down about what it means to me to be a principal. I hope fellow principals can take a moment to reflect and write, teachers will take a moment to read and see if I’m hitting my mark, and parents will know more about my beliefs.

  • Being a principal means I get to be a leader. I love to LEAD. I love to shape, craft, and mold a team full of different individuals towards a common purpose.
  • Being a principal means I get to impact students, hundreds, and thousands of students.  That is the ultimate motivator…impact the lives of kids. 
  • Being a principal means I will work to remove the barriers that teachers encounter so they can do what do best, which is teach.
  • Being a principal means I get to develop relationships with families in the community where I work and live.images.jpg

That leads me to a couple goals. Simple to write, but remarkably hard to attain. I’ve never shared these with anyone before.  If I’m doing these two things, I’m extending a positive impact on as many lives as possible.

1. I want to impact as many lives as I can during my time as a principal.

2. I want teachers who have worked with me to list me as the best principal they’ve ever worked with. Why should teachers settle for any less? #ChaseIt

That’s what being a principal means to me.  Basically, everything.

 

 

 

 

Innovation in Education — What if…

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow” – Pollard

That quote goes underneath my electronic signature for every email I send.  Part of the reason is due to my desire to uncover what is next, to make life better for students and teachers, and to collaborate with others to develop impactful ideas.  It seems like I always have some swimming around in my brain.images.jpg
What if…

  • Our elementary school was open from 7 am – 7 pm each day, served 3 meals for students and families, and provided extra curricular options as well
  • Each school, by law, in the state of Michigan, had a mental health professional designated to support the mental health needs of students and families
  • Report cards didn’t exist.  Students traveled from year to year with their data binder and the emphasis was on growth, not proficiency
  • Students and their families could decide on school hours that worked for them. Some students could come 7-1, others 12-6, whatever worked best for the schedule and the needs of the family and the student
  • There were no grade levels.  Students entered a school building and were placed and moved with students of similar social/emotional and academic skills
  • Each intermediate school district worked with the local districts (all, not some) to coordinate community/business partnerships that allowed students at all levels real-world professional experiences
  • Students, even in elementary school, had various schedules based on interests and levels of academic progress
  • Each student had one hour of their day designed to explore their interests which may lie inside or outside of the curriculum standards.  The teacher simply worked as a facilitator and resource to that exploration
  • Entire districts and states made the move to adopt a balanced calendar, which is clearly best for kids

I could go on and on.  How can we rethink some past practices and adjust them to better our educational system?  On the flip side, those of you reading this could find details and reasons why my ideas wouldn’t work.  That is where innovation is put to the test.  No idea is stamped for approval upon its inception.  Too often, the reasons not to outweigh the desire to overcome those obstacles and thinking is shut down or rejected.  In other instances, people think to be innovative the idea has to be immediately earth shattering.  Not true.  Innovation is simply a new idea or method.  Don’t think your idea is too small or won’t have a profound impact.  You’d be amazed at what something can grow into and the effect it can have on our educational system if you take that chance and don’t wilt at the first sign of pushback.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” still exists.  Some things are great just how they are.  But some need to be tinkered with and others need a complete overhaul.download.jpg

So, what am I going to do about it?  Well, I am going to continue to push the envelope of innovation.  I will keep presenting ideas, creatively trying to solve problems and to rethink past practices.  But, for the short-term, I need to start somewhere.  Here are the three places I want to start and focus on for the 2017-2018 school year. 

  1. Differentiated professional development for teachers – I’m excited about the plan we have at Jamestown to develop small group professional learning communities based on teacher choice, educational impact, and personal growth plans.  The hope is for the principal to mimic the type of gradual release structures we expect of teachers and to move away from so much whole group time.  There will be reading of research, lab classrooms, discussion, reflection, and teacher exploration.  I hope we have groups working simultaneously on topics such as questioning, innovation, how to #TeachLikeAPirate, collaborative strategies, growth mindset, learning targets, and much more!
  2. “Genius Hour” for students –  http://www.geniushour.com/ – Other schools have this up and running and all I hear is the benefit for students.  Need to find a way to make this a reality at our school
  3. “Innovation Station” for educators – My idea here is to create a professional learning network of people who get together and just talk about innovative ideas in education.  It would be a group from various districts, in different roles, including a wide variety of thinkers, and would meet with essentially no agenda other than to share and develop innovative ideas.

Don’t be afraid.  Don’t be afraid to look foolish, to present an idea, or to share something with your unique perspective.  Your idea could be the beginning of something great for one student, one classroom, one school, one district, or even bigger.  Our students need us to consistently refine, adjust, create, and push ideas forward.  Innovation is at your fingertips and on the tip of your tongue.  Just jump in and explore the world of “what if’s.”

Hold the Door, Son

Two different events happened over the last week that had me thinking.

The first happened as my 10-year-old son and I were exiting a local golf course pro shop. He went out of his way to stop and hold the door for a couple walking in.  He did it kind of naturally and I was able to see it.  I gave him a quick fist bump and thanked him for thinking of others.

A few days later, the two of us were on our way into a gas station and a man was following behind us.  He was carrying some cans to turn in for deposit.  My son was behind me and had the chance to hold the door for the gentlemen, but didn’t.  I didn’t think much of it, other than I was disappointed, as we were in a hurry and I didn’t say anything.graduation-future-SB.jpg

Today, that had me thinking.  Why did he choose to do it one time and not the other? Had I appropriately modeled and positively reinforced it enough?  But above and beyond that, why was it so important to me?  Out of all the things we worry about and focus on as a parent, what is it about holding a door for a complete stranger that is so important to me?

I did some research.  I wanted to find out more about holding the door for others.  As usual, there was way more than I needed.  I found out that around the 1600’s doors were often held for women and that was more due to the wardrobe they had on.  I’m not going to get too far into the chivalry aspect, although I’ll take any chance I can get to teach my son to respect women.  I learned that some people think 14 feet is the appropriate length away from the door that you should offer to hold it for someone.  OK, all of that was more than I needed.

It’s so important for me because the kid (or adult for that matter) who holds the door carries the mindset I want the kids at my home, and the 340 kids at our school, to have at all times.

  • It’s the mindset of always thinking about helping others
  • It’s the mindset that I’m a very small part of this big Earth
  • It’s saying to someone, without saying anything, you matter to me and even though I don’t know you, I’ll do something to help you
  • It’s the mindset that small things matter, especially if done over and over
  • It’s the giving mindset, instead of the taking

So, what next?  Well, instead of giving my son positive affirmation for whether or not he catches a touchdown or gets a sack this weekend, I’ll do a better job focusing on something under his control.  Something that positively impacts others.  I’ll do a better job of letting him know why it’s important to me and needs to be important to him.  I will also model it as consistently as possible.  As parents, we want all kinds of things for our kids.  Right now, I just want my son to be the kid who always holds the door.download-1.jpg

A Message to Parents – Assume Positive Intentions

As we start the 2017-2018 school year, educators know more than ever the importance of the “triangle of stakeholders.” download.pngWhen the student, school, and parent are working together and supporting each other, the chances for student success significantly increase. Towards that end, I have a quick message for parents as they send their child off to school this year.

                                                Assume Positive Intentions

I promise you that the parent and the school have the EXACT same goal for your child and that is for them to be as successful as possible. As a parent, head into the school year with that understanding. The school is not “out to get your child” nor are they “playing politics.” Have the mindset of assuming positive intentions. Assume the educators in your child’s school are in the profession for all the right reasons. Assume that they will do what is right and ethical as often as they possibly can. images.jpg

As a parent, there will be times this year when that mindset it tested. A few hypotheticals that might lead to that:

  • Your child comes home says they are being bullied and no one is doing anything about it
  • The teacher “yelled at me”
  •  Your child says there is a field trip tomorrow they didn’t know about
  • Enough homework to last a month comes home on a Tuesday night
  • Your child says the principal punished the entire class for the actions of one student

My guess is most parents have experienced one or more of those situations. download.pngI’m not saying the school is always right or you shouldn’t investigate further. That’s not the message at all. Just consider all the alternatives, while assuming positive intentions, prior to picking up that phone or firing off that angry email. Consider your child may have shared part of the story with you. That could be intentional or unintentional. Consider there may be another side to the story. Consider the rest of the matter still needs to be investigated.  Once you have gone through that process, contact the school, ask questions, share what you know, and do so in a professional and respectful manner. Allow yourself to be fully informed and then part of the problem-solving process that may need to take place. If there is a reason to be upset or concerned at that point, you have done your due diligence.

By assuming positive intentions, your positive relationship with the school will immediately be focused on your child. There will be less time spent on being adversarial and more time spent on getting to solutions and the support your child may need. When the student knows that the school and parent have high levels of communication and speak positively of each other, they understand that everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.  download.jpg

 

My Plan to Combat Teacher Burnout and Stress

OK, I get it.  July is an odd time for a blog post on teacher burnout and stress.  However, the summer months are a great time for thinking, reflection, and planning for the upcoming year.  As someone who has maintained for 20 years that education is the best profession in the world, I’m troubled by much of what I’ve seen recently regarding teacher burnout and stress.  In the past month, I have read 8-10 articles or papers on the increase of teacher burnout and reasons for those leaving the profession.  In addition, some educators made the choice to post their resignation letter online, allowing me to get a deeper look into the sources of their frustration.  

Why is this so important to me?  download-1.jpgBecause I NEED our team. If we are going to become the best school in the world (which should be the goal of every school) they are going to take us there.  The students and parents at our school NEED this team.  It’s important to me because I care about them as people.  As the leader of our school, how the job impacts their life and emotional well-being matters to me.  It matters a lot.

Michigan State University education expert Alyssa Hadley Dunn recently led a trio of studies looking into teacher burnout and stress.  In an article by the MSU School of Education Dunn states, “The reasons teachers are leaving the profession has little to do with the reasons most frequently touted by education reformers, such as pay or student behavior.  Rather, teachers are leaving largely because oppressive policies and practices are affecting their working conditions and beliefs about themselves and education.”  

As I read through those resignation letters recently, a handful of issues stood out.  Those were a negative school climate, loss of autonomy, a focus on standardized test scores, punitive teacher evaluation systems, and a lack of teacher’s voice during the implementation of policies.

What I haven’t read very much are plans to combat these issues.  Sure, I did a google search and found an article here and there.  But that’s not enough.  I take a great deal of pride in the relationships I develop with my staff and ensuring that I care about them as people first, employees second.  Because of that, I felt the need to develop a road map, a game plan, to at least feel like I have a structured and cohesive plan to limit burnout and download.jpgstress at OUR school.  I looked at the release of the MSU data, other articles on burnout and stress, and several resignation letters.  While I have done some of these things in the past, a systematic plan on paper will allow it to not fall off my radar or come and go.

THE PLAN

1. I need to survey the staff.  Instead of guessing on their levels of stress and burnout, I need to compile personalized data.  Each state, district, building, grade level, and individual teacher is different.  When I’ve done that in the past, it’s provided me with important information.  I will share the survey data back with staff, share my plans to counteract the challenges, solicit advice from my building management team, and then check back in at least twice during the year.  Combining this survey with the one our staff does of my work twice a year will give me important feedback.

2. Make people feel valued each and every day, not just during “teacher appreciation week” or on their birthday.  Do all the little things day in and day out to make sure they feel valued.  It starts with developing the personal relationship with teachers and getting if-youre-really-that-important-make-people-feel-valued.jpgto know them personally and professionally.  That promotes an open line of communication which improves culture and trust.  Helping staff feel valued includes small things like writing a handwritten letter to each of them during the summer, doing something kind just because, stopping in for regular gratitude walks with feedback, highlighting their work on social media and with key stakeholders, and consistently telling them they are a valued and important member of the staff.  Maybe most important is knowing when adversity has struck and then reaching out to see how I can help.

3. Use the structures we have in place to make sure teacher’s voice is important in school decision-making.  I need to collaborate with our building management team, grade level reps, and school improvement teams on major initiatives which teachers need to have a voice in.  We have developed a shared vision as a staff.  I need to consistently make sure staff feels like our work is aligned with the vision and they have a substantial voice. Professional development plans need to be individualized and our staff needs to feel TeacherStress.jpgthat time is valuable.  Teacher observations, their purpose, and how the staff feels they are going must be discussed.  When I have ideas, those groups will be brought to the table so I can get teacher thinking, ideas, and feedback.  While every decision is not meant to be collaborative, teacher perspective must be considered in each instance.

4. Compile a list of 10 activities/strategies that will reinforce the “person first, employee second” message that staff gets from me.  I need to emphasize what Debbie McFalone told me about education, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  Putting in place those activities will ensure that action follows words and does so consistently.  Here is a couple from my list.

  • Each time a staff member has something come up with their family, I will respond with an understanding message and the #FamilyFirst hashtag.  That branding will reinforce a belief of mine and remind staff of the value we place on family
  • Putting the “life balance” quote on the door of each staff member during the year
  • Periodically in my weekly update sharing the ideas, I incorporate to reduce stress and maintain the balance between work and family
  • Reminding staff, especially in the spring, that our #1 goal isn’t test scores.  It is and will always be supporting students to become better people

I’m not reinventing the wheel here.  Nor am I calling others to action.  It has always been a passion of mine to help teachers be the absolute best they can be, but I can do better.  I know that following this plan can be my small part of helping with teacher burnout and stress in OUR school and allowing our teachers to do what they do best…to teach.

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