Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tough Decisions: Sticking to Your Guns

We work in a profession with many shades of gray. Wait, that didn't come out right?! As much as we write policy, print student handbooks, and post rules in our classroom, the reality is, the sound judgement of the professionals in the building usually will prevail. We can always fall back on what's written, sure, but we know all too well that eventually, the tough calls require human discretion.

It's probably best administrative practice to approach most decisions as a team. That is to say, no decisions are made in a vacuum without the support and collaboration of an army of administrations, faculty, and staff. But what happens when like-minded professionals, who've worked together for a long time, who may have hired each other to be a part of the team, approach the toughest decisions together? And worse, you are a part of that team and you, gasp, have a different opinion or solution?

I think there are 3 situations where you fight for your minority opinion and challenge the majority:

1. Stick to your guns when you are ethically and morally right.

What if, as a coach, your best player blew off practice, was failing 4 classes, or egregiously insulted his teacher in class? Your star player broke a team rule, and now you have a dilemma. That player may be the difference between winning and losing tonight's game. The coaches on staff all tell you that he has paid his price. Even his teammates want him out there. His parents are down your throat. "Coach, just let him play, c'mon!" While I'll agree some fights aren't worth fighting, standing up for whats ethically and morally right is always worth it. 

2. Stick to your guns if you have done your homework.

Big Lebowski fans know what I am taking about. But the rest of us would probably agree that informed decisions are the easiest ones to make. Having the minority opinion requires a lot of courage and it helps if you do your homework. This may involve parent phone calls, conversations with teachers, emails, transcript searches, legal precedent, etc. Putting all those pieces together to complete the puzzle gives us a leg to stand on as the minority.

3. Stick to your guns when your gut won't let you do otherwise. 

One of the best student essay's I've ever read  started off like this: "The Civil War wasn't very civil." Well, technically, I guess he was right. In the same spirit, I'd say, "gut decisions are pretty gutsy." Leading a school, classroom, or team on gut decisions alone is a dangerous proposition. For your passion to grow, you need structure. But for your structure to grow, you need passion. Decision making does involve a delicate balance of passion within structure. So when do you stick to your guns and listen to what your gut tells you?
A. When you can justify your decision as morally correct.
B. When you have done enough homework to make an informed decision.
C. When your intuition is repeatedly challenged and turns out to be right.
D. When you are hungry and your gut is telling you its time to eat.
E. All of the above

Sunday, September 8, 2013

In Memory of Bri

At the beginning of the school year, I look for kids that I am used to seeing in the hallway. It's weird-but they aren't there. They've graduated now and are out in the real world carving their own path. I miss them, selfishly, but realize my students are moving on to bigger and better things.

A honest teacher will admit to having favorite students. We don't "play" favorites or give any of our students an unfair advantage, but some kids are just different than others. Those are the kids I really miss seeing in the hallway and in my room after school.

Bri Resto was one of those kids.

Bri passed away yesterday after a head-on collision with a drunk driver. Just 30 hours ago, she was hanging with her friends after another taxing week of balancing work and school. She had lofty goals and her life in the present reflected the determination she had to achieve them. The last time I saw Bri, she was standing in the pouri
ng rain waiting for a bus that would bring her to school. Nothing could stop her. The last time we texted, my phone's screen was filled with exclamation points of her excitement when she found out my wife and I were pregnant. She was that kind of kid. Bri was selfless-she cared for others more than she cared for herself. I'm so prou
d of who she was and what she had accomplished, but moreover, what she had overcome.

Its a story that will send chills through your body and shake your soul to its core. How can we possibly have enough faith to understand why this happened?

Faith can be maddening. A friend of mine described faith as "something that comes from your own quiet time, from conversations with friends and loved ones, from your own observations of how life unfolds and what you perceive when you look beyond the externals of life and penetrate to the depths of love, and friendship--the beauty of nature, the marvels of human ingenuity, the magnificence of a simple daisy and the faces of the homeless guys who hit you up for a buck in downtown Chicago."

As Bri's teacher, I know and have faith that my lessons with her are over. Not because shes gone now, but because now, Bri is teaching me. She never knew it, but she has been teaching me for a long time.

I will see you in the halls and I will see you in your desk. I will see you in your friends, who are better people because of you. I will see you on the basketball floor and at the bus stop in the pouring rain. But most of all, I will see you in the faces of students who need my help, and in the students, who like you, taught me more than I could ever teach you…

Monday, September 2, 2013

Establishing Trust

I sat motionless at my computer when I started this blog entry. I read a few good thoughts on establishing trust in the workplace from my PLN. I've encountered colleagues of mine in my career that I can truly trust. I've taken steps to establish trust with others who do not know me well. But how could I quantify trust in an educational setting?

I'll be the first to admit that building trust in the workplace is a difficult thing. At the end of the day, everyone who works at the school is accountable to their family. But during the day, we are accountable to our students and to our colleagues which makes for a very interesting dynamic.

So at Utopia High School, (not an actual school!), as Principal, (not my actual position!), here are three keys I would focus on to build trust.

1. Trust the professionals in the building to do their job.
The reality is- jobs in education are hard to come by. We've all been at the job fairs enough to see how many people are ready and eager to enter the classroom. Teachers are respected professionals who each took unique paths to reach their position, but did so with an abundance of education, hard work, and passion for their craft. As principal, I'll trust that teachers will do their job as professionals. That's not to say we won't hold each other accountable for our work. But we shouldn't work in a, "got ya," environment. We should inspire and motivate, not supervise and dictate.

2. Model your trust in others. 
Personally, I struggled writing this, so I emailed my #SAVMP mentor Tony Sinanis for some advice. You know, the Principal in New Jersey who I've never met, just started tweeting with, and generally know little about. He only emailed me back a novel of advice, gave me his cell phone number, and shared some heartfelt anecdotes from his life. I trusted Tony from my very limited interaction with him through twitter. He trusted me using the same criteria. He told me to write as if I were the Principal of an ideal school, and finally my fingers started typing.

Somehow, I think interactions like these serve as a model to others that trust happens from the beginning, and is solidified in future interactions. If we show our staff how much we trust them, and we place our trust in others as a model, I think we build a culture that breeds faith in each other.

3. If this is empty, this doesn't matter.
If the video won't play- find it here:

Obviously the first "this" is your heart, and the second "this" is your head. It's embarrassingly awesome that I reached back to the movie, Jerry Maguire, for that one. I will build the trust I want people to have in me by leading with my heart. I will earn the trust of the community by showing compassion for our students and our staff. I will lead with the best intentions for everyone in our school community. An ideal team builds trust together with a shared passion and desire that comes from the heart, not always the head.