Reflection and Reverie

Snowflake_080020 aka Dyonisis Blue Shift fwwidallonflikr

In these last days of 2009, I feel compelled to reflect on the progress of my professional world (and personal, but those thoughts find a more private venue).  Staring out at the ever-falling snow, I realize, like each snowflake, how unique each professional day of my life is and how pleased I am for that.  I have learned very strong lessons this year.  I have grown in ways I never thought possible.  I have taken yet another solid, sad, yet sequential step away from the naïveté of leadership into the reality of leading.  The parallel of my principalship is that all the same events of learning have occurred in the building I help lead.

New Year 2010 Signpost

So with my English teacher background pulling at my creative side, I think I’ll address my ideas in a somewhat acrostically poetic fashion. Adios 2009…

ScrabbleletterPby LeoReynoldsPassion:  I let it fade.  Even a little is a lot for me.  I was distracted by another p-word – politics.  Funny how passion and politics can (should) work well together but often run counter to one another.  In this era of public education, I think it is easy for a principal to let the day-to-day operations (demands from central office, appeals from teachers, issues with students) draw us away from what our TRUE NORTH should be…facilitating excellent teaching and learning.   I remember reading in Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations how politics can be used for good – providing direction while tending to the needs of stakeholders.  I leave the juxtaposition behind and vow to center again.  Passionpower ON!

Letter R by chrisinplymouthRelationships:  I started my professional life in my school feeling like I married into a very, very close family.  It’s been long enough.  This is MY family.  And I need to spend more time with the relatives.  It helps us get through the tough times.  It builds trust.  This is a primary goal for me to grow in 2010.

Letter I by LeoReynoldsInquiry:  I must learn to be more focused.  I realize in my reverie (hah, get it, unfocused thinking???) that I reflect well when I am thinking aloud with many wise…folks.  This started with a group that helps set the path for teaching and learning, but perhaps I need to work on a more specific group.  I wonder if there are teachers in my building who are willing to set the pace and work with me on such a task?  There is so much to know AND learn about how our students are learning in our school.  Or not learning.  My greater fear.  I need to find this group of people.

NbychrisinplymouthNetworking:  I’ve been in my district for 12+ years.  I rarely make time to connect with the “outside.”  My building’s instructional coach, Sean Nash, has helped me begin to bridge that gap digitally with Twitter, Ning, and blogging, but I think there is so much more to work on.  I was challenged this summer by Scott McLeod to step up as a building leader in the greater on-line world.  So, in 2009 I’ve been challenged and accepted the challenge.  It’s a challenge I will keep in 2010 – but I think there is really much to be said for the f2f interaction that can NOT be missed.  I need to step up my outside connectivity.  It will make me a smarter leader.

C by chrisinplymouthConstructivist:  I have been playing with this.  I understand, that’s what all good constructivist learners do.  But I need this not to be the latest fad.  It’s not – but as a leader I am struggling with how to measure teacher implementation of this practice (which is obviously the best) as much as my teachers are struggling with how to make it happen in their classrooms.  The issue has been and continues to be “what is inspected is respected.”  (Thank you wise JROTC instructor Col Hall).  But inspecting the “PLAY” while individually learning?  That seems to be incombobulatory (take that Urban Dictionary) in my world.  This is a goal for me to address this year.  I cannot take our staff to the next level when so many parts of the plan seem to be counter-productive.  I set a goal to learn more and research widely.  I may need to start with Gary Stager.

Candy I by Timothy ValentineIntensity:  Wow.  If there is ever a time to see that word in a timely fashion, it is right before a new year.  I think people would say I am intense.  I think I can be.  I like it when it’s a good intense.  I am sad when that intensity is misperceived.  Scott McLeod recently shared with a few of our district leaders how we must build the feeling of intensity in the professionals around us.  If we don’t, the world will continue to change rapidly and our children will be unprepared for their future.  Go to CASTLE and see their work.  The research is done.  The case has been made.  For our children’s sake, we must get intense about our profession.  Time IS of the essence.  Emotive agenda:  intensity throughout.

P by chrisinplymouthPurpose:  Several times in 2009 I had to check this in my life.  I do feel I have a purpose for my professional placement.  I remember good friend and fellow educator Jincy Trotter reminding me of this when I first became a principal, “You believe God has a hand on your life?  So why stop now?”  I have to reflect on that often.  My purpose was joy.  Bring it.  Share it.  Create it.  If you get away from your purpose, you can lose your way.  Joy in 2010.

A by kjamesAccountability:  Funny, I think this is an area that I have done well in 2009.  So what in the world is it doing on my list?  Well,  I think I need to mathematically adjust this word as a sum (or amalgamation of sorts) of a few other “A” words.   My goal is to grow in how I promote accountability by mixing in more finesse and compassion.  Here’s my stab at fake math:  (ability + action + accomplish) x 2(affability + amusing) – (ambiguity + allegation) = accountability.  A great friend and former admin partner Jeremy Burright tipped me on to a great book called Crucial Conversations.  I’m half way through.  Jeremy is right.  Every principal needs to read this book!

L blue square circle by MonceauLearning:  Julie Andrews sings it best, “…I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t’ feel so bad.”  I simply love learning.  About leading. About teaching.  About technology.  About teachers.  Students. Books. Friends. Feelings.  When I am learning about something, really, I am happy.  And when I learn with other learners – well, there is NO instrument in the world created to measure that feeling except my smile.  I feel fortunate that 2009 allowed me to smile a lot.  In 2010, I hope I am smiling with you.

Thanking in the Power of Three

I submitted this post on Virtual Southside, my school’s professional development Ning site, the week of Thanksgiving break.  My school, Benton High School in St. Joseph, MO, has been working diligently toward meeting all the requirements of our school improvement plan causing great stress on our staff.  From monitoring progress routinely on work toward state testing, to improving instruction in best practices by department, to to preparing for our district walkthrough — our staff (and probably most public school instructional families) needed to remember to take care of each other in the difficult times.


I thought about it morning, noon, and night.  We need help.  It’s been a rough THREE months with expectations, deadlines, and accountability.  The economy is rough.  The war is still going.  Students seem more apathetic than ever.  As a principal, I want to run around and tell everyone they are doing a good job.  In the back of my mind I hear, “Good is the enemy of great.”  What should I say to teachers?  Where do I go?  How can I make this better somehow?  I found the answer in three places.  Those who know me won’t be surprised at what they were.


I found one part in church.  Pastor Darrell Jones said, “Be thankful, especially during this time of year!  Look at what you DO have – the half full part of your glass – and celebrate and thank God for what you have! So many do not have what you have.”


I found the second with Kurt, my husband (in case you didn’t know his name), be thankful for what you have now because tomorrow it might be gone or at least far, far away.  The time you have with the people you care about and work with is precious – we should not waste it.  Celebrate, enjoy, and use that time to bring joy in the moments, with comments and during our times together.  You will never regret that you did that.


I found the third in my close friends.  Three of them, actually.  They may not even know how much their words affected me.  They told me we need to celebrate each other more.  They told me it’s okay to be “blue,” that it is not weak to be emotive and passionate about what I do – as a matter of fact it’s a good thing.  They told me they have never worked with a principal who thinks so much about how people feel – staff and students alike – as much as I do, and that’s really a nice difference at Benton.


Transforming School Culture.  I went to hear Dr. Muhammod talk about how to transform your school.  He taught me that teachers fall into three (four actually, but I combined the last two for obvious reasons) categories:  1) those who believe in children and change to help them achieve, 2) those who believe in themselves and do all they can to keep their own lives settled regardless of the outcome for students, and 3) those who either try to survive students or are too new to know where they fall.

I realized that when I was a classroom teacher, I never measured the success of my class on the few students who did not perform or engage in learning.  Oh sure, they had the ability to derail a lesson if I let them.  They had the power to make me feel miserable, if I let them.  They even had the power to make me feel like I was not successful – if I let them.  But I didn’t.  I focused on how to reach them academically.  I worked at how to find a way to make them the success they needed to be.  And I got to know them.  Crazy thing – it was the last one, the third way – getting to know them – that worked best, fastest, and most substantial.  I realized as I was sending an email to a close friend and staff member – what we needed to do as a staff at Benton High School was exactly the same – we needed to get closer to the people who cause us our biggest struggle(s).


Being thankful with the Power of Three is simple.  The process is to help you be thankful for people or circumstances that seem difficult or uncomfortable in your life.  Everyone can do it.  There are only three steps.  The steps have three limits or parts.  The entire staff can do it, but if only three people do, it will still be a powerful three.

1. Listen to what you say.  (or what others are saying).    *If you (or they) complain at least three times about the SAME EXACT THING (or a version of the same thing) – it’s time to get to the bottom of the issue.

2. Break down what makes this an issue for you (or the person).  *Determine WHO, WHAT, and WHY.  Keep it simple.

3. Go to the person at the source.  *Tell that person something personal about yourself. *Ask that person on thing personal about him/herself.*Give the person a compliment.

Repeat step 3 three times.  See if things don’t change.  You will find yourself thankful for that person.  You will find yourself thankful for what you have.  You will find yourself thankful for having done it.  Join me in the Power of Three.

Photos from Flikr:  One by horizontal.integration ; Two by lomokev; Three by BrittneyBush, When I grow up I want to be a Hollyhock by Fotos by Flo, The Three Flowers by le faju, tulip by reallyreallyrosie